The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party on Wednesday feared that verdicts would be announced in the cases against the BNP leaders before the next parliamentary elections to disqualify them from contesting.

‘The government was planning to disqualify BNP leaders from elections by sentencing them in cases filed against them at different times,’ BNP general secretary Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said at a press conference at the party’s Naya Paltan central office.

Alleging that the government has come up with a ‘terrible plan’, Fakhrul said, ‘We have heard that about 13,500 cases have been identified, which they [respective courts] will hear and sentence before the elections.’

According to the constitution, a person will be ineligible for election if sentenced to at least two years in a criminal case. BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia could not participate in the 2018 national elections due to such sentencing.

‘She [Khaleda] was sentenced to five years in the Zia Orphanage Trust corruption case on February 8 of the election year. On October 30 of the same year, the High Court extended the sentence to 10 years. The next day, she was sentenced to seven years in the Zia Charitable Trust corruption case,’ Fakhrul said.

In the December national elections of that year, nomination papers were submitted for Khaleda Zia from Feni-1 and Bogura-6 and 7 constituencies. But the returning officers declared it illegal. The BNP chairperson did not get her candidature back despite going to the high court.

‘The government has a very good purpose in mind. If they [opposition leaders] can be arrested and sentenced, then they will not be able to hold elections,’ he said.

The High Court on Tuesday upheld BNP standing committee member Iqbal Hasan Mahmud Tuku’s nine-year sentence, Dhaka city north BNP convener Amanullah Aman’s 13-year sentence, and his wife Sabera Aman’s 3-year sentence in separate corruption cases filed during the army-backed caretaker government in 2007-08.

‘They [AL] will play alone and score goals. What we say is that there will be no opponents. They are moving forward towards that goal,’ Fakhrul said.

He also said that similar cases against Awami League leaders Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury Maya, Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir, and the late Mohammad Nasim were quashed by the court while BNP people were being sentenced.

‘Thus they [govt] want to create fear and anarchy in the entire country. By creating this anarchy, they want to single-handedly pass the electoral process in a manner that the people of this country will not allow. This country’s people will elect their government by ousting them,’ he said.

Fakhrul also raised questions about the hearing of the case against BNP acting chairman Tarique Rahman and his wife Zubaida Rahman that was filed in 2007 during the caretaker government.

‘This case has not gone on for so many years. Suddenly, it appeared that a speedy trial had begun… Now very fast, one-two-three witnesses are being produced every day, and their testimony is being taken till night,’ he said.

Attending another programme in Dhaka, Fakhrul observed that elections could never be free, fair, and credible under the current Awami League government.

‘A truth has now been established in Bangladesh that elections can never be fair, free, and acceptable, and people here can never express their opinions and exercise their right to franchise freely if the Awami League government remains in power,’ the BNP leader observed.

He alleged that the government had already snatched people’s freedom of expression and voting rights to cement its power.

Fakhrul said that the entire world now recognised that independent journalism was impossible in Bangladesh.

Insisting that Bangladesh is now completely in the hands of an authoritarian ruler he said that freedom of the press, the main pillar of democracy, had been regulated here by the regime to meet their needs.