Over a week before the verdict of the Zia Orphanage Trust graft case against Khaleda Zia was pronounced, police went on a spree, harassing and arresting people en masse. These were not just leaders and activists of BNP, Jamaat and their affiliated organisation, but hapless members of the public too. The law enforcers apparently forget that all people, including political leaders and workers, have the right to freedom of movement. It was hardly a display of responsibility, to detain persons on mere ‘suspicion’. This was a downright show of disrespect to the dignity of the citizens.
Around 3000 persons were arrested around the country from 30 January to 8 February, the day that the verdict was announced. On the day of the verdict alone, 289 persons were detained, 99 of them in Dhaka. These were numbers given by the police. According to BNP, 3500 of their leaders and workers were arrested. The police claim that the arrested persons are BNP, Jamaat and their affiliated organisation leaders and activists. That is not true. Many of the arrested persons are innocent members of the public who have no political involvement whatsoever.
The people have reacted against such sweeping arrests, saying the police are detaining people at will. A report of Prothom Alo on Saturday portrays the nature of the police drive. Apprehending that vehicles may be vandalised following the verdict, a 67-year-old woman travelled by a CNG autorickshaw with her driver to Dhaka medical college hospital rather than take her own car. But the moment she stepped out of the autorickshaw, police swooped down on her and her driver and hauled them off to the police station. The Prothom Alo correspondent found 50 people gathered around Shahbagh police station Friday morning, waiting for their relatives who were in lockup like that woman. They all had their complaints: A boutique owner had been going by motorbike to visit a patient at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, but the police picked him up and detained him at the police station. An 18-year-old shop assistant was going to work in the morning, when the police nabbed him. In this manner, 61 men and 11 women were detained on Thursday, according to their families.
Under the rule of law, the police in a democratic country cannot harass and arrest people in such a manner. The police have the right to arrest persons if they have evidence of their involvement in sabotage or other crimes, but not on whimsical suspicion. We hope the police do away with this propensity of mass arrests and mass harassment. They must show respect for the public and uphold law and order in a legal manner. The higher authorities in the government must show some sense in this regard.