Police have halted the task of collecting information of important leaders of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and anti-government political parties as the law enforcement could not keep the move secret.
Sources concerned said the task would be resumed once the strategy of keeping secrecy is fixed.
Special branch (SB) of police sent an instruction in the third week of last month, September, to district police across the country for collecting information of leaders of de facto opposition BNP, Jamaat-e-Islami and other anti-government political parties and organisations.
Police mired in discomfort as soon as the move came to light recently.
BNP alleged that the police are making a list of opposition leaders to unleash repression on them targeting the next (12th) parliamentary election.
Speaking to Prothom Alo on Thursday, police headquarters spokesperson and assistant inspector general of police Manzur Rahman, however, said SB collects such information as part of its regular duty. Whatever is mentioned in the letter, which came for discussion recently, SB collects information of all political parties and update the information regularly, he added.
Police sources said political wing of SB head office sent letters on 22 September to all superintendents of police and metropolitan police commissioners for collecting information of opposition leaders.
In accordance with the instruction, Rangamati police super office sent such message to officers-in-charge of the district from where the news was leaked.
In a press conference on 7 October, BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir pointed out the issue.
Information can be collected for ensuring security and thwarting criminal activities in the state. However, if the information of only anti-government people are collected, it is an interference in the political rights of the people
He said Rangamati SP citing SB head office of Bangladesh Police on 25 September sent a wireless message (No. 3909, political).
According to the message, information of at least eight leaders of opposition parties and organisations, including the BNP, of district level, five top leaders at upazila level and five leaders at the municipality and union level has to be collected. Specially those, who are organisers and financers in the anti-government movement or those who assist in another way, have to be enlisted.
Their detail information including address, cell phone number, NID have to be collected and sent by e-mail and in hard copy.
Such a letter of Rangamati district police is circulated in the social media.
Speaking to Prothom Alo about the matter on Wednesday, Rangamati police super Kazi Abu Touhid said, "We are investigating as to who sent that message."
Sources at SB head office in Dhaka, said police have been mired in discomfort after a confidential letter over collecting information of opposition leaders including BNP and Jamaat came to light. The letter has been withdrawn as the secrecy could not be maintained.
Seeking not to be named, SB officials said the task of collecting information has been halted currently. However, the task would be carried out maintaining secrecy later.
However, the task is being continued in the capital. It has been learnt that an instruction has been given at a review meeting of crimes in July of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) for collecting list of area-based committees of opposition parties, names and address of leaders and mobile numbers.
Officers-in-charge of several police stations under DMP said collecting information of the leaders of BNP and its associate bodies is going on.
DMP officials, however, claim it is their routine work and they regularly collect such type of information.
Police officials at the grassroots level said they are collecting information of leaders and activists to prevent violent activities in the name of political programmes.
All political parties have designated financers who fund for these activities. There are people who charge money for supplying manpower. If police have information of these people and anything happens anywhere, responsible persons could be brought under the law quickly.
Ahead of last general election in 2018, a huge number of cases were lodged against the opposition leaders and activists. As accused include deceased, expatriates and jailed persons, police had to face bitter criticism.
Officials think if there is an updated list with them, they can avoid the repetition of such thing.
About the matter former chairman of National Human Rights Commission, Mizanur Rahman, said there is no necessity of collecting such information as all the citizens have digital identity card.
Information can be collected for ensuring security and thwarting criminal activities in the state, he said adding that if the information of only anti-government people are collected, it is an interference in the political rights of the people.
Mizanur Rahman said this is not expected in a democratic country.
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print and online editions, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.