Mohammad Zainal Abedin, writes from New York
Though democracy in 1971 was the immediate spirit and reason of Bangladesh’s liberation war, it is now imprisoned in the country. As soon as Radio Pakistan in its 2-PM news bulletin broadcast on March 2, 1971, that the scheduled Pakistan National Assembly Session wouldn’t be held in Dhaka on March 3, 1971, the then East Pakistanis burst, as if, into fire sensing that Pakistan government was poised to foil their democratic mandate that they extended to the then Awami League (AL) that made it sure that AL Chief Sheikh Mujibur Rahman would take over as the Prime Minister of Pakistan. The then East Pakistanis (today’s Bangladeshis) instantly went to streets, held spontaneous demonstration. Pakistan psychologically was partitioned on that day. So realisation of democratic right was the instant reason and spirit of the liberation war of 1971 that led to the emergence of independent Bangladesh breaking Pakistan.
The incumbent regime unfortunately denies the democratic rights to her political foes belonging to the 2o-party alliance led by former Prime Minister and BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party) Chief Begum Khaleda Zia.
Since the government in its second term, since 6, January 2014 dismaying all, became miser in allowing the opposition alliance or its partners to hold peaceful rally or demonstration. Members in the government to deny rally and demonstration brand those as an act of militancy and extremism. On some occasions opposition parties were either permitted to hold such programs on tough preconditions or those programs were disrupted jointly by police and pro-government elements dishonoring the permission. Pro-government groups either declared meeting, or human chain or demonstration on the same venue at the same time on the same date or the law-enforcing agencies imposed Section 144 in the name of law and order. Opposition leaders and activists were sued on fake charges of arson or damaging vehicles though none of them was present on spot of such untoward occurrences. It is difficult to find any BNP or Jammaat-e-Islami, the two major partners of the 20-party alliance, whose leader or known activist is not the accused of any case.
To justify such assertion let me present somewhat old statistics unveiled by Daily Manabzamin (June 14, 2014) of Dhaka, that show the extent (heap) of cases against the BNP leaders. At least six BNP leaders, unbelievably now face over one hundred cases each. These leaders are Sayed Moazzem Hossain Alal, Sultan Salauddin Tuku, Shaiful Alam Nirob, S M Jahangir, Habibur Rashid Habib and Ishaque Sarkar. About 50 BNP leaders face 50 cases each. Five members of the National Standing Committee, the policymaking body of BNP, face over 20 cases each.
A total of 22 cases have been lodged against Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, the Acting Secretary General of BNP. BNP Standing Committee member and Former Law Minister Barrister Maudud Ahmed and Barrister Rafiqul Islam Miah face 20 and 22 cases respectively.
Sadek Hossen Khoka, the Former Mayor of Dhaka City Corporation is an accused of 20 cases. He was in jail for five months during Sheikh Hasina’s 2nd term. On the other Abdus Salam Pintu remains in prison for the last eight year. Ruhul Kabir Rizvi was detained for eight months and he faces 12 cases. (He was arrested again in the early hours of Saturday, January 31, 2015). BNP leader and the running General Secretary of the Supreme Court Bar Association Barrister Mahbubuddin Khokon was in jail for 45 days. There is no previous instance that any sitting General Secretary of Bangladesh Supreme Court Bar Association was arrested ever. Former Minister Ashanul Haq faces at least 50 cases. He was in jail for 449 days.
Ex-MP Shahiduddin Chowdhury Anny faces 19 cases. He was in jail for three times during the present government. Jubo Dal President Sayed Muazzem Hossain Alal faces 110 cases. There are 130 cases agasint Saiful Islam Nirob, the General Secretary of Jubo Dal while its Organizing Secretary A K M Mozammel Haque faces 22 cases. Dhaka North Jubo Dal President Mamun Hasan faces over 50 cases while its General Secretary S M Jahangir faces 116 cases. Dhaka South Jubo Dal Presidnet Rafiqul Alam Mozur faces 78 cases while its Secretary Hamid faces 52 cases.
Sechchayasebek Dal President Habibun-Nabi Khan faces 75 cases while its General Secretary Mir Sarafat Ali Sopu faces 70 cases. There are 80 cases against Chhatra Dal Central Committee President Abdul Kader Juwel while its General Secretary Habibur Rashid Habib faces 140 and Senior Joint Secretary Obayedul Haque Nasir faces over 50 cases. But its Dhaka North Branch President Ishaque Sarkar tops the list of all other BNP and its front organizations’ leaders. He is an accused of 170 cases.
Knowledgeable sources claimed that more cases have been lodged against the BNP and its front organisation leaders over the last seven months (July, 2014 to January, 2015), particularly since the blockade started on January 5 (2015). But no sources could confirm the exact figure of the cases. BNP leaders have of late made mention of 17,000 arrests. However, they are over sure that there are no BNP activists, not to speak of its leaders, left who are free from any case. They alleged none can say how many innocent people, including the BNP and Jammat activists and supporters, have been recorded as accused since January 5.
A Bengali daily of Dhaka basing on the reports of its grassroots level correspondents informed that from January 1 to 16 of the current year Police filed at least 300 new cases against 60 thousands alliance leaders and activists and common people. The daily referring the alliance leaders said, over 400 cases were lodged against more than 100,000 leaders and activists and common people. In most these cases names of two to three accused were mentioned and included unnamed numbers of unanimous people, who are the victims of bribe, extortion and police harassment. These cases were lodged on charges of ‘attack, arson, anarchy, violence, and deterring police in the discharge of their duties’.
According to a Bengali daily Amader Shomoy, between 1 and 6 January about 150 cases were filed throughout the country accusing 35 thousand people, 90 per cent of whom are ‘unknown’. The daily in its online version of January 17 mentioned the names of some districts and the number of cases lodged against the leaders and activists of the pro-blockade parties. 400 accused in four cases in Shahabag and Ramna Police Stations of Dhaka; 700 accused in two cases in Chittagong; 3000 in seven cases in Chapainawabganj; accused in two cases in Mymensingh’ 1,500 in four cases in Rajshahi; 390 in four cases in Sylhet; 2,300 in 11 cases in Chandpur; 1,850 in 11 cases in Narayanganj; 580 in two cases in Dinajpur; 1,000 in two cases in Molovibazar; 550 against three cases in two Police Stations Nabiganj and Bahubal of Hobiganj; 350 against one case in Shoilkupa Police Station of Jhenaidah; 250 in one case in Pabna; 360 in six cases in Brahminbaria; 250 accused in two cases in Kahagrachari; 668 in two cases in Sunamganj; 255 in two cases in Sirajganj; 90 in one case in Khustia; 89 in one case in Noakhali; 75 in two cases in Khulna; 650 in three cases in Lakshimpur; 27 in one case in Jessore; 188 in one case in Feni; 60 in one case in Munshiganj; 500 accused in two cases in Natore; 300 accused in case in Bhola.
In the 2nd phase in between January 7 to 16 police lodged about 100 cases throughout Bangladesh. In Putia Police Station of Rajshahi 14,000 leaders and activists were sued in two cases. 35, 000 persons in one case in Begumganj P.S. of Noakahli; 3,500 in four cases of Chapainababganj; 170 persons in one case in Comilla, 100 persons in one case in Rajshahi; 65 persons in two cases in Savar of Dhaka; 200 persons in 12 cases in Sylhet and Sunamganj; 200 persons in one case in Palashbari of Ghaibandah; 110 in one case in Gobindahganj of Ghaigandah; 60 in one case in Khulna; 200 persons in one case in Trishal of Mymensingh; 69 persons in Rangpur; 300 persons in one case in Dhunat of Bogra; 550 persons in four cases in Sirajganj; 60 persons in one case in Munshiganj; 50 persons in one case in Juri; 250 persons in four cases in Comilla; 150 persons in one case in Feni; 16 persons in one case in Narail; 150 in 2 cases in Sylhet; 50 persons in one case in Narayanganj; 22 persons in one case in Kuliarchar of Kishoreganj and 50 persons were sued in one case in Barisal.
The pattern and extent of falsity and fakeness of deliberate cases were awfully exposed when 68 BNP leaders and activists and a number of unknown people were sued for their alleged involvement in throwing petrol bomb on a bus on the night of January 24. Out of them 18 central leaders of BNP were included as accused. These leaders are: BNP Standing Committee Member MK Anwar, Barrister Rafiqul Islam Miah, Bangladesh Supreme Court Bar Council President Advocate Khondokar Mahbub Hossain, Press Secretary of BNP Chairperson Maruf Kamal Khan, Shimul Bishwas, Veteran journalist National Press Club President Showkat Mahmud, BNP Vice Chairman Selima Rahman, BNP Women Wing General Secretary Shirin Sultana, Shamsuddin Didar, Ruhul Kabir Rizvi Ahmed, Aman Ullah Aman, Barkat Ullah Bulu, Sarufuddiin Shofu, Habibun Nabi Khan Shoel, Azizul Bari Helal, Commissioner Kaium and Latif, BNP Press Wing official Shairul Kabir Khan, ex-MP Salauddin Ahmed, and local BNP leader Nabiullah Nabi.
The allegation against the accused is that they threw petrol bomb on a bus following BNP Chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia’s instruction to enforce a nationwide indefinite blockade. None of these 68 leaders and activists was present at the spot of occurrence at Jatrabari on Friday night when the bomb attack on the bus was executede. There were ample police around the spot of the occurrence, but mysteriously they didn’t try to nab the attackers.
The number of arrestees is so high that 68 prisons around Bangladesh are overcrowded with the detainees and prisoners. These 68 prisons though can accommodate 29,000 arrestees/detainees, currently they are congested with over 80 thousand. To comprehend the reality, let me cite the position of Chittagong Central Jail. Shofir Mia, the Senior Superintendent of Chittagong Jail confirmed that Chittagong Jail is extremely overcrowded with the prisoners. He said, the jail can accommodate 1,853 prisoners, but their present number varies from 4,000 to 4,500. He said, now due to blockade 50 to 60 new arrestees are daily sent to the jail by police. (Daily Amarder Shomoy, Dhaka, January, 29, 2015). The same situation prevails in all other jails of Bangladesh.
Daily Amader Shomoy narrated that the concerned authorities face tremendous pressure and difficulties centering on the prisoners. The bitter cold aggravated the situation from bad to worse, as the available blankets in the jail are extremely insufficient to meet the growing prison population. As a result, the prisoners suffer from cold-related diseases. The sufferers don’t get the required medical treatment. Even many of them don’t get two squares meals a day. Some of them even don’t get a space to sleep. However, these facilities may be available if the jail police and officials are bribed. Those who protest against all these anomalies and dishonesties are to undergo torture unlawfully committed by the jail police.
The Bengali daily ‘Manobzamin’ quoting BNP sources said, during the last four years (201-14) over 20 thousands BNP and about 21 thousands Jamat leaders and activists were arrested. About 15 hundred cases were lodged against over .2 million (200,000) Jamat leaders and activists. Availing the political unrest police and a section of prison officials and employees are engaged in arrest business. Police scaring the innocent people of arrest demand huge amount of money to avert arrest. On the other hand, the corrupt prison officials and employees despite having bail detain the accused in the jail gate if they do not pay money.
20-party alliance leaders from grassroots level to the top are encaged in deliberate and politically motivated cases. There are a few of them who is not an accused in at least one case. Some leaders have more than one hundred cases. Most of them spend the whole week in attending Courts. Some of them daily attend Courts in eight to 10 cases.
The current blockade and the insecure situation not only lead Bangladesh to an uncertain future, but also to extremism. Secret killing, what was seen in the early seventies seems to resurrect in new form. Political activists, particularly the youths are killed by law enforcing agencies and unknown assailants. In many cases police lifted the victims daily from their houses, but later denied such act and the victims were found dead. In this way a generation is being wiped out in Bangladesh. If the situation continues, it is apprehended; at least a section of the youth will take arms to protect themselves from the armed cadres of the ruling party. That will be suicidal for Bangladesh.
Under this situation, international community, particularly UN should immediately come forward to restore peace and democracy in Bangladesh. Otherwise serious bloodshed may occur in Bangladesh and which in course of time may spread to its neighboring territories, from where arms and chemicals are traditionally smuggled into Bangladesh.
(The writer is a journalist & researcher based in NY. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The ideas expressed in this article are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of GreenWatch Dhaka.)