Bangladesh police have arrested about 1,700 people, including Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) activists, during a nationwide crackdown ahead of Thursday’s scheduled verdict in a graft case involving opposition leader Khaleda Zia.
Zia, the BNP chairwoman and former prime minister who plans to run again in the 2019 election, could face five years in prison if she, along with her son and four others, are found guilty of misappropriating 21.7 million taka (about U.S. $260,000) from the Zia Orphanage Trust. A guilty verdict would disqualify Zia from seeking to oust Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her ruling Awami League party in next year's polls.
More than 700 people, mostly BNP activists, were arrested in Dhaka and other parts of the country Tuesday, police sources said. Over the previous six days, another 1,000 people had been arrested.
During a video conference, Inspector General of Police Javed Patwari instructed fellow officials to “take all-out measures to maintain law and order at any cost.”
Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) issued an indefinite ban on street protests in the capital, starting at 4 a.m. Thursday.
Police were arresting party members on false charges, BNP Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi told reporters.
“More than 1,200 leaders and activists of BNP have been arrested so far,” he said during a news conference at the party’s central office in Dhaka on Tuesday.
“The law enforcement agencies are in a desperate drive against BNP to implement the desire of the prime minister on Thursday,” he said. “They have predetermined the verdict.”
Awami League leaders, on the other hand, point at BNP for creating turmoil in the country as the verdict nears.
“Why would we bring unrest in the country when we are in power?" Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader told reporters. “But if BNP provokes anarchy and attacks police as they did few days ago, the law enforcement agencies will resist them.”
Uncertainty in Bangladesh
Political analysts said they were worried about possible political turmoil.
“This kind of unrest will not bring any good. The political confrontations should be resolved through dialogue,” said Badiul Alam Majumder, general secretary of Shujan (Citizens for Good Governance), a civil society organization.
“Awami League will not be able to eliminate BNP by force. At the same time BNP will not be able to eliminate the ruling party by force. So they will have to reach a political compromise,” he said.
Students and teachers said they were anxious about the repercussions of Thursday’s verdict.
“Both parties are threatening each other. Police have been arresting enemies,” said Anisul Islam, a teacher at a private university in Dhaka. “It seems that the country will once again tumble down amid political chaos.”
“We are afraid, but our students are more anxious. They ask us whether regular class seminars will take place. We could not tell them anything,” he said.
About 2 million students across Bangladesh are expected to take the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) and equivalent examinations on Thursday.
Last week, police officials issued an 18-point guideline for officers to prepare for the verdict’s aftermath. In addition, eight checkpoints were set up on roads leading to the capital.
Meanwhile, Awami League-backed transportation companies and employees will guard bus terminals in Dhaka to keep BNP activists from entering the city.
Company employees will check passengers and limit the number of buses, according to Khandaker Enayet Ullah, general secretary of the National Road Transport Owners Association.
“At least 20,000 transport workers will guard four bus terminals in the city,” he told BenarNews.
DMP imposed a ban on processions or rallies and on carrying sharp weapons, explosives or flammable materials.
“Police will conduct searches in every vehicle at all points of Dhaka,” DMP Commissioner Assaduzzaman Mia said in a statement. “It is essential to ensure discipline, peace and public safety in DMP areas.”