US Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu has clarified that his government did not impose any sanctions on anybody in its Wednesday announcement - rather they have announced a new visa policy.
While responding to a question on Channel I's Tritio Matra, a popular political talk show in Bangladesh, Lu said this policy will apply equally to the members of the ruling and opposition parties.
"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," he said.
The US government never takes sides in elections, said the US Assistant Secretary.
"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," he said.
Lu, who toured the country in January, said they know this new policy will create questions in Bangladesh.
"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," he said.
The United States on Wednesday announced a new visa policy specific to Bangladesh, with a view to promoting free and fair elections.
"Under this policy, we can impose visa restrictions on individuals and their immediate family members if they are responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on Wednesday.
Lu said this could be members of the government, judiciary, law enforcement, or it could be members of the opposition.
He said the defence of democracy is both necessary and essential for Bangladesh to continue to move forward as a leader in South Asia and around the world.
Responding to a question, Lu said immediate family members, meaning spouses and children, are subject to these same visa restrictions.
"For anyone that we would revoke a visa for, we would inform them immediately," he said.
"The Secretary of State has announced a policy and we have not yet applied the policy to any specific individuals," Lu said.
The policy allows them 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, he said.
These restrictions, Lu said, would apply both to those giving orders and those taking orders. "For those who are those who 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 the United States either, Lu said.
Asked whether the announcement was in retaliation for the government of Bangladesh’s decision to withdraw additional police escort, Lu said, "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."
He said the US government has not, and will not, take decisions based on retaliation.
Lu said this is a forward-looking policy, meaning that their hope is that this policy will help to prevent violence and promote a free and fair election this coming year in Bangladesh. "We take that responsibility very seriously and we don’t plan to look backwards."
"The United States consider ourselves a friend of Bangladesh. We want this policy to be 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."
He said Bangladesh is a country that is very special to them.
"We have wonderful people-to-people ties between families and between institutions like universities and our companies," Lu said.
For them, he said, the promotion of democracy around the world is a central tenet of the Biden-Harris administration and they believe Bangladesh is a true democracy that deserves to have free and fair elections.
"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," Lu said.