Monday, June 13, 2011

Opposition strike paralyze Bangladesh

SALEEM SAMAD

OPPOSITION AND allies have warned of fresh political action against the intimidation, harassment and arrest of 500 activists including scores of senior leaders.

Nearly a dozen commuter buses were torched and sporadic running battle with riot police armed with short guns and tear gas shells during the 36-hour countrywide shut down on Sunday and Monday, disrupting normal life and business.

The two-day marathon strike called by opposition Bangladesh Nationalists Party (BNP) and its ally Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami in a desperate bid to halt government’s move to scrap general elections under neutral caretaker government, when the superior court last month has declared such system as illegal. The opposition fears that the ruling party would rig the election scheduled to be held in 2013.

The government’s move to abolish the caretaker-government system through a radical constitutional amendment is underway, an official confirmed.
The authorities jailed at least 116 people on charges of rampaging and torching buses and disrupting public life, police said. Police has released most of the senior leaders, especially parliament members after nightfall on Monday.

Protesting the arrests, opposition Chief Whip Jainul Abedin Farooque said the authority requires to seek permission from the speaker of the parliament, if they need to arrest any parliamentarian while the parliament is on session. But, police failed to confirm that they took permission from the speaker about the arrest.

For the first time in 40 years, mobile courts manned by magistrates sentenced more than a 100 people, most of them opposition activists, to jail terms ranging from one month to three months in summary trials on the during the strike.

The BNP leader sternly condemned the ruling Awami League for what they said taking recourse to illegal means, for meting out repression to political opponents
Opposition secretary-general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said on Monday that they remained besieged in their central office in capital Dhaka for a second day.

Meanwhile rights groups came down heavily on the government and expressed their concern over human rights abuses and indiscriminate arrest and punishment of pro-strike activists by mobile courts.

Rights group leader Sultana Kamal of Ain O Salish Kendra, Sultana Kamal argued that most people detained and punished were innocent. Another legal expert dubbed the judgment as extra-constitutional.

However, interior minister Sahara Khatoon echoed with the law enforcement agencies for summary trial of street hooliganism during political action.

The export industries body, traders association and business leaders have separately condemned the opposition call for countrywide strike, which seriously hampers production and economic losses.

Surprisingly, the stock indexes gained 228.44 points or 4.02 percent to 5904.73 as trading on the second day of the week closed amid a 36-hour shutdown.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com