Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 July 2014, 14:54 GMT

Political Parties and Political Violence

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 1 May 1994
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Political Parties and Political Violence, 1 May 1994, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8670.html [accessed 23 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

 

GLOSSARY

AL          Awami League

BCL        Bangladesh Chhatra League (Awami League student-wing)

BCP        Biplobi Communist Party

BNP        Bangladesh Nationalist Party (Jatiyatabadi Dal)

DSA       Democratic Students Alliance

goonda           thug or muscleman

hartal               general strike

ICS          Islami Chhatra Shibir (Jamaat-e-Islami student-wing)

ISF          Islamic Student Forum (linked to the ICS, the Jamaat-e-Islami student-wing)

Jamaat    Jamaat-e-Islami Party

JCD         Jatiyabadi Chhatra Dal (BNP student-wing)

JP            Jatiya Party

NSP        Nationalist Students' Party (pro-BNP student group)

PBCP      Purba Banglar Communist PartyStudents'

Amity     Maoist student group

1.            INTRODUCTION

It has been three years since democratic elections brought Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader Begum Khaleda Zia to power, replacing President Lieutenant-General Hussain Mohammad Ershad's nine-year-old military dictatorship. One analyst has described the 27 February 1991 election as a "watershed in Bangladesh politics" and as the "freest and fairest of any election in the nation's history" (Asian Survey July 1993, 701), while another, writing just months after the election, stated that the election campaign and results showed "what appears to be a maturation of the electorate" and held out the promise of political stability (ibid. Aug. 1991, 691). Despite these optimistic assessments, however, the nature and character of Bangladesh politics have been slow to change. Extreme factionalism and organized violence continue to mark the practice of politics in Bangladesh, and the country has been "slow to develop democratic structures" (Current History Mar. 1992, 134). One observer notes that factionalism "seems inherent in Bangladesh" (ibid.), while another states that "the violent nature of [Bangladesh] politics ... has been a surprise both to ... [its] citizens and to academic observers" (Tepper May 1992, 5).

2.            BACKGROUND

With a population of approximately 115 million and a very low per capita GNP, Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated and poorest countries in the world (World Encyclopedia 1987, 77; Bangladesh: A Country Study 1989, 99; Trade Unions of the World 1992-93 1991, 32, 33). Apart from natural gas, the country has few natural resources (Current History Mar. 1992, 136; Bangladesh: A Country Study 1989, 102). Human resources are similarly lacking; although the workforce is large, numbering some 34 million, workers are "undertrained and underpaid [and] ... largely illiterate, unskilled and underemployed" (ibid.; Trade Unions of the World 1992-93 1991, 33). With 89 per cent of the population located in the countryside and approximately 65 per cent of workers engaged in agriculture, Bangladesh is an agricultural country (ibid.; World Encyclopedia 1987, 81).

Ownership of land is an important source of political power in Bangladesh (World Encyclopedia 1987, 79). According to Elliot Tepper, a political science professor at Carleton University in Ottawa who has written on the human rights situation in Bangladesh,

land is the key to understanding Bangladesh. Whoever controls land is the real power in the countryside. ... Control of land is not only a financial resource, it conveys the de facto right to regulate the rural social order. The increasing scarcity of land ..., added to the weakness of national or local institutions, gives disproportionate influence to local personalities with a solid base in control over land resources (May 1992, 3, 4).

Tepper further notes that landownership is the "starting point" for the formation of social and political hierarchies, and that patron-client relationships and political factionalism are "their visible manifestation" (ibid., 1, 5).

Patron-client relationships are common and especially strong in rural Bangladesh (ibid., 5; World Encyclopedia 1987, 79). Although there are several aspects to the patron-client relationship, at its most basic level it is a "relationship of exchange between unequals" in which a person of higher socioeconomic status (the patron) uses his power or influence to provide protection or material benefits to a person of lower status (the client) in exchange for support, loyalty or votes (Clapham 1982, 4; Eisenstadt and Roniger 1984, 48). Patron-client relationships are "openly recognized and accepted" in non-industrial societies (Clapham 1982, 5), and according to Tepper, these societies "tend to structure their politics" along the lines of such relationships (May 1992, 5). Political leaders in Bangladesh often use their position and influence to divert public resources to fund their local power bases (Bangladesh: A Country Study 1989, 177; Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies Winter 1992, 49). Further, such "demonstrations of generosity at public expense" are not only forgiven by their supporters, but are seen as appropriate and correct behaviour (ibid.). Indeed, one source describes local elites as "opportunistic, changing their affiliations in order to obtain the largest amount of aid for their constituencies" (Bangladesh: A Country Study 1989, 177).

Sources have also commented on the importance of family and kinship ties in Bangladesh politics (World Encyclopedia 1987, 79; Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies Winter 1992, 43), and have noted that the country's politics tend to be personality- rather than ideology-driven (ibid.; World Encyclopedia 1987, 80; Asian Survey July 1993, 703). Sources indicate that "much ... political activity centers on recruiting locally powerful men," especially landowners, and "mobiliz[ing] support from dominant lineages" (World Encyclopedia 1987, 79; Tepper May 1992, 4). Further, the elite class in Bangladesh is very small (Tepper 23 Jan. 1992, 26; Asian Survey July 1993, 703), there is a "considerable amount of ideological overlap" among the parties, and because ideological differences are "often personality-oriented and seldom substantive, the party loyalty factor is extremely low" (ibid., 702, 703). One source notes that

splits, realignments and factional defections leading to the creation of separate formations [are frequent]. Another feature is the complex and continuing alignment and realignment of individual parties within broader alliances and fronts (Political Parties of the World 1988, 43).

According to Tepper, factionalism and political violence are the "logical concomitant[s]" of political volatility and an economy of scarcity (May 1992, 5). In Bangladesh the competition between factions is "fierce" and "transmutes into whatever format becomes available," whether electoral or not (ibid., 6). Street demonstrations and hartals (general strikes) organized by opposition parties, student groups and labour unions are commonplace and frequently violent. Many parties have student-wings, which "more often than not [are] prepared to use violence" (Current History Mar. 1992, 134; Tepper 23 Jan. 1992, 21-23), and many trade unions and labour centrals are affiliated with political parties, including the ruling BNP (Country Reports 1992 1993, 1127; Country Reports 1991 1992, 1364; Trade Unions of the World 1992-93 1991, 35). Similarly, the state apparatus-the police, military, judiciary and bureaucracy-is highly politicized and historically has been an active participant in factional infighting (Tepper 23 Jan. 1992, 23; World Encyclopedia 1987, 84, 85; Bangladesh: A Country Study 1989, 160-62, 227; Tepper May 1992, 1, 6, 11).

3.        PARTY STRUCTURES, FACTIONALISM AND RIVALRIES

Fewer than 15 of the estimated 102 different political parties won seats in the February 1991 parliamentary elections (Asian Survey Aug. 1991, 690; Bangladesh: A Country Study 1989, 178). The four parties with the largest representation in Parliament are described below.

3.1     Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)

ePrime Minister Khaleda Zia's ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) (Jatiyatabadi Dal) favours multi-party democracy, Bangladeshi nationalism, a mixed market economy and limited recognition of Islam (World Encyclopedia 1987, 81; Political Parties of the World 1988, 37; Asian Survey Aug. 1991, 686). The BNP structure is based on unit organizations for women, youth, peasants, workers, volunteers, cultural pursuits and students (Political Parties of the World 1988, 37). The BNP student-wing, the Jatiyabadi Chhatra Dal (JCD), is a major participant in student violence (Asiaweek 3 Mar. 1993, 28).

The BNP platform in the campaign leading up to the February 1991 elections included a broad extension of private ownership and a continuation of the former Ershad regime's privatization policies (Asian Survey Aug. 1991, 686). The BNP draws support from a broad cross-section of Bangladeshi society (World Encyclopedia 1987, 81); its 1991 platform reportedly appealed to youth, the rural and urban middle class, the business community and the rural and urban poor (Asian Survey Aug. 1991, 691), with the result that the BNP won 168 of 330 seats in Parliament (ibid., 690).

Since the February 1991 elections, Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and her government have come under regular attack from opposition parties, which have accused the government of "corruption" and of practising "state terrorism," and have called the prime minister a "neo-autocrat" (AFP 18 Oct 1993; EIU 1993a, 7; Dainik Ittefaq 21 Aug. 1993). In addition to a spring 1992 parliamentary boycott (Asian Survey July 1993, 705), a protracted anti-government campaign sponsored by the Awami League and 14 other opposition parties during the summer and fall of 1993 has resulted in numerous general strikes, demonstrations, riots, bombings and campus attacks (AFP 18 Oct. 1993; ibid. 10 Oct. 1993; Dainik Ittefaq 21 Aug. 1993; All India Radio Network 19 July 1993). In late 1993 the three main opposition parties, claiming the BNP government had lost its mandate because of "official corruption and administrative inefficiency" (FEER 21 Apr. 1994, 19), joined forces to demand that new parliamentary elections be held under a caretaker government (ibid.; ibid. 25 Nov. 1993, 20; ibid. 30 Dec. 1993-6 Jan. 1994, 24; AP 7 Apr. 1994a). This latest anti-government campaign continued into early 1994 (ibid.; ibid. 7 Apr. 1994b; AFP 7 Apr. 1994; ibid. 26 Apr. 1994; UPI 7 Apr. 1994), with the opposition parties planning to table a bill in parliament requiring that future elections be held under caretaker governments (ibid.; FEER 30 Dec. 1993-6 Jan. 1994, 24; ibid. 25 Nov. 1993, 21). The BNP government has rejected opposition demands, reportedly describing them as "outrageous and unacceptable" (ibid.).

The 6 December 1992 destruction by fanatical Hindus of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya, India helped undermine the BNP government's authority and contributed to the general political instability. In Bangladesh the destruction of the mosque provoked a general strike, anti-Indian protests, attacks by Muslims on the Hindu community, their temples and homes, clashes between pro- and anti-fundamentalist groups and attacks on political party offices (AFP 8 Dec. 1992; ibid. 10 Dec. 1992; ibid. 12 Dec. 1992). During the "Long March" called by Bangladeshi Muslims to walk to India to rebuild the mosque, two to five persons were killed when marchers clashed with police (Radio Bangladesh Network 5 Jan. 1993; AFP 5 Jan. 1993). The Khaleda Zia government's attempts to downplay the widespread rioting and violence caused dissent in parliament which affected the government's ability to maintain effective diplomatic relations with India. Opposition, and even some BNP, MPs held the government responsible for Muslim-Hindu friction and for the destruction of Hindu temples and homes (Radio Bangladesh Network 20 Jan. 1993; All India Radio Network 4 Jan. 1993).

Differences between national and district leaders are another source of division within the BNP. At a December 1992 Central Executive Committee meeting, where it was hoped the gap between national and local BNP officials would be bridged, local BNP leaders expressed general discontent with the national leadership and "harangued" and "criticized" their national leaders for alleged misdeeds and poor performance in recent by-elections (EIU 1993b, 11). Sources indicate that the national leadership is reluctant to discuss issues affecting the lower levels of government, and that levels below the top have little or no input into policy or decision-making (Current History Mar. 1992. 134; EIU 1993a, 13).

In addition, an inability or unwillingness to take decisive action with regard to its student-wing, the Jatiyabadi Chhatra Dal (JCD), continues to produce serious divisions within the BNP. Prime Minister Khaleda Zia did move to curb student violence when she suspended the JCD central committee and outlawed its activities on Dhaka University campus in September 1992 (Time 12 Oct. 1992, 62; Xinhua 8 Sept. 1992), but the suspension caused much disagreement within the BNP (EIU 1993b, 10-11). Some party insiders believed the prime minister was siding with a particular JCD faction (ibid.), while others argued that it would be unwise to "leave the field open to opposition parties," meaning that expulsion of JCD "musclemen" from university campuses might weaken the BNP relative to the other parties (FEER 24 Sept. 1992). Because of these disagreements and reports that certain Cabinet ministers had sided with specific JCD factions, decisive action with regard to the BNP student-wing has not yet been taken (EIU 1993b, 10-11).

3.2              Awami League (AL)

The Awami League (AL), the main opposition party, was formed in 1948 and brought Bangladesh to independence in 1971 following a war of secession against West Pakistan (Political Handbook of the World: 1992 1992, 61; Political Parties of the World 1988, 36). Originally formed from divergent interests and competing factions (ibid.), power struggles and policy differences have marked the AL's past and continue to mark its present (EIU 1992b, 8; AFP 29 Aug. 1993). The AL advocates secularism, moderate socialism and Bengali nationalism, and in contrast to the BNP, is pro-India (Political Parties of the World 1988, 35-36). The AL party structure includes organizations for women, peasants, workers, students and youth (ibid., 37). The party's student-wing, the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), is a major participant in student political violence (EIU 1992b, 8).

Reports indicate that the party has been struggling to maintain internal cohesion. Differences over how to handle the BCL have reportedly caused splits between party leaders and the membership (ibid.). In June 1992, disaffected AL member Kamal Hossain launched the Democratic Forum, a breakaway faction within the AL (EIU 1993b, 10). In August 1993 Hossain formed a rival political party called People's Forum (EIU 1993a, 12-13; UPI 29 Aug. 1993). In another incident in early summer 1993, a former AL general-secretary of the Pabna district defected to the BNP (EIU 1993a, 13).

Reports indicate that AL leader Sheikh Hasena has been the victim of two assassination attempts, either or both of which may have originated from within the party. The first attempt was made in September 1991, while Hasena was visiting a Dhaka polling station during a by-election, but the identity of the attackers is not clear. The AL leader accused the BNP of trying to assassinate her, but the government party claimed the attempt came from within Hasena's own party (AFP 11 Sept. 1991a; ibid. 11 Sept. 1991b; ibid. 14 Sept. 1991). A second attempt may have been made on 24 January 1993, but the sources are ambiguous and again the identity of the attackers is not clear. One source describes the incident as an "attempt on [Sheikh Hasena's] life" (All India Radio Network 25 Jan. 1993), while another states simply that "unidentified gunmen" opened fire and set off crude bombs at an AL-sponsored public meeting attended by Hasena (AFP 24 Jan. 1993; ibid. 26 Jan. 1993). Both police and the government stated that rival factions of the AL student-wing were responsible (AFP 24 Jan. 1993; ibid. 26 Jan. 1993), while Sheikh Hasena described the attack as a "conspiracy" (ibid.) and attributed it to "government agents" indirectly aided by police (EIU 1993a, 12).

AL demands have included repeal of the Indemnity Ordinance and the Curbing of Terrorist Activities Act 1992, prosecution of fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami leader Golam Azam for alleged war crimes, an end to alleged "repression" of AL workers, and the resignation of the government for alleged corruption (AFP 18 Oct. 1993; ibid. 10 Oct. 1993; Dainik Ittefaq 21 Aug. 1993; All India Radio Network 19 July 1993). Some recent AL anti-government campaigns have already been mentioned (see section 3.1). According to one source, the AL-led opposition is "trying to replicate the mass upsurge that toppled the autocratic Ershad regime in 1990" (FEER 21 Apr. 1994, 19). Along with the JP and Jamaat, the AL has threatened to boycott parliamentary elections scheduled to be held by February 1996 (ibid.; ibid. 30 Dec. 1993-6 Jan. 1994, 24).

3.3          Jatiya Party (JP)

The National Party (JP) (Jatiya Dal) was formed in 1985, fusing the People's Party, which had been created to provide a political base for Lt. Gen. Ershad following his seizure of power in 1982, and various factions and disaffected elements of other parties, including the BNP and AL (World Encyclopedia 1987, 82; Political Parties of the World 1988, 41). Like the BNP, the JP advocates Bangladeshi nationalism and favours the principles of Islam, although it claims to promote respect for all religions (ibid., 40-41). Like the BNP and AL, the JP has student, youth, women's, peasant, worker and volunteer wings (ibid., 41), and draws support from a broad cross-section of Bangladeshi society (World Encyclopedia 1987, 82). Sources indicate that although they are rivals, there are few differences between the JP and BNP on policy matters (ibid., 82; Asian Survey Aug. 1991, 686-87).

Despite the fact that Ershad and other JP leaders were in jail on corruption and other charges at the time of the February 1991 elections, the party won 35 seats. Ershad himself won in all five of the constituencies in which he ran-candidates may run in a maximum of five constituencies but may retain only one seat-and continued to hold his seat from jail (Current History Mar. 1992, 133-34; Asian Survey Aug. 1991, 684; FEER 14 Mar. 1991, 12). One analyst suggests that Ershad may have benefited from a "sympathy vote for a 'native son who has been wronged'" (ibid.), while another points to the personal popularity of JP leaders and the popularity of development programmes begun when the JP was still in power (Asian Survey Aug. 1991, 687).

The JP has been an active participant in protests, boycotts and strikes directed against the government. The party has demanded Ershad's release from prison and has called for new elections (All India Radio Network 10 Nov. 1993; FEER 25 Nov. 1993, 20; ibid. 30 Dec. 1993-6 Jan. 1994, 24; ibid. 21 Apr. 1994, 19). The JP joined with other parties in two April 1994 one-day general strikes to reinforce opposition demands for the prime minister's resignation and new parliamentary elections (Reuters 9 Apr. 1994; AFP 26 Apr. 1994; AP 26 Apr. 1994).

In September 1993 the JP split. The breakaway group, calling itself the Jatiya Party (Nationalist) and led by former speaker Shamsul Huda Chowdhury, is critical of the JP establishment and has dropped all demands for Ershad's release (Reuters 10 Sept. 1993). Chowdhury and former deputy prime minister M.A. Matin were among many who had deserted the BNP to join Ershad's party in 1983. Some analysts predicted a possible merger with the BNP before the next parliamentary election (ibid.).

3.4             Jamaat-e-Islami

The Islamic fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami is pro-Pakistan, anti-Hindu, anti-India and opposed to the secularism and Bengali nationalism of the other major parties (Political Parties of the World 1988, 39). The party won 20 seats in the February 1991 elections (Asian Survey Aug. 1991, 690). Jamaat-e-Islami support was crucial to the BNP obtaining a majority in the February 1991 elections; in the indirect election for the 30 women's seats, [ Of the 330 seats in parliament, only 300 are contested in a general election. The remaining 30 seats are reserved for women, elected by members of parliament (Asian Survey Aug. 1991, 687).] Jamaat-e-Islami support resulted in another 28 seats for the BNP (Asian Survey Feb. 1992, 164; ibid. Feb. 1993, 151). The party's student-wing, the Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS), is an active participant in student violence (Reuters 4 Dec. 1993; ibid. 20 Oct. 1993; ibid. 19 Sept. 1993).

Considerable controversy surrounds the Jamaat-e-Islami leader, Golam Azam. Under Azam's leadership the Jamaat-e-Islami "campaigned actively" against the 1970-71 Bangladesh independence movement and reportedly collaborated with Pakistani forces, with the result that following independence the party was banned and Azam was stripped of his Bangladeshi citizenship (Political Parties of the World 1988, 39; EIU 1993a, 9-10). Azam returned to Bangladesh in 1978 and became leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami in 1992 (Asian Survey July 1993, 704); shortly thereafter he was arrested under the Special Powers Act (SPA) and the Foreigners Act for leading a Bangladeshi political party while still a Pakistani citizen (AFP 15 July 1993). In April 1993 a Bangladeshi High Court ruled that the original action stripping Azam of his citizenship had no basis in law, meaning he had always been a Bangladeshi citizen, he could lead a political party, and his detention under the SPA and Foreigners Act had been "illegal and without lawful authority" (ibid.; EIU 1993a, 9-10). Azam was released from prison in July 1993, after serving 16 months (AFP 15 July 1993).

The BNP government's hesitant and indecisive handling of the Golam Azam affair has contributed to the controversy surrounding government policy and to the overall climate of political unrest and violence in the country (Asian Survey Feb. 1993, 151). The opposition parties, believing government indecision as to whether to try Azam for war crimes was due to political debts owed to the Jamaat-e-Islami for support in the February 1991 elections, united against the government (ibid. July 1993, 704-06; EIU 1993a, 10). Months of nationwide strikes, protests and demonstrations preceded Azam's arrest and even continued after his release (Asian Survey July 1993, 704-06; UPI 30 Sept. 1993; Reuters 10 Nov. 1993). A 26 March 1992 mock trial and execution of Azam in Dhaka attracted some 200,000 participants (Asian Survey July 1993, 704).

In late 1993, at a rally attended by 25,000 supporters, Azam made what was reported to be his first public appearance in Dhaka since independence in 1971 (Reuters 25 Dec. 1993). Although some analysts believed Azam's public appearance represented a "triumph for his party" and provided "another signal that fundamentalism has become a force in Bangladesh" (ibid.), the party's poor showing in late January 1994 mayoral elections in Bangladesh's four major cities (Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna, Rajshahi) suggests this resurgence in popularity may have been shortlived or overestimated. According to one report, the Jamaat was "almost wiped out, shattering the myth that [it] had been gaining ground" (The Guardian 1 Feb. 1994). The Jamaat-e-Islami has joined the AL and JP in demanding new parliamentary elections under a caretaker government (FEER 25 Nov. 1993, 20; ibid. 30 Dec. 1993-6 Jan. 1994, 24; ibid. 21 Apr. 1994, 19).

4.                POLITICAL VIOLENCE

Many incidents of violent inter-party conflict, strikes and demonstrations have been reported in the press since the change of government in 1991. The following overview of incidents in recent months, while not exhaustive, is meant to reflect the frequency and scope of political violence in the country, the impact of the Golam Azam and Babri Mosque issues described above, and police reaction. Violence explicitly related to the student-wings, while often part of the events mentioned below, will be discussed in section 4.2.

4.1             Inter-party Conflict, Strikes and Demonstrations

In early April 1994 in Dhaka, thousands of anti-government demonstrators clashed with 4,000-5,000 police and paramilitary personnel, as well as armed BNP supporters, at an AL-organized protest march in the city centre (UPI 7 Apr. 1994; AP 7 Apr. 1994a; ibid. 7 Apr. 1994b; AFP 7 Apr. 1994). When about 2,000 demonstrators tried to break through police barricades to occupy the Secretariat, a major government building, police opened fire with tear-gas and rubber bullets. The demonstrators used sticks, stones and exploded crude bombs in what one source described as a "hit-and-run battle" that lasted several hours (AP 7 Apr. 1994a). Estimates of the number killed and injured vary, but doctors at a Dhaka hospital said at least two were killed and 21 injured (ibid.; ibid. 7 Apr. 1994b). AL activists claimed that two of the dead were AL supporters who had been shot by BNP members (ibid.; ibid. 7 Apr. 1994a). A second demonstration called two days later to protest government handling of the first one reportedly resulted in 60 more injured (Reuters 9 Apr. 1994). Another day-long general strike was called at the end of April to demand the prime minister's resignation and new elections. Police and federal troops were present in great numbers and the strike was relatively peaceful (AFP 26 Apr. 1994; AP 26 Apr. 1994).

In late January 1994 as many as 14 people were killed and 50 to 100 wounded in violence that erupted during and after mayoral elections in Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna and Rajshahi, Bangladesh's four major cities (UPI 31 Jan. 1994; Reuters 30 Jan. 1994). Despite the presence of more than 30,000 police and paramilitary officers at polling stations in the four cities, "armed mobs" and unidentified party activists armed with guns and bombs reportedly stormed several polling stations and stuffed ballot boxes (ibid.; ibid. 31 Jan. 1994). Police used clubs and tear-gas to disperse the militants, but violence broke out again amidst opposition charges of widespread fraud and vote rigging (ibid. 30 Jan. 1994). Six or seven people were killed when supporters of defeated BNP candidate Abdul Aziz opened fire in Dhaka. One source reports that the Aziz supporters shot randomly at Dhaka residents (ibid. 31 Jan. 1994), while another reports that the gunfire was directed at AL supporters preparing for a victory celebration (The Guardian 1 Feb. 1994). Demanding that the killers be punished, AL activists attacked Home Minister Abdul Matin Chowdhury and two other BNP ministers with stones and bricks as they were leaving the Dhaka medical college hospital, where they had been visiting some of those injured in the previous day's violence (ibid.). A parliamentary by-election on 20 March 1994 similarly resulted in clashes between rival activists, charges and counter-charges of vote rigging, intimidation and fraud, and an opposition-led nationwide general strike to protest the election results and demand new elections (Reuters 20 Mar. 1994; AP 23 Mar. 1994).

In November 1993, in Dhaka, 20,000 Awami League supporters clashed with 5,000 riot police and thousands of Jatiya Party supporters who were holding a concurrent demonstration. Jatiya members broke through the police cordon between the rival groups, and police used tear-gas, rubber bullets and batons to break up the fighting; 50 people were arrested and 100 were injured (Reuters 10 Nov. 1993; All India Radio Network 10 Nov. 1993).

In October 1993 in Feni, in southeast Bangladesh, bomb attacks on a convoy of BNP members wounded nine, including BNP parliamentary whip Mahbubul Alam. The attack was attributed to Awami League activists. In response, authorities banned public gatherings (AFP 12 Oct. 1993).

In August 1993 a series of bomb explosions took place in Dhaka as the AL held an anti-government rally. Bombs exploded in two newspaper offices, at least one of which is associated with the AL, and at other sites. In response, Dhaka police banned the carrying of weapons, sticks and explosives (AFP 20 Aug. 1993). A few days earlier police clashed with Awami League supporters in Dhaka, with at least 100 people injured. The AL had led a six-hour national strike to try to get 15 August declared a day of mourning for the AL leader's father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who led Bangladesh to independence in 1971 (AFP 17 Aug. 1993).

In May 1993, rallies planned by the AL and rival National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Chittagong were stopped by police as they were to be held in close proximity to one another; stones and home-made bombs were thrown and battles with police occurred. Police responded with batons and tear-gas, and 100 persons were injured and 20 arrested (Reuters 23 May 1993). In mid-May 1993 in Pabna, 150 kilometres west of Dhaka, fighting between AL and BNP supporters left one dead and close to 40 wounded. Activists were said to have used guns and home-made bombs (Le Monde 18 May 1993).

Also in May 1993, toward the end of a nationwide general strike called by the opposition to demand the trial of Golam Azam and an end to government "repression" of opposition supporters, several persons were injured in downtown Dhaka when unknown attackers threw crude bombs at picketers and afterward "went on a brief rampage." Concurrent demonstrations on Dhaka University campus were tempered by police use of tear-gas, and in Chittagong, different political groups clashed and used guns and bombs, resulting in three injured (AFP 13 May 1993).

In April 1993, anti-fundamentalist demonstrators marched from the Dhaka University campus to the government secretariat complex and attempted to penetrate police barricades by throwing home-made bombs. When police responded with tear-gas and by firing blanks, demonstrators threw stones, provoking other civilians to run for cover and downtown businesses to close; as many as 200 were injured (AFP 25 Apr. 1993a; ibid. 25 Apr. 1993b).

Early in March 1993, in Jhenaidah district in northwestern Bangladesh, two or three members of the Purba Banglar Communist Party (PBCP) were killed by Maoist guerrillas of the Biplobi Communist Party (BCP) (Reuters 6 Mar. 1993; UPI 1 Mar. 1993). The PBCP and BCP are two of several feuding underground groups responsible for having killed over 300 persons in the previous three years. The guerrilla groups, of which the Sarbahara Party is the largest, claim they are engaged in an armed struggle to reinstate the rights of the poor (Reuters 3 Mar. 1993; ibid. 6 Mar. 1993; UPI 1 Mar. 1993).

Also in March 1993, in Dhaka, senior opposition MP Abdur Razzak, author Jahanara Imam and Shamsur Kahman, an acclaimed Bangladeshi poet, were injured by police during a demonstration calling for the trial of Golam Azam (UPI 28 Mar. 1993; AFP 26 Mar. 1993).

4.2    Student-wing Violence

Student-wings of political parties are prominent and active in Bangladesh, and it is often difficult to distinguish student from national politics. Every major political party has a student-wing and student rivalries not only run along party lines, but reflect intra-party disputes as well (FEER 24 Sept. 1992, 33). Students have long been involved in politics, but according to one source it was only in the years after 1971, when Bangladesh experienced authoritarian rule and military coups and counter-coups, that student political groups became "musclemen" for politicians (ibid.).

Sources indicate that parties seek to control university campuses in hopes of profiting politically off campus (Inter Press Service 13 Oct. 1993; Tepper 23 Jan. 1992, 23). Paid party agents posing as students reportedly took up residence on university campuses (ibid.; FEER 24 Sept. 1992, 33); one source described campus dormitories as "virtual armouries and ... havens for politically aligned criminals" (ibid.).

Students and student groups were at the forefront of the nationwide strikes and demonstrations that brought down the Ershad regimein December 1990, and even the threat of resorting to street politics and student-wing violence is taken seriously by politicians of all parties (The Economist 4 Apr. 1992, 35; FEER 24 Sept. 1992, 33). Calls to ban student politics have been opposed by many politicians, who fear that to do so would "leave the field open" to rival parties (ibid.).

Police and security forces, aware of the close links between student-wings and their respective parties, are often hesitant to intervene when violence occurs (Country Reports 1992 1993, 1119; Time 12 Oct. 1992, 62). Some sources suggest that security forces tend to side with the party in power and thus are "not a neutral factor" in student-wing violence (Inter Press Service 13 Oct. 1993; Tepper 23 Jan. 1992, 23); another alleges that police themselves have directly supplied student factions with arms (The Economist 4 Apr. 1992, 35).

In early September 1992, responding to increasing public pressure after a series of "gunbattles" between rival JCD factions at Dhaka University had resulted in several fatalities, Prime Minister Khaleda Zia disbanded the JCD central committee and suspended its activities at Dhaka University (Time 12 Oct. 1992, 62; Xinhua 8 Sept. 1992; FEER 24 Sept. 1992, 33). The prime minister's measures were matched by the Awami League which on 6 September suspended the activities of its student-wing, the BCL (ibid.; Time 12 Oct. 1992, 62). Despite these measures, student-wing political activity continued; between September 1993 and mid-October 1993, more than 20 educational institutions were closed due to campus violence (Inter Press Service 13 Oct. 1993). What follows is a survey of the recent situation at universities and colleges in five cities.

Dhaka

In early March 1994, at the Jagannath University College in the southern part of Dhaka, rival NSP factions fought a "gunbattle" in which one police officer was shot, a dozen others injured and 32 students arrested (UPI 5 Mar. 1994). The college, Dhaka's second largest with 15,000 enrolled, had seen eight students killed and over 200 injured in student violence in the previous three years (ibid.).In mid-April 1993, seven months after the two major parties had agreed to suspend the political activities of their student-wings, five students belonging to a BCL faction were arrested after a student was shot and wounded on campus. Police also seized a number of firearms, including a sub-machine-gun (Reuters 18 Apr. 1993). In late September 1993, some 6,000 Dhaka University students conducted a march to demand a ban on Islamic fundamentalist parties, in particular the Jamaat-e-Islami. The students marched in defiance of police orders, and when several home-made bombs exploded, injuring ten, police fled for safety (UPI 30 Sept. 1993).

In June 1992, Dhaka University's vice-chancellor declared that the campus had become hostage to ... terrorist groups which operate on orders from their political mentors. They are joined by outsiders who stay illegally with friends in different halls of residence and make free use of guns to settle political and personal scores (Friday 7-13 May 1993, 24-25).

After a 4 September 1992 shoot-out between rival JCD factions left two activists dead, former JCD general secretary Elias Ali was arrested and charged with their murder. The shoot-out was reportedly the result of a leadership dispute within the BNP student-wing (AFP 14 Sept. 1992).

Chittagong Port City

In December 1993 a member of the Awami League student-wing and his uncle were shot in the port city of Chittagong, allegedly by members of the National Democratic Party, a largely pro-BNP party described as an Awami League "arch rival" (Reuters 14 Dec. 1993; Political Handbook of the World: 1992 1992, 61). In the same city in late November, JCD activists at the Bangladesh Institute of Technology attacked their BCL opponents and forced them out of their dormitories at gunpoint. Police attempting to enter the occupied dormitories came under fire; after a shoot-out with police, six JCD members were arrested and firearms and a large quantity of ammunition were seized (Reuters 26 Nov. 1993).

A day earlier there had been fighting between the pro-government Nationalist Students' Party (NSP) and the Islami Students' Forum (ISF), which is connected to the Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS), the Jamaat-e-Islami student-wing. Some 50 people were wounded during a three-hour gun battle in the city's commercial sector; the police were "strangely inactive," according to Sangbad daily (UPI 25 Nov. 1993). At an ICS rally held during an eight-hour general strike on 20 October 1993, ICS members were attacked by unidentified student rivals whom they claimed were Awami League student activists. The fighting involved guns and home-made bombs; about 20 people were injured, and police arrested another 20 and seized arms and explosives (Reuters 20 Oct. 1993). The strike had been called by student groups to protest an earlier incident at Chittagong Medical College in which unidentified gunmen shot and killed three people and wounded five in the college canteen. As many as 10,000 Bangladeshi doctors joined student groups to protest the incident (ibid.).

Rajshahi

In November 1993 two colleges were closed in Rajshahi, 268 kilometres northwest of Dhaka, after ten people were wounded in fighting between the Nationalist Students' Party and a Maoist group, Students Amity (UPI 25 Nov. 1993). On 19 September 1993, Rajshahi University, the country's second largest after Dhaka University, was closed and 20,000 students were ordered to leave campus after a left-wing student was hacked to death, allegedly by members of the Jamaat-e-Islami student-wing (UPI 20 Sept. 1993). Students in four residences were attacked and rooms set on fire, with one person killed and 100 wounded. Senior teachers were also attacked by students angry that they had not been afforded better protection (Reuters 19 Sept. 1993). Rajshahi Medical College had been closed earlier when 50 people were injured in fighting between the Jamaat-e-Islami and BNP student-wings (ibid.).

Rajshahi University was also closed on 6 February 1993 when three to seven people were killed and between 300 and 700 injured as a result of fighting between the Jamaat-e-Islami and BNP student-wings. Guns, bows and arrows and home-made bombs were used (Radio Bangladesh Network 6 Feb. 1993; AFP 6 Feb. 1993; Asiaweek 3 Mar. 1993, 28). The incident occurred following a series of clashes over the previous 11 weeks that had resulted in as many as 11 deaths (ibid.). Six ICS leaders were later arrested on the campus, including its president and organizing secretary, but reasons for the arrests were not given (Friday 30 Apr.-6 May 1993, 34).

Khulna

In November 1993 a college was closed in Khulna in southern Bangladesh after clashes between the NSP and Jatiya Party supporters left ten wounded (UPI 25 Nov. 1993). In September two students were shot to death by unknown assailants: one died at Broj Lol college in an attack that wounded 30 others, while another died at Khulna Alia Madrasha, an Islamic school, in another attack that left 20 others injured (UPI 20 Sept. 1993). Prime Minister Khaleda Zia later denounced the presence of outsiders, presumably goondas (thugs), on university campuses (Le Monde 23 Sept. 1993).

Barisal

The medical college in Barisal, located 120 kilometres south of Dhaka, was closed indefinitely and students ordered to vacate the campus in early December 1993, after a five-hour clash between the BNP and AL student-wings left 25 injured (AP 7 Dec. 1993). The battle, which was fought with home-made bombs, revolvers and field hockey sticks, erupted after BCL members reportedly put up posters insulting leaders of the ruling BNP. The source notes that the authorities spoke only on condition of anonymity (ibid.).

5.          POLICE

Human rights monitors and situation analysts charge that police in Bangladesh are party to political violence either through direct involvement, or through failure to intervene, as they are well aware of the sensitive nature of incidents involving activists who have links to government politicians (Amnesty International Apr. 1993, 19-21; Country Reports 1992 1993, 1119; Time 12 Oct. 1992). According to Tepper, Bangladeshi police are underpaid and have little sense of professional self-worth, making them susceptible to bribes and political influence, including "ignoring strong arm tactics by party goondas" (Tepper May 1992, 13). Amnesty International reports that police, even when present, have failed to protect political opponents of the government from harassment in a number of incidents, and that police and local authorities were negligent in protecting the lives and property of religious minorities during attacks on Ahmadi places of worship in October 1992, and even participated in attacks by Muslims against Hindus in December 1992 following the destruction of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya, India (Apr. 1993, 20-21). As stated earlier, police have also been accused of supplying student political factions with arms (The Economist 4 Apr. 1992).

In a notorious incident on 21 June 1992, police charged a Dhaka crowd participating in a 12-hour nationwide strike organized by the National Coordination Committee for the Annihilation of Killers and Collaborators of 1971 (Nirmul Committee) to demand the trial of Golam Azam. Beating photographers, firing rubber bullets and chasing journalists, the police broke into the National Press Club and reportedly destroyed the reception area (All India Radio Network 21 June 1992; Country Reports 1992 1993, 1123; La lettre de Reporters sans frontières July 1992). About 50 journalists were injured, 20 of whom required hospitalization (ibid.; UPI 23 June 1992; Japan Economic Newswire 22 June 1992). Journalists themselves called a national strike the next day to protest police actions (ibid.; Le Monde 24 June 1992).

In March 1993 at Dhaka University police reportedly took shelter behind the JCD position and fired tear-gas at the rival BCL student group, then later failed to protect members of the peaceful Democratic Students Alliance (DSA) from an attack by the JCD that left one student dead. The DSA was reportedly marching to protest campus violence (Amnesty International Apr. 1993, 20). Also in March 1993, a government committee recommended that 32 new police stations be established to "improve security and increase the efficiency of police administration" (EIU 1993a, 11).

6.            SECURITY LEGISLATION

Under the 1974 Special Powers Act (SPA) the government of Bangladesh is empowered to detain anyone deemed "a threat to the security of the country" without charge for an initial period of 30 days, although in practice detainees are sometimes held for much longer periods (Country Reports 1993 1994, 1321). According to Amnesty International, there is no maximum time limit for detention under the SPA (Apr. 1993, 5).

Since its inception in 1974, successive governments have used the SPA to detain political opponents and restrict the press, while opposition parties which had called for its repeal, upon their own accession to office, have used it for similar purposes (ibid.; The Gazette 26 June 1993). The current government is no exception; although the BNP pledged during the February 1991 election campaign to repeal the SPA and the prime minister later stated she was "actively considering" the law's repeal, her government now claims the SPA is necessary to maintain law and order (ibid.; Amnesty International Apr. 1993, 6; Country Reports 1992 1993, 1120).

Human rights monitors and opposition politicians allege that since coming to office the government has been using the SPA to harass and "settle political scores against members of the opposition," especially members of deposed president Ershad's Jatiya Party (Country Reports 1992 1993, 1120-21; Country Reports 1993 1994, 1321-22). Among the first JP officials to be detained under the SPA was the party's acting chairman, Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury, who was arrested on 21 April 1991 (Xinhua 21 Apr. 1991). In March 1992 Zeenat Mosharraf, wife of former Industry Secretary Mosharraf Hussain, was arrested and sent to Dhaka Central Jail, as was Mostafizur Rahman, a relative of the former president (Radio Bangladesh Network 12 Mar. 1992). On 19 April 1992, former top JP officials Major-General Ashraf Ahmed, former chief of National Security Intelligence, and Brigadier M. Nasir, ex-chief of Defence Forces Intelligence, were arrested under the SPA. Officials declined to give reasons for the arrests (UPI 19 Apr. 1992).

In April 1993, opposition MP and JP member Anwar Hossain, also publisher of the Bengali daily Dainik Ittefaq, was arrested under the SPA (Japan Economic Newswire 22 Apr. 1993). Hossain was released in May after the government failed to file any charges against him (Country Reports 1993 1994, 1321). In October 1993 three more JP leaders were arrested under the SPA: Shamil al-Mamun, joint secretary-general, Presidium member Syed Jarek and publicity secretary Mia Musa Hossain. Police did not say what charges had been laid or whether the three would face trial (Reuters 6 Oct. 1993).

In November 1992 the Khaleda Zia government passed another security measure, the Curbing of Terrorist Activities Act, under which offences of "terrorism" and "anarchy," including extortion, robbery, obstructing or diverting traffic, damaging vehicles and property, harassing and abducting women and children, and obstructing commercial activity, are punishable by sentences ranging from a minimum of five years up to the death penalty (EIU 1992a, 9; Amnesty International Apr. 1993, 8). A warrant is not required to make an arrest. The investigation must be completed within a compressed timeframe of 30 days, during which time the detainee cannot obtain bail, and the trial must be completed within 60 days (ibid.; Country Reports 1992 1993, 1121). Opposition members, lawyers and human rights activists initially feared the act would be applied as indiscriminately as was the SPA (ibid.; EIU 1992a, 9), However, Country Reports 1993 states that "the consensus among human rights monitors is that the ... law has so far been used to arrest criminals and not political activists" (1994, 1321). Nevertheless, Country Reports 1993 does note that the law's potential for abuse is still a cause for concern (ibid.).

7.    THE COURTS

eTo administer the Curbing of Terrorist Activities Act, special tribunals were set up in 61 of Bangladesh's 64 subdistricts, with an additional four in the divisional capitals of Dhaka, Khulna, Rajshahi and Chittagong (Amnesty International Apr. 1993, 8). Amnesty International has pointed out that the procedures in the special tribunals established under the act "do not fully meet international standards for fair trial" (ibid., 9).

Country Reports 1992 states that criminal courts are rife with corruption, the civil courts are overburdened and there are often long delays because of a shortage of judges, courts and a backlog of over 500,000 criminal and civil cases (1993, 1121). Country Reports 1993 quotes a government figure of 218,000 backlogged cases, but notes that some of these date back over a decade (1994, 1322). A recent Amnesty International report refers to the system of lower courts as "expensive, slow and sometimes corrupt" (Oct. 1993, 1). In 1993 the government announced plans to hire more judges and streamline the legal process, but by year's end only 13 new lower court judges had been appointed (Country Reports 1993 1994, 1322).

Professor Tepper states that it is difficult to generalize about the level of corruption in lower courts, and that by and large Bangladesh has a tradition of judicial integrity (7 Oct. 1993). With regard to the High Court and the Supreme Court, Country Reports 1993 notes that "the upper levels of the Bangladesh judiciary exhibit a high degree of independence and often rule against the Government in criminal, civil and even politically sensitive cases" (1994, 1322). For example, of the 365 SPA cases that came up for review in the first nine months of 1993, the High Court found that 97 per cent had no basis in law (ibid., 1321).

8.       FUTURE CONSIDERATIONS

Bangladesh's economic problems provide reason for concern about its current political situation. The economy appears to be worsening rather than improving, and as one source has noted, "many ... 'us' and 'they' conflicts have economic origins" (Asian Survey July 1993, 698). The country has one of the highest rates of population growth in the world, and even though total GDP growth averaged four or five per cent during the 1980s, about average for a developing country, the rate of per capita GDP growth declined throughout the decade (Bangladesh: A Country Study 1989, 147; Current History Mar. 1992, 136; Asian Survey Feb. 1993, 152). "If the decline in not arrested soon," states one analyst, the result will be "an increasingly untenable socioeconomic situation" (ibid.).

One observer states that Bangladesh's current economic woes have been aggravated by "widespread corruption" and "bureaucratic foot dragging" (Asian Survey Feb. 1993, 153), and blames many of the country's unsolved problems on an unresponsive and unimaginative political elite (ibid., 150). Nevertheless, Professor Tepper sees reason for hope. He notes that there is "an indigenous notion of fair play" in Bangladesh, and even though "violence and extralegal coercion" are "common" features of politics, they are "not condoned." According to Tepper, "aspirations to democracy and the rule of law remain high, [even if] the institutions to implement them remain elusive" (May 1992, 1).

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