Detention of Bangladesh National Party leader comes ahead of general elections set for early next year.
Bangladesh’s leading opposition figure has been detained, as tensions mount between the country’s governing party and opposition forces ahead of general elections due in January.
Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, secretary-general of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), was picked up by law enforcement on Sunday, a day after mass antigovernment protests rocked the capital, Dhaka.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner Habibur Rahman said Alamgir had been detained for questioning over violence that broke out during Saturday’s protests, which killed one police officer and one protester, and injured many on both sides.
“Police came and seized all the CCTV camera devices from our building,” Alamgir’s wife Rahat Ara Begum was quoted as saying by The Daily Star newspaper.
“They said they had orders to arrest my husband. I hope they return him soon.”
Crackdown on opposition
Alamgir’s detention intensifies a crackdown on Bangladesh’s opposition in the lead-up to next year’s vote, which will decide the country’s next premier.
Hundreds of opposition activists have been arrested and the BNP’s longtime leader, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, is under de facto house arrest.
Opposition figures have called on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of Bangladesh’s founding leader, to resign, arguing she cannot be trusted to hold free and fair elections after being in office for more than 15 years.
Under Hasina’s tenure, Bangladesh has achieved steady economic growth, but has also seen a spike in inflation, making it difficult for many citizens to make ends meet.
Her government has also been accused of corruption and rights abuses, including targeting the opposition with a new cybersecurity law. The last few elections in Bangladesh, especially the latest in 2018, were widely criticised for alleged irregularities.
“We don’t trust this government,” Alamgir said in a recent interview with The Associated Press news agency.
“They must go first to hold a free and fair election. Otherwise, they would rig the election.”
More than 100,000 protesters took to the streets of Dhaka on Saturday, marking the largest demonstrations this year, according to journalists with the AFP news agency who were present at the scene.
The protesters were mostly affiliated with Bangladesh’s two major opposition parties – the BNP and the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami. They chanted “Sheikh Hasina vote chief” outside the BNP headquarters, according to the AFP.
Within hours, the protests descended into violent clashes, with opposition figures allegedly brawling and vandalising vehicles and police firing tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the huge crowds. Footage on the BNP’s verified Facebook page later showed thousands running for cover as sound grenades went off and black smoke billowed from the road.
BNP officials said the opposition rally had been “peaceful” until the police intervened.
“Our rally was peaceful. But the authorities have used excessive force to ruin our rally,” said BNP spokesperson Zahir Uddin Swapan.
“They attacked our people mercilessly.”
Before his arrest, Alamgir called for a daylong general strike on Sunday to denounce the violence.