Thousands of people, said to be linked to the opposition parties, have been detained before and after the Oikyafront's rally at Suhrawardy Uddyan on Tuesday. The police, as usual, claim that those detained were planning subversive activities. However, having visited the spots where the incidents were alleged to have taken place, our reporters found no witness who would corroborate the police allegations. Some were arrested from buses they were travelling in on the day of the rally.
Many of those arrested say they are not involved in politics at all. Therefore, we wonder how police ascertained their political identity. Even if they were BNP activists, how can it be an offence? Moreover, how did the police determine that they were planning criminal or subversive activities?
By indiscriminately detaining people based on nothing more than suspicion, the law enforcement agencies are not only denying a minimum political space but also defying the prime minister's explicit assurance. In the recently held dialogue between the ruling and opposition coalitions, the prime minister said that no one would be detained on political grounds in the run-up to the elections. Upon receiving her assurance, BNP has submitted a list of thousands of its activists who it says were arrested in “political cases” filed since September.
One of the fundamental requirements to ensure a level-playing field before the elections is ensuring that political activists can conduct their activities freely. Arrest on political grounds is unjustified. But as the government seeks to earn other parties' confidence, ending such arrests is one of the first things it can do to create an environment conducive to holding a free and fair election.