BNP's immediate aim is to free its leaders and activists

BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir is being taken to jail from court on 29 OctoberDipu Malakar

BNP's immediate aim is to free its leaders and activists from jail. After that it wants to pay attention to its movement and programmes. According to BNP's central office, around 23,000 of its leaders and activists are in prison at the moment, including the party's secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and two standing committee members. The party policymakers are placing priority on getting the party men released before taking up any new programme.

BNP has not held any programme since the 12th Jatiya Sangsand (national parliament) election held on 7 January. After the election there was a countrywide mass contact programme of distributing leaflets to 'thank the people to for responding to the call to boycott the polls'. There has been no further programme since.

BNP leaders say that the movement will continue until this government that 'resumed power through a one-sided and contrived election' is ousted. However, they will have to wait for some time longer to take up new programmes to restore confidence in the activists and supporters.

In the meantime, senior leaders of the party including action chairman Tarique Rahman have started holding virtual meetings at an organisational level to decide on the style and strategy of the movement in the new circumstances. There have been separate meetings too with leaders of a few like-minded alliances. At these meetings, basically, the leaders of the alliances involved in the movement were thanked. They were also asked for suggestions regarding fresh programmes.

Sources say that BNP is more focussed at the moment in legal procedures to get their leaders and activists released from jail, rather than any immediate programme. A meeting of the standing committee was held in this regard on Monday. The acting chairman held a virtual meeting on the next day, Tuesday, with the leaders of Jatiyatabadi Ainjibi Forum, the lawyers' front of the party. The lawyers were urged to stand beside the incarcerated BNP men all over the country and to provide them with legal assistance. BNP leaders are looking into what role the government or the courts play in the legal process for bail of the party leaders and activists. After that, in keeping with the circumstances, the leaders will turn their attention to the programmes.

However two BNP leaders of Rajshahi and Bogura, upon condition of anonymity, told Prothom Alo that the grassroots leaders and activists who face cases and imprisonment are not getting much assistance from the centre in dealing with their cases. They are unhappy over this matter.

According to BNP's central office and lawyers, of the 23,000 imprisoned party men all over the country, so far many at the grassroots are being released on bail.

Party secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir has been granted bail in 10 of the 11 cases against him so far and standing committee member Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury has received bail in 6 of the 10 cases against him. Hearings of the bail petitions of the other leaders are underway too. Sources in the party have said that BNP is focussed on the court at the moment. The trials of old cases against thousands of leaders and activists have been taken up. Just in Dhaka alone, over the past five months (August to 2 January) 1,753 leaders and activists have been accorded various terms of imprisonment in 113 cases. The party leadership is concerned about the matter.

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When asked how BNP will navigate through all these cases and jail sentences of its party men, the party's legal affairs secretary Kaiser Kamal told Prothom Alo, "We will continue to deal with the cases through legal procedure as before. If the law runs its own course, then the leaders and activists will be released in due time."

Political observers say that BNP has become enmeshed in lawsuits. From the party chairperson Khaleda Zia down to the grassroots, there is not a single leader free of lawsuits. BNP claims that all over the country there are 111,000 cases against 5 million of its people countrywide. Many of them are not able to lead regular lives, not able to stay at home and fleeing in fear of arrest. BNP's main objective now is to restore normalcy for its leaders and activists.

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Speaking to Prothom Alo on Thursday night, BNP's standing committee leader Selima Rahman said, "We are assailed by cases. Thousands of our leaders and activists are in jail. The government is doing as it pleases in the name of the constitution. The party people must be retrieved from this situation. Our first aim is now to free our party leaders and activists."

"Law will run its own course"

The government rejects BNP's contention that 23,000 of its men are in jail. Concerned persons in the government say that this figure will be around 12,000. And a few thousand have been released on bail in the meantime.

Speaking over mobile phone to Prothom Alo on Thursday, law minister Anisul Haque said the court will take decision on granting bail to BNP leaders and activists according to the importance of the case. The government has nothing to do with the case proceedings of the BNP men or with their bail. The law minister claimed that the government will not intervene in the court's proceedings.

BNP leaders claim that these cases are all politically motivated, instigated by the government's aim at holding a one-sided election.

Law minister Anisul Haque rejects this allegation too. He said that many of the BNP leaders have been arrested in old cases pertaining to the arson and violence of 2013 and 2014. The trials have been completed in some cases and the accused imprisoned. There is no scope for any other allegations. He said that the law will take its own court regarding bail or release of BNP leaders and activists. That is the government position.

BNP, however, eyes such statements of the government with doubt and suspicion. Even so, the party will continue with legal proceedings in an effort to get its party leaders and activists released.

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