Top Bangladesh opposition leaders freed after month in jail

Two top leaders from Bangladesh’s primary opposition party were released a month after being arrested during the government’s crackdown on political dissent.

Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, the secretary general of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Mirza Abbas, a former minister, were freed from a prison outside capital Dhaka on Monday.

Both men were arrested from their homes during the early hours on 9 December last year on charges of inciting violence, a day before the opposition’s biggest political rally in over a decade.

Mr Alamgir was supposed to be the main speaker at the rally, which was attended by tens and thousands of supporters, demanding prime minister Sheikh Hasina to step down from power.

Seven BNP MPs at the rally announced their resignations from parliament in protest against the government crackdown on dissent and arbitrary arrest of opposition members.

Prior to the gathering, at least one person was killed and nearly 60 sustained injuries as police stormed BNP headquarters.

Members of the opposition party said more than 2,000 of its activists were arrested and thousands were charged as part of a police crackdown to deter people from participating in the rally.

Heightened political tension in the south Asian country prompted 15 embassies to issue a joint statement calling for Ms Hasina to allow free expression, peaceful assembly and fair elections.

A high court granted bail to the two leaders last week, which was later upheld by the country’s supreme court.

On Tuesday, hundreds of supporters greeted the men after they arrived at BNP headquarters in central Dhaka.

“We have no retreat. We just have to move on,” Mr Alamgir was quoted by Radio Free Asia affiliate Benar News as saying.

“We will succeed in the movement we have started. We have to intensify our movement and defeat the autocratic regime,” he added.

“Let us restore democracy from the hands of this fascist Awami government. We come out of jail today with a new commitment. We pledge again, we will continue until we win,” he said, referring to the government of political party Awami League, led by Ms Hasina.