Dec 18, 2008

Chittagong Hill Tracts: Emergency Law Lifted...Too Late?

Sample ImageAfter almost two years, emergency laws are being relaxed ahead of elections on 29 December 2008, but some campaigners consider the measure too last minute.

Below is an article published by


A presidential order to lift the emergency rule at one minute past midnight on Wednesday [17 December 2008] has gone through, Nur Mohammad, inspector general of police, said.

"There is no emergency after one minute past midnight [1801 GMT, Tuesday]," Mohammad said.

Emergency laws had been in force since January 11, 2007, after months of violent political strikes across the country.

Provisions had included bans on political gatherings and a night-time curfew, but the laws have been relaxed in recent months.

Leaders of the country's two main political parties had threatened not to stand in the election if emergency restriction remained throughout the vote.

Suhas Chakma, the director of the Asian Centre of Human Rights, was sceptical of the government's move.

"I think it's a significant step, but it's a bit late in the day as there are only 10 days left for campaigning," he told Al Jazeera.

"In some areas, especially in Dhaka, Chittagong and mainland Bangladesh you could see a revival of civil rights but in some areas such as the Chittagong Hill Tracts I think the army still has full control of the situation," he said.

"The lifting of the emergency is only basically to address the concerns of the international community but on the ground its not going to change the situation."

Security patrols have been boosted across the country as the country prepares for the elections, the first to be held in Bangladesh in seven years.

The elections will pave the way for Bangladesh's caretaker administration to hand power to a democratically elected government.

About 300,000 police and paramilitary officers will be in force as voters cast their ballots in one of 35,000 polling booths across the country.

Emergency rule was imposed by Iajuddin Ahmed, Bangladesh's president, after the Awami League party and its allies accused the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led government of vote-rigging.

The army-backed administration has in recent months detained both Sheikh Hasina Wajed, leader of the Awami League, and Khaleda Zia, the BNP leader, for a year on corruption charges.

But both women have been released on bail so that their respective parties can take part in the elections.

Bangladeshis have witnessed instability, coups and counter-coups since their country, formerly known as East Pakistan, won independence from Pakistan in 1971.

Although democracy was restored in 1991, the Awami League and the BNP have each boycotted parliament and held strikes when in opposition.