(Bloomberg) -- Bangladesh’s government pledged to ensure free and fair general elections next year just as the US unveiled a policy to deny visas to citizens seen as undermining democracy. 

Bangladesh views the US decision in the “broader context of its government’s unequivocal commitment to holding free and fair elections at all levels for upholding the country’s democratic process,” the foreign ministry in Dhaka said Thursday. “The government apparatus will take necessary measures to prevent and address any unlawful practices or interference by any individual, group or entity to compromise the smooth and participatory conduct of the elections.”

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that Washington would stop giving visas to Bangladeshi citizens believed to be complicit in interfering in elections, including vote-rigging, intimidation of voters and measures preventing the free dissemination of views. 

The restrictions will apply to current and former Bangladeshi officials, members of pro-government and opposition political parties, and members of law enforcement, the judiciary and security services. 

Dhaka was informed of the decision earlier this month, Blinken said in a statement.

The South Asian country’s opposition has raised concerns that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League party could try and rig elections to cling to power as seen over the past decade. Hasina’s government has repeatedly denied the allegations. 

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the country’s biggest opposition group, wants Hasina to step down and pave the way for a national vote under a non-partisan caretaker system, saying there shouldn’t be a repeat of the 2018 elections with reports of violence, vote fraud and a crackdown on the opposition. 

“The holding of free and fair elections is the responsibility of everyone — voters, political parties, the government, the security forces, civil society, and the media,” Blinken added. “I am announcing this policy to lend our support to all those seeking to advance democracy in Bangladesh.” 

Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch, a research and advocacy organization, released a report condemning the “increasing” number of attacks on journalists and others, as well as the “widespread restrictions on freedom of expression” ahead of the election.

In December 2021, the US government sanctioned Bangladesh’s so-called Rapid Action Battalion and seven of its serving and former officials for “serious human rights abuse,” including allegations of extra-judicial killings.

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