Towards a Fascist State?
government, faced by an opposition ultimatum to quit before
April 30, has been
resorting to indiscriminate arrest. According to an unofficial
estimate, around 10,000
people, mostly innocent, have so far been arrested within days
by the Home Ministry and
its faithful. While sheer arrogance runs high in the ruling
coalition; the question remains
is, are we heading towards a fascist state?
dingy custody room of Motijheel Police Station on April 23 resembled
a Pakistani-era concentration camp. The air of the small room
was filled with the agony and trauma of hundreds of citizens,
mostly young men, arrested from different places of the city.
It was not
any different elsewhere on the following day. Twenty-five policemen
lined up outside the Kamlapur Railway Station (KRS) in two rows
as Jayantika Expresse had just arrived from Sylhet. The team
spotted Sujon, a student of Akhaura Degree College, walking
about outside KRS, along with his cousin Pavel. Moments later
both were arrested and hauled to the van to be produced later
to the court. By evening, some 1,000 youths were picked up from
the railway stations, launch and bus terminals and different
city points under the section 54.
is, however, quite different for a lucky few; police have been
sparing the active members of the ruling party. A young activist
of the Jatiatabadi Chatra Dal, student wing of the ruling Bangladesh
Nationalist Party (BNP), was arrested, and later released after
the police received a phone-call from the BNP high command.
Encouraged by his release, a Daily Star (DS) reporter says,
Sharif, a welder and one of the other picked up youths, begged
for his release, saying he went to the railway station to pass
his day-off at the KRS. "After hearing this, the police
on duty took a sneaky look at me and said, 'Don't you have any
other place to go?'"
have customarily been abusing the infamous Section 54 of Criminal
Procedure, which allows the law enforcers to arrest practically
anyone on suspicion. But this time, while the wholesale arrest
goes on, the Police are violating a High Court order that says
that the arrested must be produced before the court within 24
hours and their relatives be informed about the arrest. But,
according to newspaper reports, none of these dictums are being
followed when police swing into indiscriminate arrests.
Sultana Kamal, executive director of Ain O Salish Kendro has
termed police highhandedness as a gross violation of human rights,
the constitution and the High Court ruling. But, to rub salt
on the wounds of those who still believe in the rule of law,
the court itself has violated the law when it has sentenced
scores of people to a three-day imprisonment without the people
arrested being produced before the court, a DS report says.
the number of arrests has reached five figures, the government
and its intelligentsia have so far remained unmistakably silent.
The home ministry has not found it necessary to let us know
the reasons for this mindless act of state terrorism. "We
have nothing to do; we're doing what our higher authorities
have instructed us to do dutifully," reasons a police officer,
when he was asked the reason for the indiscriminate arrests.
arrest, however, has given the police a chance to make "a
windfall in bribes". Kahinur Begum, a private tutor, has
told the DS how she was picked up and then later freed by the
police in exchange of a bribe on April 21. "I was picked
up from the Maghbazaar residence of an Awami League leader where
I stay. I begged them for mercy. But they said they would only
let me off if I paid them money. then I had to pay Tk 500 to
get myself free," she claims.
is not the only case. The police even did not spare a 16-year-old,
whom they had arrested on "suspicion" at the Airport
Railway Station that day. His brother had to bribe the officer
on duty to get the boy free. The boy and his brother want to
remain anonymous, fearing police reprisal.
mindless arrests, in the name of so-called national security
continue. The courts had worked into whole nights to convict
those arrested on April 20 and 21. "The huge pressure of
cases have dragged the procedures on, leaving the people waiting
in the intense heat without food and water in cramped lockups,"
a newspaper report says.
were also made to sit outside the court prison cells, which
can only hold 96 persons, because of space constraints. The
General Records section of the court prepared files against
the people arrested without any documents. The authorities of
the already crammed jail are struggling to accommodate the newcomers.
With a capacity of 2500 inmates, the jail usually houses 10,000
prisoners, the report informs.
on such gross violations of human rights, Shahdin Malik, a legal
expert and rights activist, says, "Mass arrests at launch
and bus terminals and other entry points into Dhaka indicate
that they are not based on suspicion, but on arbitrary presumption."
He describes the arrests as illegal and unconstitutional.
through which thousands of innocent young men have been going
will surely haunt them for the rest of their lives. Jewel, Fazal
and Murad, three HSC examinees came to Dhaka for shopping when
they were arrested on April 23. "Do you know brothers,
what will be our fate? Our examinations will begin on May 11;
will we be released before that or will we languish in jail?"