HC Deb 21 January 2003 vol 398 cc150-1
2. Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow)

What assessment he has made of the situation in Bangladesh. [91781]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mike O'Brien)

I can confirm what my right hon. Friend said, because I was at that lunch, too.

We are concerned by reports of mistreatment of detainees, including deaths in custody, associated with Operation Clean Heart. We are monitoring closely the detention of journalists and opposition politicians, and have urged the Bangladesh Government to ensure that the due process of law is followed in all cases.

Ms King

Following the reported human rights abuses, may I thank the British high commissioner in Dhaka, David Carter, for the representations that he has made? What steps are the British Government taking to help strengthen democracy in Bangladesh? Will the Minister continue to raise the tragic case of the British resident, Surat Miah, who was beaten to death? Will he write to me on the indemnity Bill?

Mr. O'Brien

I will pass on my hon. Friend's thanks to the high commissioner. We are following closely the circumstances in Bangladesh and particularly the arrests of some journalists and opposition leaders. We welcome the release of Hussein Chaudry and others. Democracy means allowing disagreement and debate, and in Bangladesh that means that the Awami league as well as the Bangladesh Nationalist party must have the right to voice their opinions. We have raised our concerns informally with the Bangladesh authorities, and will continue to do so. I will write to my hon. Friend on the issue of the indemnity Bill. Surat Miah, who was killed at Dhaka airport, was a British resident but not a British national. We have let the Bangladesh authorities know that there is widespread concern about the case in this country, and we have made representations in that regard.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

In spite of the plague of violence in Bangladesh—for example, the bombing in Mymensingh, various murders and the general unrest that has been mentioned—will the Minister tell the House whether, following the historic visit of President Musharraf to Bangladesh, there has been any progress towards solving the long-standing problem of the Bihari population? Is there any chance of them at last being accepted in Pakistan?

Mr. O'Brien

We have made representations to the Pakistani authorities on the issue of the Biharis. We are concerned that religious minorities should be able to practise their religion with freedom and with a recognition of their rights. I very much hope that the Pakistani authorities will respect those rights, although there have been problems with that in the past.

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