Bangladesh’s BNP stages huge protest, plays exiled leader’s phone call to supporters

BenarNews staff
Bangladesh’s BNP stages huge protest, plays exiled leader’s phone call to supporters Supporters of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) attend an anti-government rally in Dhaka, July 28, 2023.

Bangladesh’s main opposition party played a rare phone call from its exiled leader to tens of thousands of supporters as they gathered in Dhaka for an anti-government rally Friday, according to the party’s Facebook page.

The address to Bangladesh Nationalist Party supporters by Acting Chairman Tarique Rahman, some said, was the first since he fled to London in 2008. BNP officials played Rahman’s speech over a loudspeaker, despite the country’s High Court having banned his speeches from being published or aired.

“This rally is not a rally of only the BNP, it is a rally for journalists who have been assaulted and oppressed by the government for many years,” Rahman said in the audio recording of the eight-minute address posted by the party on Facebook.

“This is a rally for human rights activists who [have] suffered for long … if this rally fails, the nation will fail.”

He gave his speech as the BNP intensified its program of rallies ahead of an upcoming general election to demand the ouster of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League government, who have ruled the South Asian nation uninterrupted since 2009. 

The Hasina government has been going after critics and journalists, but is under growing international scrutiny over the climate for free speech as well as free and fair polls in the run-up to the polls, which are due in December or January.

The government has hit back, with the foreign ministry this week warning Western countries to not engage in “undiplomatic behavior” through public criticism ahead of the polls. On Wednesday, ministry officials met with 13 countries’ envoys who had jointly condemned an assault on an independent candidate earlier this month.

On Friday, BNP supporters repeated their demand that Hasina’s administration step aside so the upcoming national election could be held under a neutral caretaker government. 

The BNP claimed that around 1,000 of its supporters had been arrested in the days leading up to Friday’s rally.

Rahman’s address motivated supporters, Shahid Uddin Chowdhury Annie, a BNP leader, told BenarNews.

“Our activists are now more energized than earlier. Our upcoming programs to oust the Awami League will be more organized,” he said.

Thousands of supporters cheered when a BNP official announced that Rahman would address the rally, which took over more than two km (1.25 miles) of roads in central Dhaka. 

As of late Friday, Rahman’s speech had not been aired or published by any media outlet in Bangladesh.

Supporters of the ruling Awami League party chant slogans at a rally organized to counter an opposition gathering on the same day in Dhaka, July 28, 2023. [BenarNews]

Playing Rahman’s address at a party gathering did not defy the court ban, Tanim Ahmed, a High Court lawyer, told BenarNews. The court issued the ban in 2015, in response to a petition.

Rahman, the political heir to and eldest son of opposition leader and former three-time Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, fled while on parole after being detained by a military-backed government in a case tied to a 2004 grenade attack that had targeted then-opposition leader Sheikh Hasina.

Rahman was later convicted in the 2004 case as well as in a separate corruption case. His mother Khaleda, who has also been convicted for corruption, has been under house arrest for several years. 

Political analyst Harun-or-Rashid, however, dismissed Rahman’s virtual presence as insignificant.

“His remarks do not carry any meaning to the people of the country,” said the political science professor and former vice chancellor of the National University.

“If he has courage, he should come here and face everything in a legal manner.”

Meanwhile, the ruling Awami League held a counter-rally, which they called a “Peace Rally,” not far from where BNP’s supporters had gathered.

Both rallies drew around 100,000 attendees each, said Faruk Hossain, spokesperson for the Dhaka Metropolitan Police, although the BNP claimed that half a million of its supporters had come together. 

The BNP said it planned to hold sit-ins at every main entry point into Dhaka on Saturday.

The Awami League followed suit, saying it would counter those sit-ins with “Peace Rallies” at the same places that day.


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