Political cases: Release detained leaders and activists

The political scenario prior to and after 7 January is totally different. At that time, BNP and like-minded parties took up election boycott programmes. And law enforcement agencies took up several steps including mass arrests of opposition leaders and activists so that BNP and like-minded parties’ could not thwart the election. They government used allegations of sabotage and anti-election activities against the opposition.

The legal foundation of these cases is not very strong. In many cases, new cases were filed after detaining opposition leaders and activists or they were attached to the old cases. Many of them were even detained on the suspicion of possible sabotage. There was also a rush in filing fictitious cases before the 2018 election.

According to Prothom Alo report on 22 January, a total of 234 cases were filed against BNP leaders-activists in Dhaka city in three months in the lead up to the 12th general election. As many as 5500 leaders and activists were named in these cases, which were mostly filed by police.

Sources said cases against BNP leaders and activists increased after the party’s grand rally on 28 October was foiled. A total of 27,000 leaders-activists of the party were arrested between the last week of October and the third week of January. Thirty-six cases were filed over clash centering BNP’s grand rally on 28 October. Many top BNP leaders including secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, standing committee members Mirza Abbas and Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury and leaders of central and Dhaka city units are now behind bars in these cases.

The violence that was unleashed centering BNP’s grand rally on 28 October is unacceptable. It is necessary to ensure credible investigation into this incident, as well as punish the people responsible, but there can be no logic keeping thousands of BNP leaders and activists including secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir behind bars over this incident. Detaining real culprits and bringing them to book is not the same as detaining of the central leaders of the party centering that incident.

Law minister Anisul Huq said no politically motivated case was filed against BNP leaders and activists. How far as his remarks valid? BNP leaders claimed the government filed cases one after another and arrests their leaders and activists prior to the election in a bid to drive then out of the election. Those who are pointing to legitimacy of political cases and claiming the allegations brought by the members of law enforcement agencies are right, had faced similar harassment while they were the opposition.

It is not believable that the secretary general of a party would order to attack police to foil the party rally. The government alleges BNP leadership tried to foil the polls, but the election has been held. A new government has been formed. The new parliament is going to session. In this case, why would the leaders and activists who face allegation on no specific evidence remain detained?

We also heard policymakers of the new government talking about political, global and economic challenges that lie ahead. Western countries those showed interest in working with the new government also expressed concerns over the arrest of opposition leaders and activists. At least, the government can try to create an environment to bring political stability by releasing the leaders-activists of opposition parties.