US visa policy nightmare: Can Bangladesh avoid drastic actions from the US Congress?


On the 17th of May, 2023, a group of six Republican Party members in the US Congress penned a letter to President Joe Biden, seeking “stricter individual sanctions” and the prohibition of Bangladesh’s law enforcement and military personnel from participating in UN peacekeeping missions.

According to some media reports, the letter emphasized the necessity for “appropriate measures to give Bangladesh their best chance for free elections, including stricter individual sanctions, banning Bangladesh law enforcement and military personnel from participating in UN peacekeeping missions.”

On the 24th of May, 2023, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a press release titled ‘Announcement of Visa Policy to Promote Democratic Elections in Bangladesh’ through the State Department’s website. In the press release, he stated:

“Today, I am announcing a new visa policy under Section 212(a)(3)(C) (‘3C’) of the Immigration and Nationality Act to support Bangladesh’s goal of holding free, fair, and peaceful national elections. Under this policy, the United States will be able to restrict the issuance of visas for any Bangladeshi individual believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh. This includes current and former Bangladeshi officials, members of pro-government and opposition political parties, and members of law enforcement, the judiciary, and security services. The United States notified the Bangladeshi government of this decision on May 3, 2023…”

Following the publication of the press release, leaders of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party publicly expressed their joy, claiming that this development was “a result of their efforts.” However, it should be noted that according to the newly announced visa policy, no political party in Bangladesh can oppose the holding of the next general election under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, nor can they resort to acts of terrorism and arson as they did during 2013-2014, resulting in the loss of innocent lives and the destruction of public and private properties.

Meanwhile, according to documented evidence, lobbyists and activists from the BNP have been actively pursuing members of the US Congress, Senate, as well as key officials at the State Department and Department of Treasury with propaganda materials against the ruling Awami League and members of law enforcement, intelligence agencies, and the judiciary. Their ulterior motive is to misguide US policymakers and officials about the situation in Bangladesh.

Although the contents of the aforementioned letter are based on reports from controversial NGOs and publications known for running orchestrated propaganda against Bangladesh for years, media reports indicate that while the US Department of Justice (DoJ) has requested American banks to provide detailed information on the bank accounts of Bangladeshi-Americans living in the United States or Bangladeshi citizens with accounts in the country, lobbyists and activists from the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-e-Islami claim that the letter sent by the six US congressmen to President Joe Biden on May 17th will “result in punitive measures including sanctions.” However, a number of senior policymakers in Washington DC have deemed such anticipation “absolutely absurd.” They recall that back in 2003, when an Islamist coalition government led by the BNP and Jamaat brought false sedition, treason, and blasphemy charges against internationally acclaimed journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, many members of the US Congress and Senate wrote numerous letters to then Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, urging her to drop the case immediately.

On December 14, 2003, The New York Times published an editorial titled ‘Risk of Journalism in Bangladesh,’ criticizing the BNP-Jamaat coalition government for bringing false charges against Mr. Choudhury.

In 2007, a bipartisan resolution in defense of Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury was passed by 409 votes in the United States Congress. The resolution called upon the BNP-Jamaat government to drop the charges against Mr. Choudhury, return his confiscated properties, and cease harassing him in the future. Similar resolutions were passed by the European Union Parliament, the Parliament of Australia, and the UK Parliament in defense of Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury.

In a resolution passed on November 21, 2006, the UK Parliament stated: “That this House declares its support for voices of peace and moderation in the Muslim world such as the Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, who stands trial for sedition, treason and blasphemy, a charge which carries the death sentence; commends Mr. Choudhury for exposing the growing threat of extreme Islamism in Bangladesh; deplores the conduct of the judge in the trial, Mohammed Momin Ullah, who has said he is not interested in evidence and will not allow any defence witnesses into the court record; notes that the Public Prosecutor in Bangladesh has said that there is no evidence to support the charges; is encouraged that international pressure has persuaded the Bangladesh government to delay Mr. Choudhury’s next court date until 2007 and to restore the police protection at his house that had been recently removed; and urges the United Kingdom Government to press the government of Bangladesh to protect Mr. Choudhury from all forms of harassment.”

However, the Bangladesh government did not attach any significance to these resolutions passed by the US Congress, European Union Parliament, Parliament of Australia, and the UK Parliament. Instead, they proceeded to convict Mr. Choudhury and sentence him to seven years of rigorous imprisonment. Although this was a direct affront to the US Congress, European Union Parliament, Parliament of Australia, and the UK Parliament, none of these countries, including the United States, took any punitive measures against Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, her party BNP, or coalition partner Jamaat.

It is important to note that despite former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton openly defending and supporting Nobel laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus and making repeated attempts to appoint him as the head of the government in Bangladesh during the military-backed interim government in 2007, she was unsuccessful in introducing a resolution in favor of Yunus in the US Congress. Furthermore, it is worth mentioning that, apart from the case of Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, no bipartisan resolution has ever been introduced and passed in the history of the US Congress in support of any individual worldwide. With this historical context, it would be prudent to conclude that President Joe Biden will not impose sanctions on Bangladesh solely based on the May 17th letter sent by six Republican congressmen.

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Muzaffar Ahmad Noori Bajwa
Muzaffar Ahmad Noori Bajwa
Contributing Editor of Blitz and Editor-in-chief of The Eastern Herald. He regularly writes on international politics and diplomacy.

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