DHAKA: In the latest move targeting political opponents ahead of the upcoming elections in Bangladesh, a court in Dhaka has sentenced a former air force chief, Altaf Hossain Chowdhury, and ex-BNP water minister Hafizuddin Ahmed to 21 months in prison. The convictions are related to their alleged involvement in inciting violent protests in 2011, during which supporters of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) reportedly set fire to cars.
Chowdhury, who served as the head of the air force until 1995 before joining the BNP, and Ahmed were among eight persons sentenced in connection with the 2011 protests. Chief prosecutor Abdullah Abu confirmed the jail sentences and highlighted that both persons were sentenced for the same duration.
The opposition, including the BNP and the country’s largest Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami, has dismissed the case as “baseless, false, and fabricated.” They accuse the courts of aligning with government directives to imprison Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s political opponents in the lead-up to the elections scheduled for January 7.
Amidst ongoing political unrest, the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami have opted to boycott the upcoming vote, joined by several smaller political parties, citing concerns over the fairness of the electoral process. Earlier this year, both opposition parties organized major protests, demanding PM Hasina’s resignation and the establishment of a neutral caretaker government to oversee the elections, resulting in at least 11 deaths.
Crackdown Against Opposition in Bangladesh
The BNP claims that over 25,000 opposition members, including its entire senior leadership in Bangladesh, have been arrested since September. Hasina’s government disputes these figures, asserting that only 11,000 individuals have been detained.
Kayser Kamal, the BNP’s legal affairs chief, raised concerns about what he perceives as politically motivated judgments by lower courts, alleging that they are targeting opposition leaders and activists at the government’s behest. However, Chief Prosecutor Abdullah Abu rejected these accusations, emphasizing that there was clear evidence against those tried and sentenced.
Despite economic success, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina leadership has faced criticism for alleged human rights abuses by security forces, including extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. Two years ago, the United States sanctioned the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) police unit and several top officers over allegations of human rights abuses.