Rozina Islam . Dhaka

 | Update: 23:04, Oct 18, 2018

The Awami League government is planning to release thousands of prisoners including convicts ahead of the national elections due later this year.

Such an initiative is taken when the law enforcement is detaining thousands of opposition leaders, activists and supporters, implicating them in what are widely called fictitious cases. Jails in Bangladesh contain prisoners numbering almost three times higher than their aggregate capacity, officials concerned admit.

As many as 7,401 prisoners, who officials say are mainly old, sick and those whose jail terms are about to finish, may be released this time.

The government may also release a big portion of 27,415 imprisoners who were jailed in drug-related cases, home ministry officials said.

Most of them, officials added, were detained during the ongoing countrywide anti-drug drives for carrying narcotics.

They are, according to the ministry officials, mainly ‘petty criminals’.

Human rights activists are critical of the government’s move, as they believe, it is vacating the prisons ahead of the upcoming national elections to send the opposition leaders and activists in.

“We don’t see any transparency and accountability in the process of releasing the prisoners,” human rights activist Nur Khan said.

As the prisoners are being released without publishing any notification, people may raise questions about that, he added.

Prison officials said in most of the cases, those who were imprisoned, were held for stealing, snatching and carrying narcotics. Their proceedings have become tough to finish due to lack of witnesses.

Some of them have already spent more time inside prison than their highest period of jail terms for those particular crimes. So, they had applied to the jail authorities confessing their crimes, the prison officials added.

The officials said the applications were sent to the home ministry who then discussed the matter with the law ministry. They are going to be freed following the legal procedures.

Asked about the matter, home minister Asaduzzaman Khan told Prothom Alo that the key reason is to reduce the number of prisoners.

There is space for 36,616 people in the country’s prisons, but there are already 92,000 prisoners there.

Most of them are imprisoned for ‘minor crimes,’ Asaduzzaman said adding those who have been languishing in jail for more than 3 years will be released following due procedures.

The home ministry officials said the government released 142 persons from the Sylhet jail last month. Of them, 36 were acquitted and 106 secured bail.

Lawyer Shahdeem Malik said the prisoners should be released only after their names are documented, alongside types of their crimes and their jail terms.

“Otherwise, the people will think the government is doing this on political consideration and for unlawful motives,” he added.

*This piece, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Toriqul Islam