Leaders and supporters of the ruling Awami League are openly displaying legal firearms to intimidate opponents during political events.

Despite the prohibition on the display of legal weapons, there is a lack of action from the district administration or the police.

In some instances, illegal weapons were openly used, but the police were unable to recover them. 

Currently, the number of legal weapons in the country exceeds 50,000, with more than 10,000 in the hands of political party leaders and activists.

Concerns are growing about the potential creation of a climate of fear through the display of legal weapons, especially in the lead-up to the upcoming national elections.

However, the election commission (EC) has not made any decisions regarding the deposit of registered weapons during the polls. 

Instances of registered firearms being displayed at political events of the ruling party are becoming more common.

For instance, during the upazila Awami League's demonstration and protest rally in Nandail, Mymensingh last Sunday, Kamruzzaman, the bodyguard of Zahid Hasan, the son-in-law of former local parliament member Major General (retd.) Abdus Salam, displayed his firearm.

The licence for this weapon is in the name of Zahid Hasan, and Abdus Salam's daughter (Zahid's wife), Wahida Islam, was at the forefront of the rally.

Zahid Hasan told Prothom Alo on Monday that the police approached him, and after he showed them the licence of the weapon, they left. 

Meanwhile, the police said that the incident has been reported to senior officials, and an internal investigation is underway.

Police sources reveal that Zahid Hasan's weapon licence was obtained from the Dhaka district administration.

However, Dhaka deputy commissioner Anisur Rahman told Prothom Alo on Tuesday evening that he came across the news of the arms display in Nandail through the media, and he is not sure whether the licence was issued in Dhaka. 

Leaders at the district and upazila levels from various parties indicate that numerous local former and current parliamentarians, along with influential leaders, possess legal weapons.

They frequently exhibit these weapons openly, aiming to instill fear, a matter often not openly discussed. Discussions typically arise only when pictures or videos become public.  

However, as per the 'Firearms Licence Issuance, Renewal and Use Policy-2016,' an individual is permitted to carry and use a weapon obtained through their licence strictly for self-defence.

The policy explicitly states that weapons should not be displayed in a manner likely to cause fear or annoyance to others. Violation of this provision may lead to the immediate cancellation of the individual's arms licence.  

Ruling party men possess highest number of registered weapons 

In October, data from the Fire Arms Management System (FAMS), the database of the Special Branch (SB) of the police, indicated that the country has a total of 50,310 legal firearms. Out of these, 45,226 weapons are privately owned, while institutions possess 5,084 firearms. 

Politicians are reported to hold 10,215 firearms in their personal possession. Among them, Awami League leaders and members account for 7,549 firearms, and BNP leaders and members possess 2,587. Leaders of other political parties, including Jatiya Party, hold a total of 79 firearms. 

According to the data of the Special Branch of the police till December 2021, the number of legal weapons was 44,104. Therefore, it is evident that in the span of two years, the country has seen an increase of about 6,206 legal firearms. 

The highest number of arms licences, totaling 11,898, was issued in Dhaka Division, followed by 6,512 in Chattogram, 8,321 in Rajshahi, 4,757 in Sylhet, 7,479 in Khulna, 3,597 in Rangpur, 2,118 in Mymensingh, and 2,682 in Barisal. These licences cover a variety of firearms, including pistols, revolvers, shotguns, and rifles. 

Additional commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP), Khandkar Mahid Uddin, emphasised that in cases where the terms of the license for legal weapons are violated, appropriate action must be taken in accordance with the law.

More incidents of displaying firearms

Member of Parliament for Chattogram-16 (Banshkhali) constituency, Mostafizur Rahman Chowdhury, publicly brandished pistols in Chattogram's Banshkhali on 22 May. Subsequently, the police confirmed that the displayed firearm is legal, with its licence registered in the name of Mostafizur. An explanation was sought from him by the police. 

As per regulations, if a weapon is displayed and there is a threat of firing, the police station is required to report the incident to the district administration for the potential cancellation of the weapon's licence.

However, in this case, the licence has not been canceled by the Chattogram district administration.

Deputy commissioner Abul Basar Mohammad Fakhruzzaman informed Prothom Alo on Monday that the issue is considered old, and it was indeed Mostafizur's licenced weapon.

He further stated that he had discussed the matter with the lawmaker.

* The report, originally published in the print edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat and Ashish Basu