The head of Bangladesh’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) says it has received complaints that non-criminals are among hundreds of people arrested by police during ongoing security sweeps.
Following attacks that targeted foreigners, Bangladeshi citizens and members of the security services in recent weeks, the nation’s authorities over the past few days have mounted a crackdown, saying it is necessary for stopping more acts of terrorism or other forms of trouble.
As many as 643 people have been picked up as part of the sweeps in three districts alone, according to information obtained by BenarNews from police officials.
But many members of opposition parties reportedly have been caught up in the sweeps, prompting complaints to the NHRC.
Given the recent attacks by suspected Islamists and an atmosphere of deteriorating security, “the government has every right to restore law and order and earn the confidence of the people, but the innocent people must not be the victims,” NHRC Chairman Mizanur Rahman told BenarNews on Wednesday.
“The police can arrest any suspected criminals, but the suspicion must have some basis. The police and other law enforcers must adopt maximum precaution so that no innocent people are arrested or harassed,” he added, after the commission met to discuss allegations that innocent people were being arrested and branded as criminals.
600-plus nabbed in three districts
Responding to the concerns raised by the NHRC chairman, Police Inspector-General A.K.M. Shahidul Hoque told BenarNews that only suspected criminals or people with criminal records were being arrested in the sweeps. But he declined to say how many people had been detained in the past few days.
According to an aggregation of numbers given to BenarNews by police officials in three districts, 643 people have been picked up in those areas as part of the crackdown.
In Gazipur, a district in the Dhaka division, 250 people were arrested in the past two days, Harunur Rashid, the local superintendent of police, told BenarNews. In the northern district of Danajpur, 117 people were arrested, according to Rabiul Hossian, a district intelligence officer.
And in Satkhira, a district in southwestern Bangladesh, 276 people were taken into custody, Satkhira Additional Superintendent of Police Mir Modasser Hossain told BenarNews. Among those detainees, 193 were affiliated with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaet-e-Islami, allied opposition parties, Hossain said.
On Tuesday, the Dhaka Metropolitan Police’s media office had released figures showing that 470 people had been arrested in sweeps in 16 out of Bangladesh’s 32 districts.
In the name of law and order
Under Bangladesh’s code of criminal procedure, such sweeps are permissible because the code allows the authorities to arrest anyone suspected of criminal activity “for the sake of maintaining law and order.”
In recent weeks, in the aftermath of the killings of two foreigners is separate shootings, the killing of a publisher of secular books and other attacks, officials from the ruling Awami League party have blamed the BNP and Jamaat for fomenting such acts to “destabilize the country.”
“The government has been using the police and RAB [Rapid Action Battalion] to arrest the opposition members on the pretext of maintaining law and order,” Mahbubur Rahman, a member of the BNP’s highest policy-making body, told BenarNews.
“They have been arresting the opposition members, keeping in mind the upcoming local government elections. Their plan is to get their candidates to win the polls by arresting the opposition candidates [and] branding them as criminals and terrorists,” he added.
In other developments, Bangladeshi authorities announced Wednesday that they were implementing measures to protect secular bloggers from being targeted for assassination, according to news reports. So far this year, Islamists have killed four bloggers in separate machete attacks.
Also on Wednesday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told parliament that her government was committed to wiping out the terrorist threat.
She announced that the government was moving to temporarily block online messaging and communication services – namely WhatsApp and Viber – in order to catch suspected terrorists and foil terrorist plots, Bangladesh’s Daily Star newspaper reported.
Meanwhile, Dhaka University Professor Emeritus Anisuzzaman, who teaches Bengali literature, has received a death threat via text a message because he had demanded that the killers of the bloggers be brought to justice.
“[He] has filed a general diary seeking his security. We are investigating it seriously,” Sirajul Islam, the officer-in-charge of the Gulshan police station in Dhaka, told BenarNews.