Resurgence of fictitious cases: Move not good sign for electoral environment

The long-standing 'tradition' of using mass lawsuits to harass leaders and activists associated with political programmes is an age-old practice. Typically, those affiliated with opposition parties tend to be the primary targets of such actions, leading them to speak out against the tactic. However, when these individuals come into power, they often employ the same strategy to control and discipline the opposition. In recent times, the use of political lawsuits as a means of pressuring opponents has reached a new level. Furthermore, there have been incidents where cases were filed over events that never actually took place, leading to the term 'fictitious cases' to describe such occurrences.

Before the 2018 parliamentary elections (11th Jatiya Sangsad elections) in Bangladesh, there was a surge in the filing of fictitious cases against leaders and workers of opposition parties, including the BNP. These baseless cases didn't just target political figures and activists but also caused immense harassment to ordinary citizens as unknown persons were named in the complaints.

People from 15 places said that there was no incident of attack on Awami League leaders and workers on the mentioned date of the case. How can a case be filed on an incident that never took place?

Recently, there has been a worrying resurgence of such fictitious cases, but with a notable difference this time – the plaintiffs are predominantly leaders and workers from the ruling party alongside police. This development raises concerns about the country's political environment, especially with the national elections approaching.

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Although the cases may be fictitious, the individuals made accused in those cases are real, and their suffering is genuine. The statements and sections under which the cases were registered were all the same. In the past seven months, from November of the previous year to May of this year, a staggering number of 50 such cases have been reported. Among them, 40 cases were filed by leaders of the ruling Awami League, while the police themselves filed the remaining 10 cases. A total of 1,701 leaders and activists from the BNP and 2,575 unknown individuals were accused in these cases. The allegations include charges of assault, throwing cocktails, and engaging in subversive activities.

Prothom Alo correspondent found such 17 incidents where cases have been filed on charges of attack and cocktail explosion. It appears that the statement of the local residents did not match the details of the case. People from 15 places said that there was no incident of attack on Awami League leaders and workers on the mentioned date of the case. How can a case be filed on an incident that never took place?

Fictitious and politically motivated cases are on the rise not only in Dhaka but also in various other regions. Particularly before BNP's events or programmes, there are frequent reports of cases and arrests. BNP leaders claim that Awami League leaders and activists are using these fictitious cases as a tactic to keep BNP members constantly under pressure and on the run, similar to what has happened in the past. Conversely, Awami League leaders argue that the cases are being filed in response to actual attacks taking place, and they deny the existence of fictitious cases.

The use of lawsuits and harassment based on non-existent incidents can have detrimental consequences, ultimately leading to an escalation of political animosity and intolerance. Given the doubt surrounding the legitimacy of two consecutive national elections, there is now a strong demand and pressure from various groups for free, fair, and peaceful elections. The government has emphasised its commitment to ensuring such elections. In this critical context, the existence of fictitious cases will undoubtedly undermine the environment of fairness and impartiality necessary for conducting a free and fair election.

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While taking police action against those who commit violence during political events is reasonable, resorting to fictitious cases to punish political opponents where no incident occurred at all is an unjustifiable strategy that must be discontinued.