South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

The South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) has expressed its concern over the increased visa restrictions in the region.

In a statement issued on January 23 and received yesterday, the regional human rights network referred to Indian High Commission’s denial of visa to Bangladesh’s prominent human rights activist Sultana Kamal in December last year.

“The SAHR has been informed that the reason for denial of visa is due to her leadership in the campaign against the Rampal Coal Power Plant,” according to a SAHR letter to Bangladesh prime minister’s international affairs adviser Gowher Rizvi.

“We are extremely concerned of the increasing restrictions imposed by governments on visas and clearance, especially for civil society,” says the letter issued by SAHR Executive Editor Deekshya Illangasinghe, dated January 30.

Sultana Kamal, chairperson of Transparency International Bangladesh, and her husband applied for Indian tourist visas in Dhaka on November 13 last year.

On December 12, her passport was returned without issuing any visa without giving any reason for the denial, she added.

A former adviser to a caretaker government of Bangladesh, Sultana Kamal then wrote to the Indian High Commission, seeking to learn of the reasons for the denial, but she has not received any response so far. She said she might have been denied visa as she was vocal in the campaign against the under-construction Rampal power plant, a Bangladesh-India joint venture.

“Indian High Commission in Dhaka always invites me on India’s Republic Day on January 26, but this year it has not also invited me on that occasion,” Sultana Kamal told The Daily Star yesterday.

She said she visited India many times; so the denial this time was surprising.

“If I am to face such visa denial for speaking about my national interest, where is my sovereignty then?” she asked.

SAHR, headquartered in Sri Lanka, said many other prominent civil society persons faced similar circumstances due to their commitment towards the promotion and protection of human rights of the South Asian people.

SAHR has highlighted its concerns to the Saarc secretary general and the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Assembly and Association.

Due to visa restrictions, civil society has limited congregational space to conduct collaborative regional activities, according to the statement signed by SAHR Chairperson Hina Jilani and Co-Chairperson Nimalka Fernando.

South Asia continues to be a “disconnected” region with people still unable to travel with comfort and ease, it said.

“Visas to visit South Asian countries are a long and arduous task for its people and an almost impossible task for Afghans and options for direct travel to capitals remain minimal,” it said.

Even though regional connectivity was the overall theme of the 18th official Saarc Summit held in 2014, so far outcomes have not been substantial in achieving visa liberalisation.

“This situation is aggravated by the state centric national security protocols,” SAHR said, urging the states to achieve visa liberalisation as the stepping-stone to strengthen solidarity among the people of South Asia.

Updated On: February 07, 2017