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Oppositions decry large scale arrests ahead of polls

  • Published at 07:44 pm December 19th, 2018
WEB_Barisal_Jammat _BNP_Dhaka Tribune
Opposition activists are seen being rounded up in Barisal yesterday. Parties say police are carrying out a crackdown to suppress the opposition Dhaka Tribune

Home minister disagrees, says only those having warrants are being arrested

With the 11th parliamentary election less than two weeks away some of the major power contenders are expressing worry at, what they say, wholesale arrests of opposition party activists across the country.

Amidst a renewed spate of arrests on Wednesday – around 200 people till last count – the Jatiya Oikya Front and its biggest component BNP made claims that police crackdown was a ploy to suppress the opposition ahead of the December 30 election. 

Law enforcers, of course, have their versions of the topic justifying the arrests – as they say in most instances that people were arrested on charge of specific cases.  

Opposition parties consider these arrests go counter to an poll-congenial environment at a time when even the Commissioners within the Election Commission are sharply divided in their opinions on ‘level playing field’ – a most rehearsed phrase these days in Bangladesh.   

Despite Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s instructions of no arrests of opposition members ahead of parliamentary polls, there is no letup in arrests of opposition party members – now a major BNP and Jatiya Oikya Front concern.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on November 1 and 7 assured a delegation of Dr Kamal Hossain-led Oikya Front that no ‘political arrest’ will be made. She had said that no new cases would be filed and no new arrests made except for those who are accused in criminal cases.

Till the last count, dispatches sent by Dhaka Tribune correspondents noted arrests of at least 162 opposition men on Wednesday alone from seven districts – Satkhira, Sirajganj, Lalmonirhat, Meherpur, Sunamganj, Moulvibazar and Feni.

BNP and Oikya Front have long been alleging that arrests and harassment to opposition is going on across Bangladesh by law enforcement agencies to create obstacles in their poll campaigns.

Taking these allegations into cognizance Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) KM Nurul Huda on several occasions over the past few weeks has directed police to refrain from arresting anyone without a warrant and filing any political cases ahead of the election.

He asked them not to implicate anyone in cases or arrest people without warrants to harass them.

How many were arrested since the election schedule was announced?

On Monday, an Oikya Front delegation led by Dr Kamal Hossain urged the Election Commission to take initiative to stop the unlawful arrests and harassment of their activists by law enforcement agencies.

Between the schedule announcement and December 17, 807 BNP activists had been arrested.

Further, according to their reckoning, at least 301 BNP leaders and activists have been arrested between December 10 - the day poll symbols were allocated by the Election Commission - and December 17.

Jatiya Oikya Front top leader Dr Kamal Hossain on Wednesday said that the police are arresting people randomly as the election approaches.

He urged the government to instruct law enforcers to refrain from such anti-constitutional activities.

Watchdog worried of EC’s indifference

Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) on Tuesday expressed grave concern over the Election Commission’s indifference on incidents of harassment and attacks on opposition activists.

In a statement, TIB executive director Iftekharuzzaman said opposition leaders and supporters are not only harassed by their competitors but also become victims of discrimination by the law enforcement agencies.  

Yet the Commission continues to overlook these incidents that will spoil the level playing field during the election, Iftekharuzzaman said, adding that this attitude from a constitutional institution is “shameful and totally unacceptable”.

He blamed the commission for not controlling the law enforcement agencies and the district administration efficiently after the announcement of the election schedule.

No level playing field

Election Commissioner Mahbub Talukder has said he did not think there is a level playing field for the 11th general election.

Responding on Monday to a query on whether he thinks the administration and the law enforcement agencies are under the Election Commission’s control, he said law enforcement top brass were under the Commission’s jurisdiction, and only they can say how much the individual law enforcement personnel were under control.

“A national election is a massive undertaking. I will call on everyone to not go beyond the law and follow the code of conduct,” he said.

'No arrests without warrants'

Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal does not agree that any obstruction has been made in campaigning of any party for the 11th parliamentary poll.

“BNP leaders and activists are alleging that law enforcing agencies are arresting their party men, which is not true. I want to make this clear that only those having warrants have been arrested. No one except those who have burnt people and conducted criminal activities in 2013-2014 is being arrested,” said the minister. 

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