Church official critical of Bangladesh govt-opposition face off

Disallowing political parties from holding their regular activities is not good news for a democracy and is unacceptable
Church official critical of Bangladesh govt-opposition face off

Police escort a Jamaat-e-Islami leader to a Dhaka court on Oct. 10. Amid a crackdown on opposition parties, a church official has expressed concern over lingering political violence ahead of national elections next year. ( photo)

A senior Bangladesh Catholic Church official has criticized the ruling Awami League government’s crackdown on opposition parties.

Consequent protests and strikes have raised fears of serious election violence next year in the Muslim-majority nation.

Father Albert T. Rozario, convener of the Justice and Peace Commission in Dhaka Archdiocese, told that the government seemed to be targeting all dissenting voices.

"Disallowing political parties from holding their regular activities is not good news for a democracy and is unacceptable," Father Rozario said.

On Oct. 10, Dhaka police arrested nine top leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami, including its party chief and secretary, for allegedly hatching a plot to create "political anarchy."

They were charged and held on remand under the explosives and special powers act.

Jamaat staged a general strike on Oct. 12 which was backed by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the second largest political party in the country.

"The government wants to wipe out leadership of Jamaat-e-Islami and other opposition parties to pave the way for one-party rule," Jamaat said. 

The BNP also staged a nationwide protest rally on Oct. 14 after two courts issued arrest orders against its party chief, Khaleda Zia.

The arrest orders against Zia, who is in London, relate to alleged corruption and instigation of the firebombing of a bus in 2015.

Bangladesh returned to parliamentary democracy in the 1990s after 15 years of military rule. 

The center-left Awami League and center-right BNP have alternated in holding government. 

There has been increased political instability since 2010 when the Awami League formed a special court to prosecute politicians accused of war crimes during the country’s 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.

According to official Bangladesh figures, Pakistan’s military during the war killed up to three million people, raped about 300,000 women and forced 10 million people into becoming refugees.  

Jamaat opposed Bangladesh independence and its leadership was accused of collaborating with the Pakistani military in war crimes by forming Islamic militia groups. 

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The War crimes court has sentenced about a dozen Jamaat and BNP politicians to death or life sentences since 2013. The verdicts sparked deadly political violence, leaving more than 100 people dead.

The Awami League says the war crimes court has popular support and is necessary for "national healing."

BNP and Jamaat see the proceedings as part of a political vendetta.

Political violence erupted both before and after the January 5, 2014, national election.

An Opposition alliance led by the BNP boycotted the election after the Awami League refused to hold polls under a neutral caretaker government.

More than 100 died in a series of violent clashes as the opposition tried to foil the poll.

The Awami League won the election in a landslide with about half of the 300 parliamentary seats being uncontested.

Critics say the bitter political rivalry has exacerbated radicalism during the past four years.

Since 2013, Islamic militants have murdered bout 50 people, including atheist bloggers, liberal academics, gay activists, foreigners and members of religious minorities.

Now Father Rozario fears the latest government crackdown on dissent will fuel more strife.

"In order to avoid violence, all political parties must be allowed to conduct political activities freely," Father Rozario warned. 

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