Country's third largest political party, Jamaat-e-Islami, condemns Shafiqur Rahman's detention, saying it was intended to "scuttle" the opposition movement.

The arrest of Jamaat-e-Islami’s leader Shafiqur Rahman comes just two days after he announced an anti-government mass rally in Dhaka on December 24.
The arrest of Jamaat-e-Islami’s leader Shafiqur Rahman comes just two days after he announced an anti-government mass rally in Dhaka on December 24. (Reuters Archive)

A nationwide protest has erupted in Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka, following the arrest of a major political party leader, just days after his party announced that it would join the main opposition in protests against the government.

Counter-terrorism officers arrested Jamaat-e-Islami party leader Shafiqur Rahman in Dhaka, metropolitan police spokesman Faruq Ahmed said, without elaborating on the charges.

Md Asaduzzaman, a senior police official, confirmed Rahman's arrest to Anadolu Agency but declined to provide details, saying they would later inform the media.

A spokesman for Jamaat - the country's third-largest political party, which has been banned from contesting elections since 2012 - 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 Akand, Jamaat's publicity secretary, told AFP news agency.

In a separate statement, the party’s Secretary General Maulana ATM Masum said it is "vehemently condemning and protesting" the arrest of Rahman.

Rahman had announced in recent days an anti-government mass rally in Dhaka on December 24.

He and his party are pressing the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to accept 10 demands, including her resignation and the holding of a free and fair election under a caretaker government.

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.

They are also demanding the release of Begum Khaleda Zia, the 76-year-old opposition leader and two-time prime minister who has been imprisoned for 17 years on corruption charges.

On Tuesday, the party said that the arrest would not deter them from participating in the scheduled protest.

Deteriorating political situation

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

But after Hasina came to power in 2009, Jamaat's entire leadership was arrested and tried for war crimes dating back to the country's 1971 independence war against Pakistan.

Five of its top leaders were hanged between 2013 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.

READ MORE: Bangladesh court sentences six men to death over 1971 war crimes

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.

Last month, police had also arrested Rahman's son, Rafat Sadik Saifullah.

Protests sparked by an ongoing economic crisis, which has seen power cuts and fuel price hikes, have erupted across the country in recent months.

Western governments, along with the United Nations, have expressed concerns over the political climate in Bangladesh, one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia.

READ MORE: Why is Bangladesh’s opposition out on the streets?

Source: AA