On February 2, 2017, in the evening, 28 female members of Jamaat-e-Islami were subject to arrest during a gathering. Police in a press conference claimed that the women were plotting the fall of the government.
In a statement issued by Assistant Secretary General of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami Hamidur Rahman Azad on February 4, 2017, the former lawmaker protested the comments of Tejgaon Zone’s Police Deputy Commissioner Biplab Kumar Sarkar as being “false and baseless”. The police official, speaking at the Mohammadpur police station on the morning of February 3, said that the 28 female members who had been arrested from a house in Tajmohol road of Mohammadpur were plotting conspiracy in an illegitimate way through planning for some subversive activities.
The women were given two days in remand by the judge for the purpose of being questioned by the police, despite the fact that they had been arrested with nothing but some documents and Jamaat literature. According to the Jamaat spokesperson, who also condemned the two day remand period, they were arrested from a simple Quran training program,
“In this regard, our clear view is, the female detainees who had been arrested from a house in Mohammadpur gathered over there just to discuss the discourse of the holy Quran and Sunnah. Police has arrested them unjustifiably. They are entirely innocent. Police has caused intolerable repression against them by taking them into two-day remand ignoring all sorts of human rights.”
A similar statement was issued by Mujibur Rahman, the Central Nayeb-e-Ameer of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, who demanded their immediate release.
On February 6, the 28 women were again sent on another day for remand and questioning by the court.
On February 8, i.e., today, they were sent to jail after their appeal for the grant of bail by the court was rejected.
According to DOAM (Documenting Oppression against Muslims), one of the women arrested had a five-month old baby along with her, and was forced to attend court sessions carrying her baby. On speaking with activists, I was informed that Umme Rabbi, the mother of this 5 month baby is quite sick herself, since she requires rest alongside post-delivery medical care, which is being denied to her by the police authorities, who instead have forced her to attend court in an unprofessional and rough manner.
It is imperative that the fear and coercion associated with remand and subsequent questioning at the hands of Bangladesh police, notorious for its role in hundreds of cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances over the past decade, will be the tool used to obtain forced confessions and fabricate further lies. It will also be used to force the families of the victims to pay hundreds of thousands of currency in extortion, bribes and ‘gifts’, barring which corrupt police officials threaten further legal actions, physical custodial torture of victims and even custodial execution.
All major news outlets, within an environment of compliance with strict government hold on media content, have simply abandoned the covering of the news of the arrest of these 28 women, among them quite elderly teachers and educators, focusing loyally instead on the police narrative of ‘conspiracy to topple government’ and ‘planning subversive activities’. These are safer things to talk about, and in a Trumpesque world, the hegemonic narrative is that all Islamists, if not indeed all Muslims (except Iraqi translators working with the US army), are automatically terrorists anyway.
The media have abandoned discussion on the humanitarian aspect of these arrests as well, making it a cold heartless political issue. Human rights organisations have not spoken on the issue, and neither have local women rights campaigners or otherwise vocal feminists voiced any concern on these unjust arrests.
Bringing the above realities into mind, it is clear that the issue in discussion here is clearly more than being simply an issue of emotional substance, which unfortunately some on social media have been restricting the incident to.
Jamaat-e-Islami, despite being subject to censoring, suppression and political heckling in Bangladesh by the government over the past decade or so, is still a legal political entity. It is in this light that the arrest of these 28 women should be condemned as an infringement of their right to political gathering and expression. Their continued remand is not simply a humanitarian issue, it is also a clear cut display of the misuse of law and the flaunting of basic rights of citizens in order to harass political opponents of the government through its administrative apparatus, in this case 28 middle aged and elderly helpless women – mothers, sisters, daughters, children attending a gathering in a house. And let us not begin with the human rights narrative for now in a situation where there is a lack of the simple acknowledgement of basic human dignity – yes its useless I know.
So what do we do? Raise our voices, write in media outlets, speak and express our concerns to people, lawmakers, influential intellectuals, et al to push towards ending this blatant hypocrisy in the name of democracy and rights, and release these twenty-eight sisters and that child back to their families.
Yes, we demand that the administration immediately release our 28 sisters, along with all other political prisoners and victims of political oppression today in Bangladesh.