By Ahammad Foyez
Nasir Rahman, an opposition activist from Dhaka’s Rampura neighborhood, died in a hospital bed a year ago after suffering from cirrhosis of the liver.
But if a police complaint seen by BenarNews is to be believed, Rahman participated at a rally organized by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party on Oct. 28 during which, the document said, he vandalized cars, threw Molotov cocktails at vehicles, and attacked police outposts.
“I would only say to the plaintiff of the case that, if possible, go ahead and arrest my husband from his grave,” Rina Akter, Rahman’s widow, told BenarNews.
Rahman is among at least four dead people, whom family members and BNP officials identified, but who have been implicated in a new wave of criminal cases lodged with police following the rally. The main opposition party staged that massive street protest to pressure Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina into resigning ahead of a general election expected in January.
At least six other men were named in similar complaints although they were either living abroad or were incarcerated when those alleged offenses took place.
In the same case naming Rahman, police implicated Sanaullah Mia, a prominent pro-opposition lawyer who died more than two years ago, among 241 identified and 1,500 unnamed individuals.
“My father was a well-known figure in Bangladesh. He died in 2020, and everyone knows it,” Shafiqur Rahman Rana, Sanaullah’s son, told BenarNews. “This is a real example of the fake and fictitious cases being filed by the police against BNP leaders and workers.”
Abdul Jalil, a police officer at the Rampura Police Station who filed the case on Oct. 29, did not contest the BNP’s claim.
However, he said, “The names were included in the First Information Report based on information from eyewitnesses and local residents.
“If there are any errors in the list of those accused, it will be rectified during the investigation,” he told BenarNews.
Two similar cases were filed in Khulna, a southwestern city, and Moulvibazar, a northeastern town, against individuals who died years ago.
At least 10 people have died and thousands have been arrested, local media reports said, since the BNP staged its anti-government rally on Oct. 28 to demand that Hasina resign to make way for a neutral caretaker government ahead of the polls. She has steadfastly refused to give in to those demands made at that rally and a series of other rallies organized by the BNP this year.
The last two general elections conducted during Hasina’s tenure were controversial.
The BNP and its allies boycotted the 2014 vote over concerns about its fairness, allowing the Awami League to return to power. And in 2018, despite the BNP’s participation, the ruling party secured more than 95% of parliamentary seats amid widespread claims of fraud.
Two days ahead of the BNP’s latest rally, police in Gazipur, a district neighboring Dhaka, arrested Sheikh Shamim and Saiful Alam Khan, two activists who have since been jailed, according to Sheikh Md. Alek, a local BNP leader who briefed reporters about their case.
Two days after the rally, local police filed a case against 78 identified and more than 50 unidentified individuals, accusing them of “setting fire to a motorcycle and vandalizing a car” on the night of Oct. 30. Both Shamim and Khan appeared on the list of identified suspects.
Sakhawat Hossain, the officer-in-charge of Tongi West Police Station where the duo were detained, did not deny that both had been arrested before the crime allegedly took place.
“We arrested some people from the spot in relation to the Oct. 30 incident. Other accused have been named based on the information provided by them,” he said. “They may have given us such information to mislead us.”
When police investigate the allegations, the mistakes will be corrected, he said.
Also in Gazipur, Maqul Hossain, a former leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a faith-based political party opposed to the government, was named in a case of vandalizing vehicles on Nov. 2.
His brother, Manik Hossain, told reporters that Hossain had been in Saudi Arabia to perform the Umrah pilgrimage at that time.
Because of Bangladesh’s burdened criminal justice system, people mistakenly named in complaints could face years of legal struggles before being formally cleared.
“Those accused in these false cases have to go through a long ordeal of the legal process,” Shahdeen Malik, a constitutional lawyer, told BenarNews. “They need to be proven innocent only through the judicial process. So the individuals have to suffer financial loss along with the harassment of a long judicial process.”
Minister: no such thing as a ‘Gayebi’ case
It’s not uncommon for police in Bangladesh to harass the opposition activists. But the trend of accusing dead and incarcerated people in criminal cases is a relatively new phenomenon, according to Nazrul Islam Khan, who sits on the BNP’s top decision-making body.
“When they accuse dead people, people in jail or people in exile, then it becomes evident that these cases are baseless,” he said.
Media reports of such cases surfaced just prior to the 2018 election. Around that time, police filed cases against thousands of opposition activists across the country – many of those cases appeared to have a common set of accusations and descriptions.
Within the opposition party, some refer to these instances as “Gayebi” or “ghost” cases.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal, who oversees law enforcement, rejected the characterization.
“There is no such thing as a ‘Gayebi’ case,” he told BenarNews. “Sometimes witnesses or arrested individuals provide police with false information intentionally or unintentionally, leading police to name others.
“Even if a dead or missing person becomes an accused inadvertently, the name is dropped during the investigation,” he said.