1,100 Bangladeshi opposition activists convicted since September

1,100 Bangladeshi opposition activists convicted since September

DHAKA (AFP): Bangladeshi courts have convicted more than 1,100 opposition officials and activists since September, lawyers said Thursday, a day after scores more of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s opponents were sentenced to prison.

Opposition parties say thousands from their ranks have been arrested this year after huge protests accusing Hasina of ruling with an iron fist and demanding her resignation.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has said the cases against its members were politically motivated and aimed at crushing potential alternatives to the premier’s nearly 15-year rule.

“In the past three months at least 1,093 BNP activists and several dozen activists from other opposition parties were convicted in 69 cases,” the party’s legal affairs chief Kayser Kamal told AFP.

That figure includes 127 BNP activists handed prison sentences of up to three years in courts across Dhaka on Wednesday, Ehsanur Rahman, a lawyer for several of the defendants, told AFP.

Some of the defendants were found guilty of violence during Bangladeshi elections in 2014 and 2018.

Chief prosecutor Abdullah Abu defended the conduct of the latest trials.

“These cases are not politically motivated. The judgements were handed down in an effort to lessen case backlogs,” he told AFP.

But Kamal said that BNP activists had been subjected to “politically motivated and false, fabricated, concocted and baseless” cases.

“These are not criminal trials at all. “They are political trials,” he said.

“The lower judiciary is being dictated by the executive to deliver judgement against opposition political activists for political purposes.”

– ‘Chilling pattern of repression’ –

Bangladesh under Hasina has recorded runaway economic growth, largely on the strength of its robust garment industry that generates billions in exports each year.

But rights groups say civil liberties have deteriorated during her rule.

The United States sanctioned several senior police officers in 2021, partly in response to allegations that Hasina’s security forces had killed hundreds in extrajudicial encounters — charges denied by her government.

The BNP and the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party have staged numerous protests in Dhaka and other metropolitan centres this year ahead of elections next January, when Hasina will seek a fourth consecutive term in office.

Both parties say a combined 25,000 of their members have been arrested since late October, when authorities dispersed a major opposition rally in Dhaka that saw the killing of a police officer.

Police have accused opposition activists of torching hundreds of vehicles during weeks of intense demonstrations.

US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Wednesday that Washington was “deeply concerned by the reports of mass arrests of thousands of opposition members and reports of torture in prison”.