Police in Bangladesh have filed criminal complaints against tens of thousands of people for violence-related cases in recent years. But the opposition and rights activists say most of the cases, allegedly involving bombing and rioting, were made up.
Opposition parties claim most of those targeted were their leaders, workers and supporters, and that the government used the law enforcement agency to crack down on its political rivals.
“Police in Bangladesh registered thousands of criminal cases on incidents that had not taken place in real life at all. Fictitious cases were filed against many people who were dead, infirm or migrant during the period of the falsely-claimed violent incidents in the country,” Hong Kong-based Bangladeshi rights activist Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman said.
In Bangladesh, police can file criminal complaints against anyone without having to provide any evidence, whereas charging them officially with a crime takes place in court and requires a level of evidence that the person charged was likely to have been involved in the crime.
“Police filed cases against as many as 2.5 million leaders, workers and supporters of our party in the past nine or ten years. Almost all cases were related to violence and rioting. They filed these bogus cases simply to keep our leaders and activists away from political activities,” said opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) senior joint secretary Ruhul Kabir Rizvi Ahmed.
Long history of allegations
Police in Bangladesh have long been accused of abduction, enforced disappearance, extrajudicial killing and other abuses.
While the government denies the abuses, several international human rights groups say they have documented human rights violations committed by the country’s police and other law enforcement agencies.
Rights activists note the number of criminal cases began rising sharply after police began targeting opposition party leaders and workers in violence-related cases in recent years.
A couple of years after Sheikh Hasina became the prime minister in 2009, her government began cracking down on the opposition forces, largely using the country’s law enforcement agencies, said pro-democracy activist Pinaki Bhattacharya.
“When opposition political activists demonstrated in the streets some years ago, police used canes and guns to keep them under control. The opposition parties are too scared to take to streets these days. In this situation, in a proactive step, police have made it a new practice to harass the political opponents of the government by filing the suits against them,” Bhattacharya told VOA.
“Police filed cases against people who were dead, too sick to move and even away in jail during the violent incidents in which they stood directly accused. It shows the bogus nature of the cases,” he added.
Dead man accused of bombing?
In one instance, police filed a violence-related case against a BNP leader, linking him to an incident which did not take place while he was alive.
“[BNP] leader Nurul Islam had died in August. But, police filed a case against him charging that he took part in a bomb attack in September. They filed the false case just because he was a BNP leader,” said a relative of Islam, who does not want to be identified fearing reprisal from the police.
The government insists that police action in the cases has not been politically motivated.
“In all countries the opposition always levels such allegation against the government. This is political statement. Such statements are exaggerated, not based on facts. Police arrested those [opposition] people not on political ground. They were arrested on charges of breaking laws, creating chaos etc.,” said Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, Prime Minister Hasina’s media advisor.
However, rights activists refuse to accept that the cases against the opposition were not politically motivated.
Bangladeshi American political scientist Ali Riaz said that police in Bangladesh have implicated “tens of thousands of innocent people”, including those who are physically disabled and children, in “frivolous and fictitious” criminal cases.
“The jails are holding more than their capacity. When innocent people with no political connections are facing so many cases and experiencing such traumatic situation, we can understand what the opposition activists are going through for the past years. It shows how authoritarian the government has become and the extent of persecution of any dissent,” said Riaz, who teaches at Illinois State University.
During the recent general election, several general election candidates from the opposition alliance said police blatantly sided with the Awami League to ensure victory for Sheikh Hasina.
“Many of our party leaders and workers became victims of enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killing after police picked them up. A week before the general election armed ruling party goons laid siege to my residence. Police openly said they could not provide safety to me,” said Mosharraf Hossain, who was an opposition BNP candidate in the general election.
But Chowdhury said the charge that the police helped the government rig the general election in favor of the ruling party was baseless.
“These are mere statements. But, these are not based on facts because the opposition till today could not justify their allegation that the election was rigged. They held public hearing. In those public hearing they could not establish their allegation,” the Hasina advisor said.