US starts imposing visa restrictions on Bangladesh politicians, law enforcement officials

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U.S. Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights, Uzra Zeya. File

U.S. Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights, Uzra Zeya. File
| Photo Credit: AFP

In a move likely to leave a mark on the upcoming election season in Dhaka, the United States has started imposing visa restrictions on individuals that it considers are “involved in undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh”.

The U.S. Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights, Uzra Zeya, shared the announcement of the U.S. decision on her X account (formerly Twitter), just hours after she met with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is currently in New York for the UN General Assembly’s annual meeting. 

Extraordinary measure

“Today, the Department of State is taking steps to impose visa restrictions on Bangladeshi individuals responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh. These individuals include members of law enforcement, the ruling party, and the political opposition. The United States is committed to supporting free and fair elections in Bangladesh that are carried out in a peaceful manner,” the announcement said. It did not name the individuals who are being targeted by this extraordinary measure. 

The ban may be applicable not just for the individuals themselves, but also for their families. “These persons and members of their immediate family may be found ineligible for entry into the United States. Additional persons found to have been responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh may also be found ineligible for US visas under this policy in the future. This includes current and former Bangladeshi officials, members of opposition and ruling political parties, and members of law enforcement, the judiciary and security services,” the official notification said.

‘Undermining democracy’

This action is a follow-up and implementation of a May 24 statement by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken regarding visa restrictions on Bangladeshi individuals responsible for undermining democratic process in their own country.

Mr. Blinken had said, “We can impose visa restrictions on individuals and their immediate family members if they are responsible for or complicit in undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh.”

Significantly, Ms. Hasina had participated in the G-20 summit in Delhi between September 9 and 10, where Bangladesh was invited as a “guest country”. During that visit, the Bangladeshi PM had met with U.S. President Joe Biden informally on the sidelines of a dinner. 

Rising U.S. pressure

Over the last two years, the U.S. has maintained pressure on Ms. Hasina’s Awami League-led government, urging her to ensure a free and fair election, which is expected to be announced in October. Earlier in December 2021, the U.S. Treasury Department had imposed sanctions on the top officials of Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion, the Hasina government’s top anti-terror outfit.

However, Friday’s announcement is far more expansive, as it will cover individuals from “law enforcement, the ruling party, and the political opposition”.

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