Another dangerous precedent
The frequency with which the incumbent Awami League-Jatiya Party government, through the local civil administration, has been employing the ordering of Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which bans unlawful assembly, to stop opposition parties and other organisations holding rallies and other programmes, is indeed a case of setting extremely bad political precedents. According to a report front-paged in New Age on Saturday, the government has so far imposed Section 144 a staggering 407 times since they came to power in January 2009, till May this year. Moreover, the use of Section 144 has been on a steep and gradual rise, with it being used 82 times in 2009, 114 times in 2010, 133 times in 2011 and 78 times only in the first five months of this year. Predictably almost every time the Section 144 was ordered, it was to foil an opposition political programme. According to opposition politicians, every time an opposition party announces programmes at a place, the ruling party or its front organisations deliberately also announces programmes there at the same time, allowing the administration to impose Section 144 on the grounds of saving people from possible damage to life and property. This is in fact a sinister ploy on the part of the government, to deprive the opposition of their constitutionally-guaranteed right to assemble and protest, which can spiral into more devious schemes in the future. It is against the spirit of rule of law, to which the government has professed allegiance to, it is undemocratic and a violation of the people’s right to freedom of speech and expression contained in the constitution.
The incumbents, ever since they assumed power, have not just shown a powerful streak of intolerance towards all kinds of dissenting voices, but have also, more grievously, shown a propensity to use various sections of the law, to stifle oppositional voices of the sort. The use of mobile courts to mete out arbitrary punishment to pro-hartal activists is one such example of the kind. Ever since the incumbents began employing it to send hundreds and thousands of street political activists, as well as opposition leaders, to jail on various lengths of terms, it has received criticism from various sections, who deem it essentially undemocratic and against the spirit of justice and rule of law. However, the government, till this day, continues to use it, to great effectiveness on their behalf. Likewise, the imposition of Section 144 to foil opposition programmes, so far employed consistently yet almost un-scrutinised, is another dangerous weapon which reflects rather appallingly the regard with which the incumbents treat their professed allegiance to rule of law.
It must however be noted that the previous BNP-led government had resorted to many such mechanisms of twisting the law to make partisan gains or stifle the opposition. In fact, it is common phenomenon for one party, while in power, to discover a new mean to undermine the opposition, and for the other to take many steps further when they get their turn in power. This is, put plainly, a disturbing, sickening and dangerous trend. If the incumbents have any regard for democracy, the country’s constitution and people’s rights guaranteed through it, than it must immediately stop such deliberate twisting of laws to suppress and repress the opposition.
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