Bangladesh opposition politicians allege police are targeting their family members

Ahammad Foyez
Bangladesh opposition politicians allege police are targeting their family members Police accompany arrested members of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party to a local court in Dhaka, Nov. 1, 2023.

Bangladesh’s security forces in recent days have arrested at least six family members of opposition politicians who are in hiding, relatives and party officials said Wednesday.

The arrests, which BenarNews could not independently verify, come amid deadly political violence and mass arrests in the lead-up to a general election expected in January.

At least 10 people have died and thousands have been arrested, local reports say, since the Bangladesh Nationalist Party staged a massive anti-government rally on Oct. 28 to demand that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina resign to make way for a neutral caretaker government during the polling period.

Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, a senior joint secretary of the BNP, said police have been raiding party members’ houses and picking up relatives if they find the members aren’t present.

“Police have been unjustly detaining fathers, brothers or other family members of the targeted individuals if they don’t find them,” Rizvi told BenarNews.

For instance, Rizvi alleged that police raided student member Amanullah Aman’s Dhaka residence and arrested his brother when they didn’t find Aman.

In Narayanganj, a city neighboring Dhaka, the police also arrested the 65-year-old father-in-law of Salauddin, a local BNP leader, during an overnight raid at his house, Rizvi said.

Nazma Islam, the wife of BNP member Aminul Islam Ashfaq, told reporters that police on Oct. 31 detained two of their teenage sons when they raided their Kishoreganj home outside Dhaka and didn’t find Ashfaq.

“Our sons are not involved in politics. The police took away the children after they were unable to arrest the father,” she told reporters on Saturday.

Police take Ishfaq Hossain (center), the brother of an opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party leader, into custody outside his residence in Dhaka, Oct. 29, 2023. [BenarNews]

A local police official told reporters the brothers were suspects in a vandalism incident during a BNP-organized transport blockade announced after the Oct. 28 rally.

Meanwhile, police also arrested the son of Abdul Awal Mintoo, a business tycoon involved with the opposition, and the brother of Ishraque Hossain, a BNP leader in Dhaka, local media reported. Neither of the two is known to be involved in party politics.

Bangladesh’s Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal denied that law enforcement agencies were targeting people merely for being family members of opposition politicians.

“Our forces are not arresting any innocent persons. Those who face specific charges and warrants against them are being arrested,” he told BenarNews.

Ain-O-Salish Kendra, a human rights group in Bangladesh, said arresting innocent family members of anyone suspected of a crime was wrong.

“There is no law in Bangladesh to arrest the relatives of the accused or the suspect of a case,” Faruq Faisel, who heads Ain-O-Salish Kendra, told BenarNews.

“By arresting the relatives of the opposition leaders, the members of the law enforcement agencies are committing clearly illegal conduct. They should be held to account by the government.”

The BNP has for months been demanding that Hasina resign ahead of the election to ensure free polls – a demand the ruling Awami League has rejected outright.

Relatives of presumed victims of enforced disappearance hold portraits of their missing family members during a press conference held to mark the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, in Dhaka, Aug. 30, 2023. [Munir uz Zaman/ AFP]

The last two general elections conducted during Hasina’s tenure were controversial.

The BNP and its allies boycotted the 2014 election over concerns about its fairness, which meant the Awami League returned to power. And in 2018, despite the BNP’s participation, the ruling party secured more than 95% of the parliamentary seats, although amid widespread claims of fraud.

Lately, the U.S. and other Western countries have been pressing Hasina’s government to ensure that free and fair elections without voter intimidation take place in the South Asian nation. They have also raised concerns about the alleged clampdown on free speech and arrests under draconian laws.

Meanwhile, in a letter dated Nov. 1, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk, urged Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, to allow her arch-rival Khaleda Zia, the BNP chairperson, to seek medical treatment abroad, the AFP reported.

“I appeal to your government to consider her release to enable her to receive the urgent and specialised medical care that she requires outside of the country,” he wrote.

Turk noted that Zia’s release would be seen as “an important step towards political dialogue and reconciliation,” but Hasina strongly dismissed calls for dialogue with the BNP, calling the party “a terrorist group” and its members “animals.”

Zia, the 78-year-old former prime minister, has a host of complex ailments, including liver cirrhosis, arthritis, and heart complications, according to her doctors, and she has been hospitalized four times in recent years.

 ‘Enforced disappearance’

Meanwhile, the BNP’s Rizvi also alleged that police have not produced several arrested party members before a court, within 24 hours after they were arrested, as the law mandates.

Rizvi said this should be termed “enforced disappearance.”

“The government is desperate to ensure its victory in the upcoming elections and has started enforced disappearance like before. In the last few days, some of our leaders have been picked up but not taken to court,” Rizvi told BenarNews.

He cited the Monday arrests of Mahmudul Hasan Rafiq and Saiful Islam, two members of the BNP’s student wing, from their residences in Dhaka.

“The police even came back to their residence around 4.00 a.m. on the same day and took them back after fetching their clothes, shoes and passports,” he said.

The home minister denied these ‘enforced disappearances’ allegations as well.  

“These allegations are totally untrue. BNP may have made such allegations to gain political advantage,” he told BenarNews.

The Awami League’s general secretary, Obaidul Quader, also addressed the charge in a statement on Wednesday.

“BNP has chosen the path of arson because it does not have the strength and capacity to conduct the movement in a democratic manner. They themselves go into hiding and falsely claim disappearance to avoid arrest,” he said.

The story was updated to add a section about the U.N. human rights chief's letter to the Bangladeshi prime minister.


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