UN Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh Gwyn Lewis on December 7, 2022 “reminded” Bangladesh of its commitments, as a UN member state, to "free expression, media freedom, and peaceful assembly" among others written in the Declaration as the country is coming closer to its national election.
The timing of the statement is interesting, almost like a note of warning, as if BNP has been outright denied the right of assembly for its proposed Dhaka rally on December 10.
The truth is that the government has offered BNP one of the best venues in Dhaka to hold the proposed rally — Suhrawardy Udyan. This is the designated space in Dhaka for big political rallies, a venue rendered historic thanks to the March 7, 1971 speech of the nation's founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Bangabandhu gave his call for freedom on that day from this historic venue that marked the transition from a peaceful struggle for democratic rights within Pakistan to a do-or-die struggle for independence.
The Instrument of Surrender was also signed by the Pakistan army at this venue on December 16, 1971.
For anyone looking to host a massive public spectacle in Dhaka, the Suhrawardy Udyan is a natural choice.
All big political rallies in Dhaka, including those held by both PM Sheikh Hasina and former PM Khaleda Zia, to mobilize movement against military rule were organized at Suhrawardy Udyan in the late 1980s.
The grounds ensure a huge holding capacity because it can easily accommodate a million people or more. More importantly, it can do so without causing any disruption to traffic movement in Dhaka.
BNP, however, refuses to hold the rally at Suhrawardy Udyan and is adamant about holding the rally in front of its central party office at Naya Paltan. That is what the administration has not cleared, and for good reason. This area is within Dhaka’s central business zone and a rally there would surely cause massive traffic disruptions. Party offices can be located in a business district for the sake of visibility and small gatherings of party workers or press conferences can be held there. But how feasible does a major rally in front of the party office, in the central business zone, sound?
London Police will permit political rallies in Hyde Park but will it allow any party to hold a rally on Oxford Street or in front of the London Stock Exchange? Will the New York Police Department allow a rally in its central business district? Will Kolkata Police allow a political rally on Park Street?
What is true for London or New York or Kolkata is also true for Dhaka. Political rallies should be held in designated public grounds and not on the street in a business zone.
So the Dhaka Metropolitan Police has done the right thing by denying permission for the rally in Naya Paltan .
Why is BNP insisting on holding the rally at Naya Paltan and not at Suhrawardy Udyan?
Is the party afraid that it won’t be able to fill up the huge Suhrawardy Udyan?
If the turnout at the rally is smaller than that thronging the Mirpur stadium during the ongoing cricket series against India, BNP’s claims of a popular movement will fall flat on its face.
Police also suspect that BNP, by holding a rally at Naya Paltan, may actually try to destabilize the city and administration by inflicting a violent campaign.
Democratic rights, including those related to freedom of assembly, are subject to limitations. For instance, one cannot hold a public rally with loud microphones in front of a hospital.
The UN should definitely focus on restoring democracy in Myanmar, where the military junta has obviously trampled on rights, rather than “reminding” Bangladesh on what it should do.
The writer is an Ekushey Padak-winning journalist.