BANGLADESH: Arbitrary arrests and detention must end immediately 

The people of Bangladesh are living in a tense situation prior to a mass rally in Dhaka on March 12, 2012 called by the opposition parties against the ruling regime.

The opposition political parties, led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, have organised a march towards Dhaka, on March 12 which is aimed at showing their political strength by gathering as many of their supporters as possible and bringing them to the capital. The opposition parties claim that they are hosting a peaceful rally peacefully, as is their right to have freedom of assembly. However, they accuse the government of arresting hundreds of their activists and supporters prior to the rally.

The government, which held a rally on March 7 even in participation with the public employees and is planning to hold another one in two days’ time, has deployed all of its agents, including the police, Rapid Action Battalion and other intelligence agencies, to prevent the public rally of the opposition. It appears that the ruling regime is attempting to deny its opponents the right to hold political meetings and rallies in public. They have been blaming the opposition for conspiring to cause a breakdown of the law and order in the country.

The Asian Human Rights Commission has learned that the law-enforcing agents of Bangladesh have already arrested hundreds of ordinary people and activists of the opposition political parties, en mass. And these arrests are continuing. The authorities are detaining the arrestees arbitrarily under Section 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure-1989 and several other draconian laws including the Dhaka Metropolitan Police Ordinance-1976 and Anti-Terrorism Act-2009. According to available information, several thousand people have already been illegally arrested and arbitrarily detained only in last three days.

Amongst the detainees, the poor people have been the victims of the on-going random arrests by the law-enforcing agents. Most of the detainees are identified as day-labourers, transport-workers, street-hawkers, students and pedestrians. Many of the detainees have been named in fabricated cases as they have failed to pay bribes to the police. The country’s Magistracy, which deals with such arrested persons, appears to be useless to ensure the fundamental right to liberty of persons while almost everyone is being sent to prisons.

The Dhaka Central Jail authorities have admitted that for last three days they have been receiving around four times more detainees than that of the normal practice of detention on a regular basis. Similar reports of arbitrary detentions are being recorded in other cities and towns, although the exact statistics have not been available due to the denial of access to the factual information.

Apart from the arrest and detention the government has ordered the public transportation companies to stop, or reduce, operation to and from the capital city in order to prevent the presence of the pro-opposition supporters in Dhaka. Residential hotels are reportedly ordered to keep closed since 9 March with threats of further harassment if the hotels accommodate anyone. The police and the RAB are raiding the houses of the people, including the leaders of the opposition political parties and other places, including private dormitories where students having no alternative shelter for studies, as their wish, without any credible search warrant.

In the given situation the ordinary people are found to be scared of any necessary movements for their livelihoods. Passengers in limited number of private and public transport that still dare to operate in the streets are facing endless harassment in the name of security checks all around the city of Dhaka. Bangladesh appears to be a complete police state. Most of the families of the detained victims have been extremely helpless concerning the release of their loved ones from prisons for, not only failing to afford the costs incurred, but also the ruthless attitudes of the government and the chain of corruption of the policing system of the country.

Showing political strength in public through violent forms and propaganda against each other has been an integral part of the political culture in recent past of Bangladesh. But what is always ignored by every regime is the lives and livelihood of the ordinary people who never wish to be victims of political game of power. Nobody cares for the ordinary people who suffer the pain, torture and involvement in fabricated cases in such circumstances.

In a democracy everyone has freedom of peaceful assembly as one of the fundamental rights that no authority can deny by any excuse. The government of Bangladesh has an obligation to ensure the right to liberty of the people by all means. It has no authority to deny any citizen’s personal liberty by abusing the law arbitrarily.

The Asian Human Rights Commission demands an immediate end to the on-going mass arrests and detention of the people in Bangladesh. There should be credible investigations by competent officials other than the police, who are institutionally corrupted. All the victims of arbitrary detention, who are illegally arrested prior to the opposition rally, should be released without further delay. The government should ensure legal aid to these detainees if they are unable to afford the expenditure that has been an extraburden on their hardships. They also deserve compensation from the authorities for the suffering they have been subjected to.