Dear Secretary Blinken,
I am writing to you as William Gomes, a British-Bangladeshi human rights defender and freelance journalist. I am currently confronted with punitive measures imposed by the Bangladeshi government for exercising my fundamental right to freedom of expression. I am facing charges under section 21 of the Digital Security Act, 2018, based on an interview I gave to Australian ABC Radio, articles I wrote for the Huffington Post, and a poem that depicted the current political climate in Bangladesh.
The distressing situation I am in mirrors a broader issue – the ongoing harassment and targeting of human rights defenders and organisations in Bangladesh. The cases of the human rights organisation Odhikar, journalists Shahidul Alam, exiled journalists Kanak Sarwar, Tasneem Khalil, Zulkarnain Saer Khan, Mahmudur Rahman, and Oli Ullah Noman are examples of the extent of this issue. Individuals and organisations working tirelessly to document and expose human rights violations should be able to conduct their vital work free from fear of harassment, intimidation, and reprisals.
I urge your office to take immediate steps to ensure the Bangladeshi government drops all charges against these individuals unconditionally. The punitive actions by the Bangladeshi government against these individuals and the criminalisation of Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan require urgent international attention.
While I appreciate the U.S. decision to enforce a new visa policy under Section 212(a)(3)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, to facilitate free, fair, and peaceful elections in Bangladesh, the escalating restriction of freedom of speech signals the necessity for more comprehensive measures.
I respectfully call on your office to lead a multinational initiative involving international bodies such as the European Union and key nations, including the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, to enforce stringent sanctions on Bangladesh.
These sanctions should aim at not only individuals subverting democratic norms but also key sectors of the Bangladeshi economy, including:
- Ready-made garments: As a major exporter to the USA, sanctions would significantly impact the economy.
- Textiles and fabrics: Import restrictions could be placed on these goods from Bangladesh.
- Leather goods: The growing leather industry in Bangladesh could be targeted.
- Jute and jute products: The integral jute industry could be a focal point for sanctions.
- Agricultural products: These could face sanctions if exported from Bangladesh to the USA.
- Pharmaceuticals: The burgeoning industry, especially generic drugs and medicines, could be targeted.
- Ceramic products: The emerging ceramics sector could face sanctions.
Additional sanctions should consider:
- Financial Services: Implementing restrictions on Bangladeshi financial institutions.
- Energy Sector: Enforcing restrictions on trade involving key goods in this sector.
- Shipping and Transport: Regulating this sector limits the flow of goods and services.
- Dual-use Goods and Technology: Controlling exports that can be used for both civilian and military purposes.
- Asset Freeze and Visa Ban: Enforcing sanctions on individuals believed to be undermining democratic processes.
- Arms Embargo: Restricting the sale or transfer of arms to Bangladesh.
The escalating crisis in Bangladesh poses regional and global threats beyond immediate human rights concerns. An unstable Bangladesh could disrupt peace in South Asia, having consequences on international security and trade. Champions of democracy, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union, have a moral and strategic duty to act decisively to restore democracy and protect human rights in Bangladesh.
I understand the complexities of implementing such measures, but I am reassured by our shared dedication to preserving democracy and human rights globally and believe you will give this matter the serious attention it warrants. The democratic integrity of nations and the rights of individuals to express their views without fear of reprisal are foundational to our shared values. A failure to act could signal a tacit acceptance of the status quo and set a worrying precedent for other nations.
The continued marginalization and persecution of human rights defenders, journalists, and critical voices in Bangladesh reveal a worrying erosion of democratic values. This situation, if left unchecked, may lead to further instability and the consolidation of authoritarian practices. Your intervention can help safeguard the principles of freedom, justice, and equality that are under threat in Bangladesh.
I urge you, as a leader in the international community, to stand firm against this tide of repression. It is incumbent upon us all to defend the rights of individuals to express their views freely, to work towards a just society, and to resist attempts to suppress these fundamental freedoms. I trust that you will consider these requests seriously and take appropriate action to address this pressing issue.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to your positive response and continued commitment to the defence of human rights and democratic values.