Dhaka, Dec. 12 (Reuters): Bangladesh will allow police to monitor suspicious telephone calls as part of a crackdown on Islamist militancy and suicide bombers, officials said today.
President Iajuddin Ahmed signed an ordinance allowing yesterday’s move, said his spokesman, Mokhlesur Rahman Chowdhury. It takes effect immediately.
State minister for home affairs Lutfuzzaman Babar said last week the government was determined to crush an Islamist network maintained largely through mobile phones.
“We know Islamist leaders use 20 to 30 different temporary cellphone numbers to guide the bombers,” he said, “something we are going to crush soon”.
More then eight million people in Bangladesh use cellphones provided by five operators, while nearly another one million people use fixed-line phones managed by state-owned Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone Board.
An ordinance usually remains in force for six months until approved by Parliament. An ordinance was used this time because Parliament is not in session.
The country is reeling from a series of attacks by suspected Islamist suicide bombers that have killed nearly 30 people and wounded more than 150 since August 17.
The victims have included judges, lawyers, police, journalists and activists.
Bangladesh’s main Opposition party termed the presidential ordinance allowing police to monitor telephone calls as a “new tool to harass rival politicians”.
“It will violate basic rights of the people and will be used to spy on the activities of opposition parties,” said Abdul Jalil, general secretary of the Awami League. “The ordinance is just a desperate attempt by the government to divert people’s attention from its failure to do anything to stop the Islamist militancy.”
Failing to combat Islamist militancy would frustrate Bangladesh’s recent economic achievements, British minister for international development Hilary Benn told a news conference at the end of a two-day visit to Bangladesh. “It’s a global threat to all. We will have to respond it globally.”
The World Bank said it was ready to consider Bangladesh proposal for funding security enhancement at courts in the wake of recent attacks.
Courts have been among the primary targets of the Islamists wanting Bangladesh, a mainly Muslim democracy, to introduce Islamic sharia law and shun its secular constitution. (Additional reporting by Masud Karim)