Updated at 6:03 p.m. ET on 2018-10-09
Lawyers for Bangladesh’s main opposition party allege that hundreds of thousands of its members have been named in police reports lodged in recent weeks in a bid to prevent them from participating in political activities ahead of upcoming national elections.
Thousands of people have been jailed as a result, Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, joint secretary of the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), told BenarNews on Tuesday.
A petition demanding an investigation of the matter had its first hearing in Bangladesh’s High Court on Monday and Tuesday, but the two judges could not agree on the case, so it will now be assigned to a different bench, according to Bangladesh Attorney General Mahbubey Alam.
“Between the 1st and 20th of September, police filed 4,000 cases against BNP leaders and workers all over the country. More than 300,000 people were accused or listed,” BNP lawyer Sanaullah Miah told BenarNews.
“The intention is essentially to stop opposition leaders and workers from participating in election activities. That’s why we have submitted a writ petition asking to investigate the merit of those cases,” said Khandaker Mahbub Uddin Ahmed, a BNP lawyer who joined in filing the petition on Sept. 22.
In comments on Monday, Law Minister Anisul Huq appeared to acknowledge that key BNP members had been named in multiple police cases.
“Investigations will be conducted to find out whether any of the cases recently filed against the BNP leaders and activists are false or fictitious. If anybody is not involved in offenses, they’ll be cleared of the cases through final reports submitted to the courts,” he said.
Earlier, Assistant Police Inspector-General Sohel Rana denied that the cases were baseless or politically-motivated.
“Police always file cases on the basis of specific allegations,” he said on Oct. 2. “If we made any mistake in filing cases, then the court will decide about those.”
The officials did not specify how long this legal process would take. The date of the election has not been formally announced but is expected in late December or by Jan. 28, 2019 at the latest.
BNP and its 20-party alliance opted not to participate in the last general election, in 2014, saying it would not be free and fair.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been in power since 2009, which together with her earlier 5-year stint (1996-2001) makes her the longest-serving leader of the South Asian country.
BNP has not declared its intentions this year. Its figurehead, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, 73, is ailing and imprisoned on corruption charges. Her son, Tareq Rahman, is in exile and on trial in absentia for a 2004 grenade attack on a ruling party rally that killed 24 people.
The BNP has been considering linking up with a new alliance led by former law minister Kamal Hossain, 81, and former president Badruddoza Chowdhury, 86. Either of those senior figures could serve as prime-minister in waiting, but as a condition of joining, the BNP would have to part ways with its longtime partner, faith-based Jamaat-e-Islami.
The Awami League government has been using police reports to suppress the opposition for a decade, BNP leaders claim.
Addressing a press conference at his party’s headquarters on Oct. 7, BNP secretary general Mirza Fakrul Islam Alamgir claimed that around 90,340 cases had been filed against more than 2.5 million party members since 2009.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that hundreds of thousands of police reports had been lodged against BNP activists in recent weeks.