Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has asked why the United States imposed visa sanctions on Bangladesh when her government has ensured all rights including the voting right of the people.
During an interview with Voice of America on Saturday, the premier also questioned the timing of the US sanctions while in talks with VOA Journalist Satarupa Barua.
"They talk about human rights and voting rights. The Awami League has actively advocated for the voting rights of the people of this nation. We have undertaken comprehensive measures for free and fair elections, such as introducing voters' lists with photos, transparent ballot boxes, and promoting public awareness about their voting rights," she said.
PM Hasina further highlighted the slogan "my vote, my choice" as a testament to her commitment to the democratic process and asserted, "Even the slogan 'amar vote ami dibo, jake khushi take dibo' was coined by me."
The premier also claimed all the elections held in Bangladesh since 2008 have been fair.
"Bangladeshi people are very conscious about the right to their franchise. If someone gets elected by stealing votes, they [people] do not allow them to stay in power for long," she said, mentioning that BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia stole votes in 1996 and couldn't last even two months.
She also brought up the visa restrictions, saying, "My only question is, why do they want to suddenly impose these visa restrictions on us?"
Right to vote is now in hands of people
During the interview, the prime minister also said the right to vote is in the hands of the people.
"There is no way back. Now, our constitution also secures the people's voting right. An elected government will come [to power] in place of the elected government," said the premier, reports the BSS.
Replying to a query regarding the demand of BNP for elections under a caretaker government, she said, "Once the BNP used to oppose caretaker government, now they are demanding it. But what they will do in the future is not certain. Moreover, this system has been ruined by the BNP. They raised the age of High Court judges, prepared a voter list with 1.23 crore fake voters, and did various kinds of misdeeds to install a government as per their wish. None of it worked, because the people did not accept it."
Khaleda Zia's treatment abroad
About the treatment of Khaleda Zia, she said, "She must go back to prison first if she wants to go abroad for treatment."
"If they [BNP] want to take her [Khaleda Zia] abroad, they must go to court and apply for it. She can go if the court permits," Hasina said.
"We have no scope to interfere in the court's activities. All I have been able to do as the prime minister is suspend her sentence on humanitarian grounds and allow her to stay at home.
"She [Khaleda Zia] arranged the treatment herself. She is being treated at the most expensive hospital in Bangladesh," the prime minister said.
In the interview, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also talked about multiple other issues, including the US visa restriction, forced disappearance, election-time government etc.
Cyber Security Act: 'Penalty has been reduced'
In response to criticism of the Cyber Security Act, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina mentioned the significant modifications made in the updated Cyber Security Act 2023, which replaced the heavily criticised Digital Security Act of 2018.
"The enactment of the new law is aimed at ensuring the security of the people, countering terrorism and militancy, and safeguarding the human rights of the citizens. It reflects the recommendations put forth by experts," the premier said, underscoring that the amended version includes a reduction in penalties.
The proposed Cyber Security Act introduces monetary penalties in lieu of imprisonment for defamation cases filed under the Act. Should the law be implemented, individuals will not face arrest by the police in defamation cases.
Sheikh Hasina emphasised the global prevalence of cyber laws, stating, "Cyber laws are not unique to Bangladesh; they exist worldwide."
Enforced disappearances: 'Why don't they [UN] investigate themselves?'
When asked about the United Nations (UN) report highlighting 70 unresolved cases of enforced disappearance in Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina responded with a counter question saying, "Why has the UN not undertaken an investigation if they are dissatisfied with Bangladesh's response?"
On 19 September, the UN said 70 cases of disappearances in Bangladesh have not yet been solved. The organisation had asked the Bangladeshi government about the status of a total of 88 disappearances. The government said five have been detained, and 10 are free.
According to Bangladeshi human rights advocates, security forces have committed over 600 enforced disappearances since 2009. While some people were later released, produced in court, or said to have died during an armed exchange with security forces, nearly 100 people remain missing.
The government has refused to take up the offer from the United Nations to help establish a specialised mechanism to investigate allegations of enforced disappearances in line with international standards, the HRW said in a statement on the occasion of International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances (30 August).
Rohingya repatriation: 'They must return to their own country'
When asked about the resettlement of Rohingya in Myanmar, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said, "International assistance for Rohingyas has significantly decreased after the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war. Now, this burden is solely on Bangladesh.
"We ourselves have a large population in a limited area. Due to humanitarian reasons, we have provided them shelter. We are still providing all kinds of support to them.
"I want them to return to their own country [Myanmar]. The Rohingya children cannot grow up in a healthy environment in camps. The sooner they return to their own country, the better it is for everyone," she said.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina appealed to all parties concerned to take necessary measures for Rohingyas to return to their country. "The UN or NGOs can provide assistance," she said.
Good wishes to Bangladesh Cricket Team
Before concluding the more than half-an-hour interview, the prime minister extended a heartfelt message to the Bangladesh Cricket Team, presently in India preparing for the ICC World Cup 2023.
She said, "I expect all of you to play in a manner that upholds Bangladesh's honour. Play with all your might, and with sincerity."