A good number of elected local government representatives linked to opposition parties have either been put in jail or gone into hiding fearing arrest with many of them having cases filed against them on various charges, including ‘instigation of anti-government and subversive activities’.
A number of local government representatives mostly backed by Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its ally Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, have told New Age said they have no way but to go into hiding to avoid arrest or harassment whenever an anti-government movement builds up.
‘Police and ruling party men file cases against us [local government representatives] if clashes occur between opposition and ruling party activists or law enforcers, or there are incidents of vandalism to enforce a strike,’ said the mayor of an upazila or municipality in Kishoreganj.
According to different non-government organisations and newspaper reports, around half of the elected representatives in 10 city corporations, 324 municipalities, 488 upazilas and 4,552 unions belong to the opposition political parties.
Md Mashiur Rahman Ranga, state minister for local government, rural development and co-operative, admitted that some local government representatives could not attend their offices as they were facing charges of criminal offence and other cases. He dismissed the allegation of harassment for political reasons.
‘It is true that some elected representatives cannot attend their offices resulting in the locals being deprived of services. But it is not true that they are being harassed and suspended because they belong to opposition parties. They avoid attending office as some of them are facing charges of vandalism during the opposition agitations,’ Mashiur added.
Besides the elected representatives, a good number of opposition leaders, including BNP acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir have been behind bars while some others have gone into hiding since the BNP-led alliance started a country-wide blockade on January 5.
‘It is unfortunate that we, the elected representatives, cannot serve our electorates as we have been forced into hiding,’ Mizanur Rahman, a councillor of Shibganj municipality in Chapainawabganj, told New Age on Wednesday.
Mizanur said that he along with four other councillors and mayor of the municipality were on the run to avoid arrest and harassment as several cases had been filed against them on charges of instigating violence.
Shibganj municipal councillors said that the mayor, Shamim Kabir Halim, also a local leader of BNP, recently attended a meeting of the municipality secretly.
The local government ministry, however, could not give the number of mayors and councillors who were absconding or had been suspended.
Tohurul Islam, panel mayor of Madhuhati union under Sadar upazila in Jhenaidah district, said their elected chairman Akbar Hossain, also a local leader of Jamaat, had been on the run since he was suspended in August last year.
Akbar Hossain along with 85 other union council chairmen, mostly backed by Jamaat, was suspended in two phases in June and August last year for their alleged involvement in violent anti-government protests.
Ashraful Momin Khan, upazila nirbahi officer of Gaibandha Sadar upazila, told New Age that woman vice-chairman Rashida Begum was discharging the chairman’s duty as elected chairman Abdul Karim, also a local leader of Jamaat, was in prison.
The government on January 8 suspended Sylhet city mayor Ariful Haque Chowdhury, also a BNP leader, after a court in Habinganj framed charge against him in the Shah AMS Kibria murder case.
On January 6, the government suspended Habiganj municipal mayor GK Gaus, also a BNP leader, and an accused in the Kibria murder case.
Shamim Al Razi, secretary general of Municipal Association of Bangladesh, told New Age on Thursday that the government had been prosecuting a number of opposition-backed local government representatives out of ‘political vengeance’ abusing some sections of local government rules.
‘Many of the mayors are in panic because they belong to opposition parties. They cannot deliver their duties…,’ Shamim added.
He also said that they would urge the government to repeal the sections of local government laws that empowered the government to suspend an elected representative on some specific charges, including criminal offence.
Sushasoner Jonno Nagorik secretary Badiul Alam Majumdar said that it had become part of the political culture to create obstacle to the elected representatives linked with opposition parties in performing their duties.
‘The trend has become more apparent in recent times. By punishing the opposition’s elected representatives, the government is actually punishing the people and depriving them of services,’ the Sujan secretary added.