Asia in Review Archive (2019)


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14 January 2020

Bangladesh: Singer arrested under Digital Security Act 

(lf) A Sufi singer has been arrested under the Digital Security Act for allegedly hurting religious sentiments of Muslims. Sufism is a mystical branch of Islam and music is an essential part of it. [Economic Times India Times], but singers feel their artistic liberty is under threat with this new law. While Sufism has been part of Bangladesh history, in recent years several followers and leaders of the branch have been killed by Islamic fundamentalist groups, which consider them heretics of Islam. [Al Jazeera]

The controversial internet law has been in place since 2018 and has faced high criticism for being a threat to freedom of expression and this new case is part of a pattern regarding freedom of expression and speech in Bangladesh. The government, for example, blocked a Swedish news site early January, which accused a minister of corruption [Al Jazeera 1] and in May of last year arrested writers and activist under the same law [Al Jazeera 2].

14 January 2020

Bangladesh: Deputy foreign minister cancels visit to India

(lf/jk) While the Foreign Ministry has announced the cancellation has nothing to do with the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) or the issue of National Register of Citizens (NRC), the Deputy Foreign Minister is the fourth senior official to cancel a visit to India since the protests started. 

The CAA addresses minority religion refugees – who are not Muslim- that have experienced religious discrimination in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. While the Indian government has clarified that persecution in Bangladesh occurred prior to the rule of current Prime Minister Sheikh Hassani, Bangladesh has made clear that it is not happy with the characterisation of a country that discriminates against religious minorities. 

It has also voiced concern over India deporting those deemed “illegal” to Bangladesh and with that putting further strain on bilateral relations. Bangladesh is worried both the NRC and CAA could lead to dramatic increases in refugee flows to the country. [The Hindu] [The Print]


7 January 2020

Bangladesh: Arrest Warrant for former Chief of Justice 

(lf) In Bangladesh, courts have issued an arrest warrant for former Chief of Justice for corruption. He is accused of having embezzled 465,000 US dollar. Since its independence in 1971, this is the first former chief of justice to face prosecution. [Nation Pakistan]

24 December 2019

Bangladesh asking Russia to pressure Myanmar on Rohingya 

(lf) Bangladesh’s foreign minister has urged Russia to put more pressure on Myanmar regarding the Rohingyas, of which Bangladesh still hosts between 600.000 to one million after they were forced to flee Myanmar amid a violent military crackdown. The refugees have led to a humanitarian crisis as Bangladesh is not sufficiently equipped for the number of refugees.

Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and Myanmar in 1948 [Embassy of Russia in Myanmar], the two countries have been close and the FM recognises that Russia – which has blocked a previous UN statement in the Rohingya case- holds a lot of sway over Myanmar. [The Star]

10 December 2019

Bangladesh: China offers 2.13 billion USD in new loans

(jk) The decision by China to loan more money to Bangladesh came after a meeting of a Bangladesh-China Joint Working group in Dhaka this week. The group was established to look into the lacking progress of 27 projects involving around 20 billion USD that China promised to provide during President Xi’s visit to Bangladesh three years ago. 

One of the two new projects that both countries are supposed to sign in June includes critical infrastructure, i.e. “strengthening the Power Grid Company of Bangladesh’s power grid network.” [The Daily Star]

3 December 2019

Bangladesh: Death penalties for seven terrorists over 2016 attack that killed 22

(ls/nj) An anti-terrorism tribunal in Bangladesh has sentenced seven suspects to death for the killings of 22 people in a major terror attack in Dhaka suffered three and a half years ago. In the attack, the militants shot dead several foreigners, including nine Italians, seven Japanese, a US citizen and an Indian. Two police officers were killed in grenade blasts as they tried to take the assailants on inside the café. Two employees of the eatery also died in the attack. [BDNews24]

26 November 2019

Bangladesh: South Asian Country with highest bribery risk

(jk) According to the most recent Global Bribery Risk Index, published by a North American anti-bribery business association, Bangladesh featured as the “country with the highest risk” of bribery threats in South Asia. [The Daily Star]

The other countries of the region, which the exception of Bhutan which fares slightly better, rank as “medium” threats. For details on the report, including methodology and further results, see [TRACE].

19 November 2019

Bangladesh: 25 charged over murder of student

(ls) Bangladesh police have charged 25 people following the killing of 21-year-old student who was beaten to death by fellow students in October after posting criticism of government policy on social media. Many of the students charged were members of the youth wing of the Awami League, the ruling political party in Bangladesh. News of the death led to protests in the capital. The demonstrations then spread to other cities. [BBC]

12 November 2019

Bangladesh: Facebook post sparks protests against worker’s conditions in Saudi Arabia 

(nl) In Dhaka, a Facebook video by a female worker from Bangladesh exposing a series of brutal violent abuses by employers in Saudi Arabia has gone viral and alerted many in Bangladesh to the issue. The woman said she fears for her life after facing a series of humiliating events including sexual assaults, imprisonment and withholding of food.

In a reaction to the video, people took to the streets to protest against worker’s conditions. Within this year alone, according to one charity, 48 female bodies have been repatriated to Bangladesh. [Aljazeera]

5 November 2019

Bangladesh: Opposition politician sentenced for critical remarks

(nj) A member of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party was sentenced to three years for statements that criticized Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The charges were public mischief and criminal conspiracy. The affair started at a rally in 2018 when the politician gave a speech saying that Hasina’s fate would be worse than that of her father, who was Bangladesh’s first president and assassinated in 1975. The opposition claims that the court decision is politically motivated and another example of the suppression of freedom of expression by the government. [Aljazeera]

29 October 2019

Bangladesh: doubt on Rohingya relocation

(jk) The relocation of thousands of Rohingya refugees that was apparently agreed upon [Asia in Review, No. 43, October/2019, 4has been heavily doubted by human rights NGO Fortify Rights who, based on on-the-ground research, claim that they were hard-pressed to identify a single refugee who had even been consulted – let alone agreed to – relocating to the island. [Straits Times]

29 October 2019

Bangladesh: Judge imposes death penalty on 16 people

(nj/jk) After 6 months of trial 16 people have been sentenced to death by a court near the capital  of Bangladesh, Dhaka, for burning a Bangladeshi student alive for accusing the principal of the school of sexual harassment. Prior to the killing the perpetrators urged the victim to withdraw her complaint, which she refused. [The Straits Times] [Aljazeera]

The student reported sexual harassment by the principal of her school in late March and on April 6, the young woman was lured on the rooftop of her school where classmates tied her hands and feet and set her on fire.

In a country where social stigma leads to a majority of sexual violence being unreported, the case provoked indignation, and funeral prayers in her honor were attended by thousands in her home town. Prime Minister Hasina reacted by promising that “none of the culprits will be spared legal action”. [Asia in Review, 4/4/2019]

For well-founded research on causes and consequences of violence against women in Bangladesh see: [UN Women]

22 October 2019

Maritime terrorism in Asia: An assessment 

(ls) A paper published by the Observer Research Foundation evaluates the possibility of an increase in maritime terrorist violence in Asia. Based on an analysis of recent incidents, it argues that the vulnerability of high seas shipping to criminal acts of violence and the weak and inconsistent nature of maritime governance raises the possibility of a terrorist strike in the Asian littorals. [ORF]

22 October 2019

Bangladesh: Some Rohingyas to be relocated to island as situation in refugee camps further deteriorates 

(ls/nj) About 6,000 to 7,000 Rohingya living in Bangladesh refugee camps have apparently agreed to being relocated to Bhashan Charan, an island in the Bay of Bengal. Bangladesh has been planning since last year to relocate Rohingya to the flood-prone site, which is an hour by boat from the mainland. In the past half a century, powerful cyclones have killed hundreds of thousands of people in the Meghna river estuary where the island is located. [Straits Times]

Latest attempts to persuade Rohingya refugees to return to their home country by Bangladesh authorities failed. Authorities, therefore, have imposed more restrictions on Rohingya, such as confiscating mobile phones and banning Rohingya children from local schools, to speed up the return process. [Al Jazeera]

Following the incident of the killing of a ruling-party politician for which Rohingya refugees are held responsible for, security status in the camps in Cox´s Bazar remains critical. On Monday a young Rohingya was murdered by another fellow. Investigations revealed that an earlier dispute between the victim and the offender could have led to the killing. [The Daily Star]

22 October 2019

United States and Bangladesh to conclude agreements for closer military cooperation

(ls) The United States is planning to conclude a General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) and an Acquisition Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) with Bangladesh. The agreements are meant to expand opportunities for defense trade, information sharing and military-to-military cooperation between the two countries, which already have ongoing cooperation on the training of Bangladeshi peacekeepers, counter-terrorism exercises, disaster response and other trainings. The U.S. has GSOMIA agreements with 76 countries and ACSA agreements with more than a hundred. [Daily Star]

22 October 2019

Shots at India-Bangladesh border result in death of Indian border guard

(ls) In a rare clash between India and Bangladesh, officers of the Bangladesh Border Guard (BGB) killed an Indian border guard last week. After an Indian fisherman had been detained by the Bangladeshi officers, the situation got out of hand and resulted in what the Bangladeshi side described as shots in self-defence. The Indian Border Security Force (BSF) said the shots were unprovoked. India and Bangladesh, which generally have close ties, share a border stretching more than 4,000 km, where clashes sometimes occur over immigration into India from Bangladesh. [Reuters] [Economic Times]

15 October 2019

Two Bangladesh Navy ships in India for maiden bilateral exercise

(jk) Two ships of the Bangladesh Navy have reached India for a four-day bilateral navy exercise which will mark the first time the two navies exercise bilaterally.  [India Today]

15 October 2019

Bangladesh: Thousands of students protest after killing of a student over Facebook post 

(nj) Thousands of university students took to the streets in the capital Dhaka and Rajshahi city after a 21-year old student was allegedly beaten to death by some members of the Bangladesh Chhatra League – the student wing of the governing Awami League party – over his Facebook post critical of Bangladesh’s recent water-sharing agreement with India, an issue the two countries have been sparring over for decades. [Aljazeera] [India Today]

Prior to killing him, Chhatra League members “interrogated” him over his alleged involvement with Chhatra Shibir – the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s largest Islamist party – which has political ties with the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

In his last Facebook post, he had stated three historical instances, in which Bangladesh failed to attain some achievements regarding interests like use of port, water sharing and export of energy resources from its neighbor. [Dhaka Tribune]

15 October 2019

Bangladesh forces kill more than a dozen Rohingya refugees over a few weeks

(jk) The recent murder of a ruling party politician in Bangladesh led to violent actions against some Rohingya refugees inside of the refugee camps who were alleged to have been involved in the murder. In addition to this particular incident, refugees are often accused of being involved in other illegal activities such as drug smuggling or robberies. Human Rights groups say that over the past few weeks more than a dozen Rohingya were killed by Bangladeshi security forces, with local law enforcement not intervening to protect the refugees. [Al Jazeera]

8 October 2019

An analysis of Bangladesh’s Digital Security Act

(ls) A thorough analysis of Bangladesh’s Digital Security Act (BDSA) of 2018 argues that the law was created to mitigate Section 57 of the previous Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act of 2006. However, the author argues that, contrary to expectations, the BDSA casts an even wider net over free speech and dissent than its predecessor. The Act not only broadened the scope of what constitutes online crime but also took away the few legal protections granted under the ICT Act. [ORF]

8 October 2019

India-Bangladesh relations: Strategic interests more important than disagreements

(ls) Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other senior Indian officials last week. They agreed on the need for greater effort to facilitate the safe return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar. As regards India’s recent move to identify thousands of what it says are “illegal migrants” from Bangladesh, the two prime ministers were not reaching any agreement. Nonetheless, India is focused on making Bangladesh a central element of its Act East policy, to counter China’s growing influence in South Asia. [DW]

24 September 2019

Nepal: Energy politics with India and Bangladesh

(ls) As relations between India and Nepal are deteriorating under Kathmandu’s communist government, the Himalayan country’s electricity export outlook is also worsening. Over the last four years, two foreign companies have pulled out of two hydropower projects due to the less attractive prospect. Despite signing a Power Trade Agreement in 2014 aimed at easing flows of electricity across the frontier, the process has been stalled by the lack of a policy framework on both sides. However, Nepal also sees Bangladesh as a potential buyer of its energy. Hydropower is one of Nepal’s major export sectors. [Nikkei Asian Review]

17 September 2019

Bangladesh: Kashmir is India’s internal matter

(jk) The Foreign Minister of Bangladesh has told his colleague from Pakistan that India’s decision to upend Articles 370 and 35a of the Indian Constitution is India’s internal matter, therefore not lending his support to Pakistan, from which the country gained independence in 1971. [Economic Times]

10 September 2019

Mobile blackouts as a security tool: More case studies from Bangladesh and Pakistan

(ls) Across Asia and other parts of the world, a new security trend is gaining increasing traction: the blocking of mobile internet services. India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia (Papua) and Sudan are among the recent examples. Whereas state authorities cite possible threats to national security and public order as justification, it can reasonably be argued that such interventions may constitute deep restrictions of private life as well as business activities. Taking into account the importance of communication in the era of digitalization, widespread mobile blocking cuts people off from essential services and often disables access by independent observers to information on the ground. Last week, two more case studies from South Asia can be added to the trend.

Bangladesh’s telecommunications regulatory body has asked operators to shut down cellphone services in camps where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar live. The authority referred to a security threat and illegal phone use, for example for drug trade, as reasons for the measure. Operators have already been asked to suspend data and internet service between 5 pm and 5 am every day in the camps in Cox’s Bazar district. Many Rohingya refugees use mobile services to stay in touch with their families. [Firstpost]

Human Rights Watch has criticized the most recent mobile blocking in Bangladesh as a clampdown. [Human Rights Watch]

In Bangladesh, only Bangladeshis with national identity cards are allowed to possess local SIM cards. The sale of cellphone services is banned in the camps. The Rohingya, most of whom fled over the border to Bangladesh in 2017 following a violent campaign led by the Myanmar military, are largely stateless. [New York Times]

Authorities in Pakistan suspended mobile services in Karachi and Nawabshah as part of security measures during Muharram processions on Sunday. Similar actions have been taken in other provinces too. In the Pakistani province of Punjab, 3,000 security personnel have been deployed in Rawalpindi to ensure the safety of the procession. [India Today]

03 September 2019

Bangladesh: High Court orders to remove “virgin” from Muslim marriage certificates

(ls) Bangladesh’s High Court has decided in a landmark decision that the word “virgin” must be removed from Muslim marriage certificates. The Court ordered the term to be replaced with “unmarried”. Before the ruling, brides had to select whether they were a Kumari (virgin), a widow or divorced. Rights groups had long criticized the term, used in marriage certificates since in 1961, saying it breaches the privacy of the woman getting married. [Al Jazeera]

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16 July 2019

Another winner of the U.S.-China trade war: Bangladesh

(ls) Not only Southeast Asian countries are largely benefiting from the trend to divert production bases due to the U.S.-China trade war. [AiR 3/6/2019] Also Bangladesh, which is the world’s second-largest garment exporter, has seen the value of its overseas sales rise to a record $40.5 billion in the year ended June 30, coinciding with Trump boosting tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods to 25% from 10%. The tit-for-tat trade war has seen American and Chinese orders for more than half of the 1,981 tariffed products so far being re-routed to other countries. [Bloomberg]

9 July 2019

Sex trafficking in Bangladesh

(ls) In Bangladesh, the business of sexual exploitation has thrived in recent years. The Bangladesh government estimates that 100,000 women and girls are working in the country’s sex industry and one study reports that less than 10% of those had entered prostitution voluntarily. While prostitution is legal, trafficking and forced labor are not. But poor enforcement of legislation in a country where women are easy prey means traffickers act with impunity. The Guardian has published an in-depth report that illustrates the large scale of the problem. [The Guardian]

9 July 2019

Bangladesh: Government announces social media interventions

(ls) The government of Bangladesh announced to introduce a social media content control system as part of its “safe Internet” campaign from September, enabling authorities to intervene on content uploaded on social media platforms, such as Facebook or YouTube. Dhaka has in recent months been trying to gain more control over social media tools in what it says is a bid to stop fake news. However, critics have pointed to the deep impacts on freedom of speech. [Arab News]

9 July 2019

Bangladesh: Sweeping NGO law draws criticism

(ls) Expressing grave concern over the draft of the Volunteer Social Welfare Organizations (Registration and Control) Act 2019, local and international development organizations in Bangladesh called upon the government to change, edit and repeal some of the sections that are unclear and conflicting. According to the law, all NGOs have to register, and renew their registrations every five years. Failure to renew registration or rejection by the authority will result in the dissolution of the NGO. Moreover, NGOs can be dissolved if government authorities have reason to believe they are not in the best interest of the public or have broken the law. [Dhaka Tribune]

4 June 2019

Bangladesh-Japan: Japan signs $2.5bn deal to support Bangladesh’s development programs

(jyk) Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe has signed the 40th Official Development Assistance (ODA) Loan Package worth more than $2.5 billion in a bid to develop and invest in the main four projects including the development of port and high-speed public transport, and the promotion of foreign direct investment and energy efficiency. Japan has supported Bangladesh with ODA loans totaling $11.3 billion since 1972. [Dhaka Tribune]

4 June 2019

Bangladesh: PM urges the Islamic states to lodge the Rohingya case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ)

(jyk) In a bid to ensure the Rohingya refugees’ legal rights gets recognized in the ICJ, the prime minister of Bangladesh called on the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member states to join her efforts in securing funding and professional help necessary for lodging the case to the ICJ. Despite its resource constraints, Bangladesh has sheltered more than 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims that fled the persecution and deadly crackdown of Myanmar’s armed forces, and whether these people could eventually be repatriated is still uncertain [Dhaka Tribune 1]. After attending the 14th OIC session in Saudi Arabia [Dhaka Tribune 2] and giving a keynote speech about the Rohingya crisis in Japan [Dhaka Tribune 3], the premier also avowed to use OIC institutions more actively to synchronize Muslim countries’ policies and induce more aligned collective measures against global issues such as Israeli-Palestinian conflict and rising tensions in the Gulf. In concurrent efforts to repatriate back the Rohingya refugees, Myanmar has recently met with ASEAN Secretary General to initiate high-impact projects that would restore order in the conflict-ridden Rahkine State [Myanmar Times].

4 June 2019

Chinese company to build submarine base for Bangladesh in Cox’s Bazar

(jk) A Chinese company is building a submarine base for Bangladesh in the country’s south-eastern part in the Bay of Bengal. The decision to go with a Chinese state-owned enterprise is potentially worrying for India, as it is unclear what kind of access or rights China will have to the base once it is finished. The decision is all but surprising since Bangladesh and China have significant naval links. China has built many of the Navy’s surface ships, as well both of its submarines which Bangladesh has received in 2017. [TribuneIndia]

11 March 2019

Human Rights Watch urges Bangladesh to investigate garment workers’ mass dismissal

(cc) Human Rights Watch has urged Bangladesh to immediately investigate the dismissal and false criminal cases of garment workers. Following the massive protests of December and January, union leaders said that at least 7,500 people lost their jobs. The international NGO describes the “use of criminal complaints against large number of “unknown” people” as being a widespread abusive practice in the South Asian State. The rights group calls brands that produce in Bangladesh to push for the end of the intimidation of workers by the garment industry. [HRW] [Dhaka Tribune]

11 March 2019

After India and Pakistan, Saudi Arabia is to continue South Asian investments in Bangladesh

(cc/ls) Bangladesh’s finance Minister said the country is expecting $35 billion of Saudi investment mostly in roads, rail, power and energy, tourism and hospitality, health, textiles, food processing and pharmaceuticals. However, no timeline has been given by the government and the current bilateral trade is worth only $1.4 Billion per year. Under Prime Minister Hasina, the ties between the two Muslim-majority countries have been reinforced. Saudia Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah Bin Salman recently also committed his country to major investments in India and Pakistan. [Reuters]

4 March 2019

Bangladesh Foreign Secretary tells Security Council it can’t take more Myanmar Refugees

(cc) On Thursday, Bangladesh’s Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque told the members of the Security Council that his country cannot welcome any new Myanmar refugees. The announcement comes amid new waves of refugees coming from Myanmar due to the resurgence of conflicts since the beginning of the year. In 2017, a crackdown against the Rohingya Muslim minority by the Tatmadaw forced over 700,000 people to flee to the neighboring Bangladesh. The “clearance operations” have been qualified as being conducted with “genocidal intent” in a report of an UN independent fact-finding mission released in late August 2018. Since then, negotiations between the two countries have been held to organize the repatriation of the refugees but 18 months later, no tangible progress has been made. The UN says the conditions in Myanmar are not yet met for the safe and dignified return of the displaced people. Bangladesh’s Foreign Secretary accused the Buddhist majority country of “hollow promises and various obstructionist approaches” in the remarks. [Reuters]