Eight election coordinators of BNP Gazipur mayoral candidate Hasan Uddin Sarker were arrested by law enforcers on Wednesday, party leaders said.
They alleged that the arrests were made to spread panic among the party men.
The move came just a few hours after Chief Election Commissioner KM Nurul Huda had expressed satisfaction over the law and order in Gazipur city ahead of the June 26 polls.
Soon after the incident, Hasan wrote to the returning officer demanding immediate release of the arrestees.
Fazlul Huq Milon, convener of the BNP's election coordination committee, alleged that the party leaders were arrested to disrupt electioneering and create panic among the party men. He demanded the authorities release the leaders immediately.
Returning Officer Rakib Uddin Mondal told journalists that he wrote to the police administration and the deputy commissioner of Gazipur asking them to free the arrestees if they were not facing arrest warrants.
“I talked to the DC and SP of Gazipur. None should be arrested or harassed ahead of the election if there is no specific allegation. It is our clear instruction that nobody should be harassed as it will disrupt the level-playing field,” he said.
BNP leaders said the Dhaka and Gazipur DB police arrested four each. Police, however, admitted arresting only two leaders.
According to BNP leaders, the arrestees are Kashimpur area election coordination committee member secretary Md Shahin, member Shahjahan Dilar; Konabari election coordination committee convener Milon, member Milon Mia, Taijul Islam; Baliara centre election coordination committee member Abdus Samad, Kawltia area polls coordinating committee member Shah Alam and Abu Sayem of Markun area.
Harun-or-Rashid, superintend of police in Gazipur, said the BNP candidate claimed that the two arrestees, wanted in narcotics cases, were members of its election management committee.
Amir Hossein, inspector of Gazipur DB police, said they arrested Abu Sayem, 34, and Sohel Rana, 32.
Sohel, an accused in a narcotics case filed with Tongi Police Station, was arrested with drugs. Sayem was wanted in a case filed with the same police station in 2013 under the explosives act, the DB official said.
Devdas Bhattacharya, additional commissioner (Detective Brach) of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, told The Daily Star that he had no information about the arrests of the four BNP men.
Hasan Uddin Sarker said they have trust in the Election Commission. The EC should take actions so that the voters can cast their votes without fear, he added.
He accused the law enforcers of disrupting the polls atmosphere. “All the election commissioners and top local administration officials have assured the candidates of holding a free and fair election. How could fair polls be held if our party leaders and activists were arrested?”
Hasan alleged that the government was trying to create a situation like that in Khulna last month when many BNP leaders were arrested and harassed.
Awami League mayor candidate Jahangir Alam said the BNP leaders and activists should not be harassed over the polls. “But if anyone is facing an arrest warrant and accused in criminal cases, the law enforcers should take action against that individual as per law.”
In Khulna, BNP mayor candidate Nazrul Islam Monju had suspended his polls campaign for several hours a few days ahead of the May 15 city polls, protesting the arrests and harassment of party men.
A BNP leader recently filed a writ petition with the High Court over the issue. In response, the court directed law enforcers not to harass or arrest any political leader and activist in Khulna city until the election was held.
The HC also issued a rule asking the government to explain in four weeks why the mass arrests of BNP leaders, activists and election campaigners should not be declared illegal as the action violated a judgment of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.