Bangladesh opposition says hundreds of supporters held before polls
- Bangladesh Nationalist Party claims nearly 2,000 members have been arrested or disappeared in the past month
Bangladesh’s opposition party on Sunday said nearly 2,000 of its supporters have been arrested on trumped-up charges in a crackdown aimed at derailing its campaign just weeks before a general election.
The Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which wants to unseat Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on December 30, said at least 1,972 party officials and campaigners had been detained since the election was announced a month ago.
The arrests are another blow for a beleaguered opposition whose leader Khaleda Zia has been jailed for corruption and barred from running against arch-rival Hasina, who is running for a third consecutive term.
The opposition boycotted the 2014 election, saying it was rigged against Zia in favour of Hasina and her Awami League party.
BNP spokesman Rizvi Ahmed said most party cadres rounded up since late November in police sweep were still behind bars.
“They have filed hundreds of ghost, or fictitious cases, against our party workers and leaders,” he said.
Another party official said at least 11 opposition candidates had also been detained before official campaigning begins on Monday.
“Six of them are still in the jail,” said the official, who declined to be named.
Police said those arrested had outstanding warrants or were connected to other cases.
Ahmed denied this, saying the crackdown was a political “blueprint” by to intimidate its opponents of the ruling party.
“The government wants to hold a lopsided election. These arrests are just to create fear among the people, so that they don’t go to vote,” he said.
The opposition also accused police officials in Chittagong, a southern city, of campaigning on behalf of the Awami League. Police denied the allegations.
The arrests further hinder an already battered alliance of opposition parties, led by the BNP, which have seen their core leadership jailed on charges they say are fabricated.
Zia, a two-time former prime minister and friend-turned-foe of Hasina, was last month ordered by a court to stay behind bars for a decade for graft.
Her supporters say the charges are politically motivated.
Zia’s son, a potential heir to the BNP throne, was sentenced in absentia to life behind bars while hundreds of other loyalists have been arrested or jailed, party officials say.
Just a month from the polls, the BNP has not announced an alternative candidate to run against Hasina, whose rule has been marred by allegations of rights abuses and intolerance for dissent.
Bangladesh has been led by either Zia or Hasina since the 1990s and the two powerful women have turned from close allies to fierce enemies.