ZR: Welcome to the show. Just about three hours ago your Secretary of State Mr. Antony Blinken announced a new visa policy to promote democratic actions in Bangladesh. Under this visa policy the United States will be able to restrict the visas of any Bangladeshi individuals believed to be responsible for undermining the democratic elections in Bangladesh. Mr Donald Lu, my questions to you: Why did the US government take this new visa policy for Bangladeshis, and is this really necessary?
DL: Thanks Zillur so much for having me on your program today. I want to make something very clear.
We have not sanctioned anybody today. As you just mentioned the Secretary of State has issued a new policy today that allows the US government to restrict US visas for anyone found to be impeding or undermining free and fair elections in Bangladesh. So this could members of the government, could be members of the judiciary, could be law enforcement, or it could members of the opposition. Our view is that the defense of democracy is both necessary and essential for Bangladesh to continue to move forward as a leader in South Asia and around the world.
ZR: How will Bangladeshi individuals, including current and former Bangladeshi officials and others be targeted under this policy? As you mentioned government officials – any members of government? Anyone?
DL: So Zillur let me repeat. This policy will be applied equally to members of government and to members of opposition.
For example, if we were to find that members of the opposition had been involved in violence to undermine elections or voter intimidation, that individual would not be allowed to get a US visa. Similarly if we were to find that a member of government or law enforcement was involved in voter intimidation or violence or denial of free speech, we would not allow that person to travel to the United States.
ZR: And if it is the media, if it is internet service provider, if it is any other organization, even cell phone operators?
DL: So Zillur, internet service providers don’t travel to the United States. This is not for institutions. It is only for the individuals.
ZR: Do the visa restrictions affect family members as well?
DL: Yes, is the answer. Both this new policy as well as the law that underpins it is very clear. Immediate family members, meaning spouses and children, are subject to these same visa restrictions.
ZR: Will you notify the affected individuals that their visas have been revoked?
DL: Correct, for anyone that we would revoke a visa for we would inform them immediately.
ZR: And Mr. Donald, who specifically will be restricted? Who specifically?
DL: Zillur, again, the Secretary of State has announced a policy today and we have not yet applied the policy to any specific individuals. The policy allows us to restrict travel to the US for anyone who has committed abuses in one of four areas:
Voter intimidation, vote rigging, denial of free speech or freedom of assembly, and violence that seeks to undermine free and fair elections.
I want to give you my promise that this policy will be carried out in a way that is fair and constructive, and will be carried out equally toward opposition and government.
The US government never takes sides in elections. We do not support a particular party or a particular candidate. The only thing the US government supports is a free and fair democratic process.
ZR: How would visa restrictions apply to individuals committing offenses taking orders from higher levels to whom it would be difficult to link involvement?
DL: It’s a great question. These restrictions would apply both to those giving orders and those taking orders. For those who are those are taking orders and who carry out acts of violence, or voter intimidation, or vote rigging, they would be ineligible for a U.S. visa.
At the same time those who are giving orders, those individuals, would not be allowed to travel to Untied States either.
ZR: Is this announcement in retaliation for the Government of Bangladesh’s decision of May 14 to curtail Ambassador Haas’ security detail?
DL: Zillur it is absolutely not. I personally was involved with providing advanced notice about this policy to the Bangladeshi Government on May 3rd. So there’s no way our decision and our announcement on May 3rd could be retaliation for a decision taken by a government later on May 14th. The US government has not, and we will not, take decisions based on retaliation.
ZR: How far back does this policy apply?
DL: Zillur, this is a forward-looking policy, meaning that our hope is that this policy will help to prevent violent and promote a free and fair election this coming year in Bangladesh. We take very seriously that responsibility and we don’t plan to look backwards.
The United States consider ourselves a friend of Bangladesh. We want that this policy is used to support the efforts of your Prime Minister, her government, the Bangladeshi civil society, and the Bangladeshi people to have a free and fair election in a country which is just so important to the United States.
ZR: Mr Donald Lu could you please tell us why Bangladesh elections are so important to the USA?
DL: Zillur, I have had the opportunity visit several times to Bangladesh/. It is a country that is very special to us. We have wonderful people to people ties between families and between institutions like universities and our companies. For us, the promotion of democracy around the world is a central tenant of the Biden Harris administration and we believe Bangladesh is a true democracy that deserves to have free and fair elections.
ZR: Would you like to add anything else?
DL: Zillur, I know this policy will create questions. I just have to emphasize again that we take this decision in the most constructive and positive way. We want this to contribute to the dialogue in Bangladesh and efforts by everyone – government, opposition, civil society – to create the environment for a free and fair election in the year ahead. This could be difficult times for Bangladesh, or this could be that this election ushers in a really joyous age in which Bangladesh can celebrate all of its accomplishments, both economic, but also political accomplishments, by making an election that is better than all the elections before it. That’s our hope.
ZR: Ambassador, Assistant Secretary of the State, thank you so much, thanks for your time.
DL: It has been a delight to be with you Zillur. Let me wish you and your audience all the success.
ZR: Thank you so much, thank you. I hope to see you soon in Bangladesh.
DL: I look forward to it.