DHAKA: Bangladeshi police arrested the chief of Jamaat-i-Islami, the country’s largest Islamist party, on Tuesday, days after it announced it would join the main opposition in protests to oust Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Counter-terrorism officers arrested Shafiqur Rahman, the Jamaat’s emir, in Dhaka, a police spokesman said, without elaborating on the charges.

The party has been banned from contesting elections since 2012.

A spokesman for Jamaat, the country’s third-largest political party, condemned the 64-year-old’s arrest, saying it was intended to “scuttle the opposition’s anti-government movement”.

“This is just another episode of the unjust oppression continuing against the party for the last 15 years,” Matiur Rahman, Jamaat’s publicity secretary, said.

For years, Jamaat was a major ally of the right-of-centre Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), and their coalition ruled the country from 2001 to 2006.

But after Hasina came to power in 2009, Jamaat’s entire leadership was arrested and tried for war crimes dating back to 1971.

Five of its top leaders were hanged between v2013 and 2016 after they were found guilty by a war crimes court.

The party called the trials politically motivated and part of a wider vendetta against its leaders.

Hundreds of party activists were shot dead and tens of thousands detained after they staged violent protests against the executions.

The fresh arrest of Jamaat’s chief came days after two of the BNP’s leaders were arrested on charges of inciting violence on the eve of a giant anti-government rally on Saturday.

The BNP has called upon Hasina to step down and let a caretaker government hold a free and fair election.

The opposition says a credible vote under Hasina is impossible after she was accused of rigging the past two general elections in 2014 and 2018.

Jamaat and several left-leaning and centrist parties have supported the BNP’s demands. They also announced they would hold protests jointly with the BNP.

Police last month also arrested Rahman’s son, Rafat Sadik Saifullah, on extremism charges and remanded him in custody under the country’s harsh anti-terrorism laws.

Published in Dawn, December 14th, 2022

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