Bangladesh allows largest Islamist party to hold its first rally in decade

Dhaka, June 10 (EFE).- Bangladesh’s largest Islamist political party, Jamaat-e-Islami, held its first public rally on Saturday in over a decade after a government crackdown.

The rally by the political ally of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) comes amid a changing political landscape in the country ahead of the general election due later this year.

The Islamist party bore the brunt of a government crackdown on opposition parties in the past one-and-a-half decades, especially after the war crime trial against its leaders began in 2010.

Five of its top leaders were executed between 2013 and 2016 for committing war crimes during the country’s War of Independence in 1971.

Thousands of its activists were arrested and allegedly faced torture in custody.

Jamaat sided with West Pakistan during the war but returned to Bangladesh’s mainstream politics after independence, sharing power with the BNP between 2001 and 2006.

The party lost its registration in 2013 and had to participate in the 2018 election with the BNP symbol, winning no seats.

The ruling Awami League and its allies secured 288 out of 300 seats to win a third consecutive term in 2018 amid allegations of massive irregularities and ballot stuffing by the police.

According to Human Rights Watch, at least 1,858 Jamaat leaders and activists were arrested between Nov.1 and Dec.13, 2018, before the last general election.

Jamaat head Shafiqur Rahman is currently in jail.

Police did not allow the party to hold any public events in the past decade.

“They killed our senior leaders, hundreds were abducted, many houses were demolished, businesses were ransacked, hundreds became handicapped, our activists were not allowed to stay home,” acting Jamaat chief Syed Abdullah Muhammad Taher told EFE.

“In spite of all this torture and subjugation, we have been conducting our program at the grass roots level. Internally, Jamaat is stronger than before.”

Police permission for Jamaat to hold the rally at Dhaka’s Institution of Engineers came two weeks after the United States announced a new visa policy for Bangladesh.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on May 24 that the country will “restrict the issuance of visas for any Bangladeshi individual, believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh.”

However, political analyst and ex-Dhaka University teacher Abul Kashem Fazlul Haque said it was not sure if police permission to Jamaat was linked to the new US visa policy.

“But it is almost certain they issued permission with the ruling party’s consent. Since independence, the Awami League has always used Jamaat against its rivals,” he said.

Jamaat leader Taher said they had chosen the period rally timing to press home their demands of releasing the party leaders, the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government, and curbing essential commodities price hikes.

The main opposition BNP, which recently maintained some distance from Jamaat, reportedly under pressure from its Western allies, has held protest rallies regularly in recent months with similar demands, including an election-time caretaker government.

The BNP and the Awami League have taken turns in power in the country since 1991, except for a brief military rule between 2006 and 2008. EFE

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