Mass arrests have created panicky situation | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 06, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, June 06, 2008


Mass arrests have created panicky situation

It is widely being seen as harassment of political activists

It is time to talk about mass arrests again, for the obvious reason that there is growing public disquiet about the whole sordid business. In the eight days since the government launched what was given out as a drive against known and listed criminals, as many as 12,000 people have been detained and carted off to prison. The sheer scale of the operation along with the ferocity of it has left an entire nation reeling. Most surprising is the fact that despite the government's stress on nabbing criminals there has been a wide-ranging operation against political workers throughout the country. In fact, more political individuals than lawbreakers have been taken into custody, which makes hollow the government's claim that the action is only aimed at people who have committed crimes and who have so long remained outside the bounds of the law.
The result has been the creation of unwarranted panic. Reports coming in from various parts of the country vividly describe a condition where workers of the Awami League and the BNP are on the run and party organisational activities are in disarray. And there lies the irony. The relaxation of the ban on indoor politics a few weeks ago had given rise to hope that politics was soon to get back to normal. Now the police as well as joint forces operations have undermined that very move. And at a time when the government says it is trying to bring the parties to a dialogue with it, the drive against political leaders and workers does not tally with its stated intentions. There is a huge disconnect between what it says it is doing and what it is actually doing. The message that is thus being sent out is a disturbing one, especially in conditions that should have been easing the way to the promised general elections. The home ministry has of course issued a statement of the routine sort on the arrests, but it lacks the credibility to be considered acceptable by the public.
The mass arrests, apart from the negative consequences they will likely have on politics, are also a serious instance of a violation of human rights. The wide powers the law enforcers enjoy makes it extremely difficult for innocent people arrested to find their way out of the mess. Over the last few days, the human dimensions of the arrests, similar to those witnessed during the rule of the four-party BNP-led government, have become morbidly clear. Absolute uncertainty about the fate of the arrestees has only compounded the problems for their families, whose anxious presence at the various police stations for news of their dear ones captures, in a large way, the mood of the country.
It is time for the government to evaluate the entire operation and rethink its purpose and effectiveness. The country needs to get back to talk of elections and the ways of their being organised. We ask that, barring those with specific cases against them, all other detained people be freed. And let all harassment against political workers come to an end, if restoration of democracy is the goal.

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