845 BNP leaders, activists sentenced in 55 cases in Dhaka

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

As many as 845 leaders and activists of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its associate bodies have been sentenced to different terms by the court in at least 55 cases. Of them, at least 615 were sentenced in November alone in 33 separate cases.

The BNP leaders and activists are being sentenced in cases right ahead of the 12th parliamentary elections. Majority of these cases were lodged in 2013 and 2018.

According to figures provided by relevant court sources and the lawyers, the BNP leader and activists were convicted in three cases lodged in August, six in October, 33 in November and 13 cases filed in the first week of December. There are no records of BNP activists being sentenced in September.

However, the figures are based only on the case data which are available. 

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The convicts are not 845 different individuals. There are also cases of the opposition party activists being sentenced in several cases. According to the lawyers of the case defendants, the number of BNP activists convicted in several cases is approximately 10. At the same time, more than 300 of the accused were acquitted from these cases as the allegations brought against them were found not to be true.

The case statements say in most of the settled cases, the BNP leaders and activists were accused of holding illegal rallies, obstructing the police on duty, vandalising public transport, arson and using crude bombs to spread fear.

The duration of the prison terms is varying from six months to seven years. However, the accused were sentenced to two to three years in prison in most cases.

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According to the lawyers, many of the accused BNP leaders and activists attended the court during the trial proceedings. However, most of them were not present in the court on the day of verdict. The court has issued arrest warrants against them.

Speaking regarding this, law minister Anisul Huq told Prothom Alo Friday night the initiative was to settle the old cases to reduce the caseloads. The BNP activists are not being targeted here, he added.

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The voting to the 12th parliamentary elections will be held on 7 January. The BNP has boycotted the polls demanding elections under a non-partisan government.

The party announced a grand rally in the capital on 28 October, which was thwarted in the face of police raids following the violent clashes erupted that day.

Since then, the police have arrested a number of central BNP leaders, including party secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir. Many went into hiding.

The figure of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) shows that some 153 cases were lodged accusing the BNP activists on from 28 October to 15 November on sabotage charges. The police didn’t disclose as to how many cases have been filed after that.

However, as per the information sent by Prothom Alo correspondents outside Dhaka and the relevant sources in the court, at least 9,937 BNP leaders and activists were arrested across the country in between 28 October and 7 December. This excludes the data on 2, 3 4 and 7 December due to unavailability of information. The BNP claims more than 20,000 of its activists and leaders have been arrested since 28 October.

The party has been enforcing hartals (strikes) and blockades in phases since their grand rally was foiled. However, the government is proceeding with election preparations. The nomination papers have already been submitted and the EC is done with the scrutiny.

Meanwhile, the BNP is not being able to hold meetings and rallies amidst mass arrests and convictions of the party activists. Most of the party offices at district level, like the central office of BNP in Dhaka, are closed. The leaders and activists are in hiding in fear of arrest.

The BNP leaders say the government has chosen the path of oppression by means of fictitious cases and mass arrest to contain their democratic movement demanding parliamentary polls under a non-partisan and neutral government. The old cases are being settled now ahead of the polls, they claim.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, BNP standing committee member Nazrul Islam Khan on Friday said, “It has already been made clear by the party that those who can have an impact on party activities at the field level are being targeted and eventually being sentenced to prison terms. The government wants to oust the BNP from politics.”

“The BNP leaders and activists are not getting justice in court,” the BNP leader alleged.

Convicted in old cases

The cases in which the BNP activists are being sentenced now were launched mainly before the national polls of 2013 and 2018. Apart from that, the cases settled in recent times also include those filed in 2015 and 2016.

At least 578 sabotage cases were lodged in Dhaka in September 2018. In almost all cases, the witnesses were police. It sparked criticism against the police that they are arresting the members of the opposition parties arbitrarily. BNP at the time had termed several of these cases as ‘fictitious’.

The Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (CMM) court in Dhaka passed the verdicts of most of the cases settled since August. A few of the cases were settled in the Chief Judicial Magistrate (C JM) court in and the Dhaka Metropolitan Session Judge Court as well.

BNP activists’ lawyer Syed Nazrul Islam told Prothom Alo, the trial proceedings of these cases, including deposition of witnesses, were expedited exponentially from the first week of August and it continues.

The lawyers further say the police members have been made the witnesses in most cases. Recording the deposition of the civilians, who have been mentioned as witnesses in the casement, is rare. The police are the plaintiff in the majority of these cases.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Masud Ahmed Talukder, another lawyer of defendant BNP candidates, said the state is producing members of the police in the court as witnesses. The BNP activists are being subjected to prison terms based on the deposition of police members in most cases.

However, Dhaka Metropolitan Session Judge Court’s public prosecutor Abdullah Abu denied the allegation saying the public witnesses are also being produced in the court.

He said, “The state is producing witnesses, including both civilians and members of law enforcement, before the court on priority basis to settle the old cases. The court has only sentenced those who have been proven guilty in the eyewitness account. Besides, many are also being acquitted from the case as the charges brought against them were not proven. Anyone can appeal to the High Court challenging the verdict.”

Meanwhile Dhaka CMM court assistant public prosecutor (APP) Shahid Uddin told Prothom Alo that the court summons all the witnesses, including civilians, to appear in the court for eyewitness record. However, the civilian witnesses, very often, don’t appear before the court. So it’s become hard to record the deposition of civilian witnesses. But, the state has produced public witnesses in many cases.”

Active leaders, activists being convicted

According to the lawyers defending BNP candidates in the cases, those who are active in the BNP’s politics are more likely to be sentenced. The list of BNP politicians sentenced by the court includes party leaders at all levels from central leaders to leaders of its associate bodies.

Among the sentenced BNP leaders are party vice-chairman Mohammad Shahjahan, chairperson’s advisor Habibur Rahman, joint secretary general Habib Un Nabi Khan, information affairs secretary Azizul Bari, voluntary affairs secretary Mir Sharafat Ali, Dhaka South city BNP’s member secretary Rafiqul Alam, former Jubo Dal president Saiful Alam, current president Sultan Salauddin, former general secretary Khandker Enamul Haque, incumbent organising secretary Ishak Sarker and Dhaka North city Jubo Dal’s former president SM Jahangir.

Apart from that, former Chhatra Dal presidents Abdul Quader Bhuiyan, Rajib Ahsan and Habibur Rashid and former general secretary Akramul Hasan and others have also been sentenced to different prison terms.

BNP leaders from 30 thanas in Dhaka sentenced

The BNP considers the capital strategically very significant in their anti-government movement. They want to further intensify their movement inside the capitol. However, the reality is most of the party leaders and activists in Dhaka are either in prison or in hiding.

Analysing the case documents and information given by the lawyers of BNP leaders, BNP leaders in areas under 30 of the 50 police stations in Dhaka have been sentenced to prison terms in recent times.

BNP leaders at different level in areas under the Paltan, Banani, Kotwali, Shahjahanpur, Bhatara, Tejgaon, Bangshal, Sutrapur, Sabujbagh, Dhanmondi, Newmarket, Bhashantek, Uttara West, Kamrangirchar, Kadmatoli, Kalabagan, Ramna, Badda, Mugda, Mohammadpur, Gendaria, Uttarkhan, Dakkhinkhan, Shah Ali, Chawkbazar, Darus Salam, Kafrul and Shyampur police stations have been sentenced.

Deposition of eyewitness underway

According to the lawyers of the BNP leaders, deposition of eyewitnesses is underway in several more cases against the activists of the BNP and its associate bodies. Considering the current pace of trials at the moment, several more cases are likely to be settled within a month or two.

The lawyers of opposition party leaders say the next step for the convicted persons is to surrender to court and make an appeal to revoke the sentence.

BNP secretary general is yet to secure bail after getting arrested on 29 October. The lawyers claim that Mirza Fakhrul Islam is indicted in at least 102 different cases. He was made accused in at least four separate cases on 28 October.

He was denied bail in the case filed on allegation of vandalising the residence of the chief justice. The High Court has ruled asking why he won’t be granted bail.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Supreme Court lawyer and faculty of law department at the Gono Bishwabidyalay Shahdeen Malik said, “Nearly 60 to 70 per cent of the accused in criminal cases eventually come out innocent  in the criminal justice system of Bangladesh. However, now we are seeing that the BNP activists are being convicted in almost all cases. The pace of the trial proceedings and the likelihood of the opposition party getting convicted don’t match the normal situations. It has created a notion within the common people that justice is not being served.”

Shahdeen Malik feels such a public perception is very alarming for the future of the country.

“If people lose confidence in the judiciary, then they won’t have any trust in any other agencies, which can lead to a political turmoil in the country,” Shahdeen Malik added.