BNP: Police conduct mass arrests of party supporters days before big rally

Ahammad Foyez
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BNP: Police conduct mass arrests of party supporters days before big rally A police officer tries to subdue a man shouting pro-Bangladesh Nationalist Party slogans outside the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate court entrance in Dhaka, Dec. 4, 2022.

Police have arrested hundreds of Bangladesh Nationalist Party leaders, field-level organizers, and other members of the opposition party in the past five days ahead of a massive rally it plans to hold in Dhaka next weekend, BNP officials alleged Monday. 

The rally, which is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of BNP supporters, will mark the end of weekly rallies that the party has been staging in cities outside the capital since October and that have attracted huge crowds, the party said. 

Bangladesh police said they had arrested close to 3,900 people since launching a special drive on Dec. 1 to maintain safety and public order in the run-up to Victory Day, a national holiday on Dec. 16, as well as Christmas and New Year’s Eve. About 1,300 of those arrested are BNP members, party officials said, but police did not confirm this information. 

“From Nov. 30 to Monday noon, police arrested 1,315 leaders and activists and conducted raids on the houses of our leaders and activists to create an environment of fear to foil our Dhaka rally,” Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, BNP’s senior joint secretary general, told BenarNews.

“BNP successfully organized nine mass rallies in major cities despite all obstacles created by the police and the ruling Awami League. But the AL is now creating a scary situation as they are afraid after seeing the massive crowds.”

The focal point of all the rallies, which could culminate in a tense standoff during the scheduled rally in Dhaka on Dec. 10, is BNP’s unwavering demand that the ruling party make way for a neutral caretaker government to oversee the next general election, due in December 2023 or January 2024. 

So far, the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has refused to budge on this demand. She has been in power uninterrupted since January 2009. The BNP accuses the Awami League of massive vote tampering in the last general election, held in 2018.

Addressing a meeting of Awami League members in southern Noakhali district, Awami General Secretary Obaidul Quader said the government was taking necessary action to uphold law and order and protect people who fear BNP’s planned rally outside its national party headquarters.

“Our leaders and activists must remain vigilant on Dec. 10 during the Dhaka mass rally of the BNP,” he said.

Dec. 10 is celebrated across the globe as Human Rights Day. Every week since Oct. 12, Bangladesh’s leading opposition party has held rallies in major cities across the south Asian country drawing thousands of people who were not slowed or put off by transportation strikes and arrests.

Uncertainty over rally venue

From the start, the BNP has said it plans to hold a massive rally in front of its party headquarters in the Naya Paltan area of Dhaka.

Citing concerns about public safety, the police have refused to grant the BNP a permit for the rally at that site because it is located along a busy road. Police are asking the party to hold its rally at a local park, Suhrawardy Udya.    

On Sunday, a BNP delegation submitted a letter to Khandaker Golam Faruq, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, asking for permission to hold the rally at the Arambagh area in Dhaka as an alternate site to Naya Paltan.

“Now we are seeking permission for another location as well. We are determined not to hold our rally inside the Suhrawardy Udyan because we believe there is a conspiracy behind letting us hold the rally there,” Iqbal Hasan Mahmud Tuku, a BNP standing committee member, told BenarNews.

BNP leaders are reluctant to stage the rally inside the park, saying they have their own concerns about public safety there because the location has only one entry and exit point.

In 2017, Pope Francis celebrated an open-air Mass in the park attended by about 80,000 people.

On Monday, commissioner Faruq told reporters that police would not allow the BNP to hold a rally on any Dhaka street.

“BNP’s rally venue must be held in a field and not on any road in the city,” he said.

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said the police commissioner had allocated Suhrawardy Udyan for the rally over concerns about the crowd size.

“If BNP supporters gather in front of the party office, defying the police commissioner’s ban, then the commissioner will take necessary steps in line with the law,” Khan told reporters at an event in northeastern Habiganj district on Sunday.

World is watching

Meanwhile, Western and donor countries have been paying attention to the recent political developments in Bangladesh.

In early November, the United Nations and the United States expressed concern about the climate for politics and political gatherings in the South Asian nation ahead of the next general election.

The top U.N. official in the country said Bangladeshis should be allowed to take part in rallies or protests without having to fear violence. In Washington, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department said it hoped to see a high turnout and free and fair elections in Bangladesh.

Then, in mid-November, Awami League leaders warned ambassadors from major donor nations to not interfere with Bangladesh politics by airing concerns about the integrity of the vote in the upcoming general election.

At the time, the state minister of foreign affairs summoned Japanese Ambassador Ito Naoki after he made a comment that he had “heard that police filled the ballot boxes” the night before the 2018 general election.


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