POLICE atrocities of Saturday on leaders and activists of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the political arch-rival of the ruling Awami League, when they were trying to hold black-flag demonstration, protesting at their not being allowed to hold on Thursday a rally in Suhrawardy Udyan or at Naya Paltan, in the capital city appears to be nothing but government high-handedness and a ploy to further shrink democratic space for opposing views. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party planned to hold the rally on Thursday to demand that Khaleda Zia, who has been in jail since February 8 after being convicted, by Dhaka Special Judge’s Court 5, to five years’ imprisonment in a case of corruption involving the charity fund of the Zia Orphanage Trust, should be released. The police, reported not to have been provoked, started arresting BNP leaders and activists as they started gathering in front of the party’s central office to join the demonstration. The police earlier deployed law enforcers in plain clothes and positioned armoured personnel carriers, water cannons and prison vans. The police, as the BNP claims, arrested 150 of their leaders and activists. Two hundred and thirty others are reported to have been injured in police action.
While the arrangement that the police had made on the day suggests that the law enforcers decidedly went into action to foil the demonstration, visibly peaceful, the home minister, however, sought to explain that the government would not hold the BNP from holding any non-violent political programmes. The city police, on the other front, were yet to withdraw the ban that they ordered, until further notice, on February 6, in view of the verdict in the case against Khaleda on February 8, on the assembly of five or more people, public meetings and carrying of firearms and sticks in the capital. All this can be construed to purport efforts on part of the government, presided over by the Awami League, to stop political programmes of political parties in the opposition camp, especially the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. The minister further said that the BNP had no permission to hold demonstrations. What is the point in the minister’s trumpeting the government’s attitude towards the BNP’s holding such programmes if the BNP is not allowed to hold a rally and not allowed to hold protests at being denied the permission, that too in a peaceful manner?
With the national elections said to take place sometimes by the end of this year, it is only natural that political parties would try to hold programmes. This is more so as the ruling Awami League has already embarked on political campaigns with the party chief Sheikh Hasina already having hold more than a couple of public rallies outside the capital. With Khaleda Zia being in jail and the verdict in the case yet to go through two to three stages more, it is for the court to decide what would happen. The government, under the circumstances, can stop the opposition party to hold demonstrations only in violation of the people’s constitutional right to do so.
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