Conflicting versions, statements of two ministers kick up confusion, uproar
Two top ministers’ conflicting statements over the government’s “banning” political rallies and meetings have triggered widespread confusion and criticism.
Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir had categorically said that no meeting or demonstration would be permitted for one month, Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS), the state-run news agency, reported at 5:19pm yesterday.
“We give permission for peaceful meetings but the opposition parties engage in violence and disrupt law and order. So no meeting will be permitted in the next one month in order to safeguard life and property,” he said while inaugurating Jurarganj Police Station in Mirsarai upazila of Chittagong around noon in the day.
But speaking to BBC Bangla service in the evening, the home minister, however, said the ban had been imposed in the capital for an indefinite period.
The government, however, did not issue any order to this effect specifying the reasons for such an unprecedented move and the law that allowed it to impose the ban.
For his part, LGRD Minister Syed Ashraful Islam, who is the ruling Awami League general secretary, said the ban had been imposed across the country for the sake of smooth relief and rehabilitation activities in the cyclone Mahasen-ravaged districts.
“It is not possible to protect the people’s fundamental rights like meetings and rallies when the country is hit by any natural disaster,” Ashraf said during a press briefing at the AL president’s Dhanmondi office at 1:30pm.
After the announcement of the ban, the AL-led 14-party alliance suspended its rally at Mohammadpur yesterday.
The Daily Star contacted CQK Mostak Ahmed, senior home secretary, around 4:15pm and Hassan Mahmood Khandker, inspector general of police, at 6:25pm to ascertain the legal aspects of the ban. Both men said they had no knowledge about the ban.
This newspaper also talked to several senior officers of the home ministry; they too said they were not aware of such a move.
A spokesman of Dhaka Metropolitan Police said the DMP commissioner is authorised to permit any rally in the capital.
Contacted, Masudur Rahman, deputy commissioner of DMP (media) declined to comment on it.
A senior DMP official, wishing anonymity, however, said the minister did not have the jurisdiction to impose the restriction.
Later, around 8:25pm, the public relations officer of the state minister for home sent the newspaper a press release to clarify the statements MK Alamgir had made in Chittagong.
In the aftermath of a cyclone, the government will not give permission for any political activities that might damage public life and properties and create insecurity or risk of subversion, the press release quoted the minister as saying.
The minister said there was no restriction on the usual rallies. This is not a ban, but rather a precautionary measure. There is no room for confusion in this regard, it added.
The main opposition BNP and its ally Jamaat-e-Islami have termed the step as draconian and said it was aimed at putting up roadblocks to the opposition’s movement for the restoration of the caretaker government system. They demanded the withdrawal of the ban.
The Workers Party, a component of the Awami League-led ruling alliance, other political parties, including Bikolpodhara and the Left, also bitterly criticised the measure.
No government since the restoration of democracy in 1991 through a mass upsurge against autocratic ruler HM Ershad has imposed such a ban, except for the nearly two-year-long military-backed caretaker regime between January 2007 and December 2008.
BAN FOR DISASTER?
According to a government handout issued on Saturday, so far nine districts — Cox’s Bazar, Noakhali, Laxmipur, Feni, Patuakhali, Bhola, Barguna, Pirojpur and Jhalakathi – have been affected by Thursday’s cyclone Mahasen that left at least 17 people dead.
The government launched relief work immediately after the cyclone hit the coastal belt. However, it did not portray the cyclone’s impact as serious as none of the nine districts were declared disaster-affected.
The national disaster management committee led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina did not sit after the cyclone to decide how to carry out rehabilitation work in the disaster affected areas.
Wishing anonymity, a minister, who is a member of the national committee along with more than half a dozen ministers and the chiefs of the three services, told this correspondent that his ministry was doing its own work.
WHAT AL INSIDERS SAY
AL insiders claimed the government had information that the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami planned to carry out another chaotic programme like the one resorted to by Hefajat-e-Islam on May 5.
Additionally, the Jamaat and its student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir might indulge in mayhem after the verdict in the war crimes case against former Jamaat ameer Ghulam Azam is handed down.
Talking to The Daily Star, Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury said the government did not want a repetition of the burning of the holy Quran, prayer carpets, destruction of public properties and killings of people in the name of programmes, like the chaos unleashed by Hefajat on 5 May.
“The government has responsibilities of protecting public lives and properties and their businesses.”
Source: The Daily Star