Independent lawmaker Fazlul Azim' s questions in the Jatiyo Sangsad on the ramifications of mobile court operations during hartal hours reflect broad public concern over the issue. Despite Home Minister Sahara Khatun's belief that these courts foiled looting and prevented deaths during the 36- hour hartal called by the BNP and its allies, the glaring fact is that democratic practice does not condone the operation of such courts. It is our considered opinion, as we are sure it is of citizens across the spectrum, that setting up mobile courts to nab protestors and send them off to prison in the name of the law is truly an abuse of the law. A general strike, for all one's reservations about its timing and necessity, is an act of political protest which has not been declared illegal. As such, why curb it through dispensation of instant justice that falls far short of minimum requirements of a legal action such as right to defence and presentation of witness and evidence? However much the home minister may claim to be acting under law, for the public in general such arbitrary action is reprehensible. For the state now to weigh in by placing opposition activists under arrest and subjecting them to summary trial and eventually carting them off to jail is simply unacceptable. Political agitation must be met by political means. Indeed, we recall the ruling Awami League's earlier statement that the just-ended hartal would be tackled politically. People cannot and must not be terrorised in the name of the law. We realise that the political gap between the ruling party and the opposition is too wide to be bridged any time soon. If the government thinks that a short- circuiting of the political process in handling agitation will work, it is making a big mistake. High- handedness has never worked in democratic politics. We therefore urge the government to rethink this entire matter of letting mobile courts loose on opposition activists and make sure that the exercise will not be repeated in future. Let the government heed public opinion on the issue. We reiterate our opposition to ham-fisted measures to silence any kind of public protest.