On Sunday, BNP sent a letter to the Election Commission saying the arrest of party activists and leaders continued unabated even after the election schedule was announced
BNP has submitted to the Election Commission, a list of ‘politically motivated’ cases filed in the last two-and-a-half months against its party leaders and activists, and has demanded their unconditional release as well as the withdrawal of these cases.
On Sunday, BNP sent a letter to the Election Commission saying the arrest of party activists and leaders continued unabated even after the election schedule was announced.
BNP leaders said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had assured that no political arrests will be made during dialogues with Jatiya Oikya Front, where the opposition parties in the coalition asked her to ensure a level playing field ahead of the national polls.
The prime minister responded to the delegation’s demand by asking them to submit a list of political arrests for consideration after scrutiny. Oikya Front submitted the list in two installments. BNP leaders alleged that since the submission the Prime Minister’s Office has taken no steps to meet their demand, while arrests have continued.
In BNP’s letter to the Election Commission, Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said that since the Awami League-led Alliance coming to power in 2009, their leaders and activists, from ward to central committee level, have been booked on false, fabricated, and baseless charges.
The arrests have escalated since September 1 this year, the letter said.
Talking to the Dhaka Tribune, several BNP leaders said they are facing trouble in campaigning for the elections as a huge number of their grassroots level leaders and activists are behind bars round the year.
Activists who are not in jail cannot move freely because of constant law enforcement drives. Rather than doing election work, their main concern now is to avoid arrest.
Even dead persons, and ailing former activists and supporters who are now abroad, have been accused in cases, BNP says.
After the prime minister asked for a list, on November 7 the BNPsent a list of 1,046 cases to the Prime Minister’s Office and Awami League General Secretary, Obaidul Quader. On November 13, they sent a list of another 1,002 cases.
“But we are yet to be informed whether the cases have been withdrawn or the names of arrested BNP leaders and activists have been dropped from the cases,” The BNP secretary general said in the letter.
The party has now taken the matter to the Election Commission, as all law enforcement agencies have been operating under the commission since the announcement of the schedule of the national election.
They also sent a list of 773 arrested BNP men to the commission on November 15.
When Jatiya Oikya Front leaders met with the commission on Wednesday, they also placed several demands including withdrawal of false cases. The commission asked for a list.
Election Commissioner Rafiqul Islam told the Dhaka Tribune they would instruct law enforcement to look into the matter and find out if the cases are truly politically motivated.
Why BNP wants EC’s intervention
BNP Vice Chairman Selima Rahman said they believe that Awami League’s assurance of withdrawing cases was merely a show, as their two lists are still left unattended despite the prime minister’s assurances.
“The fresh cases and the continued arrest and remand of our members shows that Awami League does not want a level playing field,” she said, adding that the party will now watch whether the Election Commission, which is now supposed to be in charge of the law enforcement agencies, takes any steps.
“We fear that there will be no active grassroots level leaders and activists left to work for the party when the election comes knocking at the door. Who will do the electioneering?” she said.
The BNP leader feared that if the ‘mass arrests’ continued, the party will not be able to deploy its agents at the polling centers.
“They want us to leave the election. But that will not happen. Whatever the situation is, we will see it to the end,” she added.
She said the BNP went to the commission as a last hope.
BNP Joint Secretary General Moazzem Hossain Alal said the party had been hopeful after the prime minister’s assurances.
“We hoped she will ask authorities to investigate, if needed, before taking steps but the PMO did not come up with any response. We informed her that even disabled and dead persons have been made accused in the fictitious cases,” he said.
“So we told the Election Commission that if the filing of new politically motivated cases does not stop, there will be no level playing field. We want remedy from the commission as the last resort,” he said.
The BNP leader said that if the arrests continue, it will be tough for BNP to stay in the election.
“But whatever the situation is, we will not fall back,” he added.