Fifty-two-year-old Zinda Fakir, a follower of Lalon, was standing at the gates of the High Court annexe building. Blind in one eye since childhood, he spends his time in spiritual songs and tending to cattle. Suddenly in December he heard that a case had been filed against him at the Daulatpur police station.
He was charged with attacking an Awami League procession on 19 December with hand bombs and local weapons. In fear, he went into hiding.
Yesterday Zinda Fakir turned up at the High Court with others to appeal for bail so he no longer would have to remain fugitive.
He says, “These are all false cases, you know. Others are in party politics and they have been charged. But why me?”
Over the past two and a half months, countless persons have been arriving at the High Court in the capital city, seeking anticipatory bail in fake cases. Ironically, some of they are disabled, some extremely aged and some near blind.
Most of the accused are local-level BNP leaders and activists.
There are also simple farmers, day labourers, workers and small traders. These people, with their unkempt appearance and dishevelled garb, are a common sight now at the High Court annexe building premises.
There is also news pouring in every day of people accused in fake cases being arrested from various districts and being sent to jail.
Over the past one month, 304 persons were sent to jail in Chittagong alone, after surrendering to the court.
There are no accurate records as to how many fake cases have been filed all over the country.
In November, BNP submitted a list to the prime minister’s office, containing the names of around 150,000 persons accused in 2048 false cases.
About 400,000 more unidentified persons have also been accused in those cases. In September alone, there were reports of 578 such false cases in the capital city.
The accused persons now want to know when this suffering will end.
According to sources at the police headquarters, the police stations have been asked to handle these cases ‘softly’.
The officers-in-charge (OC) have been asked to drop the names of innocent persons when submitting the charge sheets.
The OC of Nesarabad police station in Pirojpur, Toriqul Islam, speaking to Prothom Alo on 13 February about a person accused in a fake case, “Okay, okay, I get it, it’s about political cases. These will be resolved now, don’t worry.”
OCs of the police stations outside of Dhaka have said they have been instructed not to harass persons accused in such false cases.
Assistant inspector general of police at the police headquarters, Mohammad Sohel Rana, did not agree with the term ‘fake cases’.
He said due legal procedures were followed in filing and disposing of the cases. “If there are allegations that the accused are being unduly harassed or have been falsely accused, there is scope for investigations to be carried out to rectify any mistakes and we are proceeding in that direction.”
After the students’ safe road movement in August last year, the police filed many cases though no incidents occurred in September.
This trend continued till the 30 December election.
While the police may have been told to handle the cases softly, reality on ground is a different matter.
Many persons remain fugitive in fear of arrest.
Nazrul Islam of Thakurgaon has remained a fugitive for so long that funds for his small rice trade have exhausted.
Day labourer Sabuj Miah of Mohanganj, Netrakona is sinking deeper and deeper into poverty. His neighbours collected funds and sent him to Dhaka to get bail.
Nazrul Islam of Thakurgaon said he has been accused of sabotage that didn’t even happen.
But police have beaten many of those accused in the case, he heard. He spent 40 days away from home, sleeping in a haystack, in a machine room and even in a graveyard.
Police went to his house searching for him several times.
Stone quarry worker Mohammad Ali of Goainghat, Sylhet, said the police had arrested five persons in the same case.
He heard they were beaten up brutally.
304 imprisoned in one month
The court on Tuesday sent another 26 leaders and activists of BNP to jail in Chittagong.
They had surrendered followed charges of sabotage filed against them by the police in October.
Prior to that, another 57 leaders and activists had been sent to jail. A total of 304 leaders and activists of BNP were sent to jail over the past month in Chittagong.
BNP leader GK Gaus and a few others were granted four weeks’ anticipatory bail by the court on 20 January, following charges of attacking and taking over a voting centre.
When the bail period expired, they were sent to jail.
Similar, seven leaders and activists in Gopalpur upazila of Tangail were sent to jail, their bail petitions having been rejected.
District general secretary of BNP Farhad Iqbal said they had been granted six weeks anticipatory bail after facing charges in a fake case.
When they went to the court to appeal for bail recently, they were sent to jail.
Public prosecutor of Tangail, S Akbar Khan, said the court rejected their bail plea as they faced specific charges of sabotage.
Human rights activists Nur Khan told Prothom Alo said that many members of the police force are using such fake cases to make money on the side. Thousands and thousands of people all around the country are facing such cases, and only a fraction of these are reported in the media.
He said the home ministry should get a list of such cases and withdraw them immediately. “Fear is being created all around, bringing normal life to a standstill” he said, adding, “Every action has a reaction, there is no saying what the outcome of all this may be.”