Whose side are you on?


 

By Javed Anand

Leaders and the led from a host of rightwing Indian Muslim organisations – Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JEI), All India Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat, All India Milli Council, All Bengal Minority Youth Federation, West Bengal Sunnat Al Jamaat Committee included – have not been sleeping well in the last several weeks. Their angst is on two counts. One, the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) set up by the ruling Awami League in 2009 to investigate and prosecute suspects for the genocide committed in 1971 by the Pakistan army and their local collaborators, Razakars, Al-Badr and Al-Shams during the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971. Two, the “atheist conspiracy” to banish Islam from Bangladesh that is supposedly behind the lakhs who have been thronging Shahbagh. 

So far, nearly a dozen men including nine currently top-ranking leaders of the Jamaat, the largest Islamist party in Bangladesh, have been held guilty and served stiff sentences. According to the sleepy-heads, the ongoing trials are a sham, a mere cover for the ruling Awami League’s “vendetta politics” against the Jamaat and its youth wing, Islami Chhatra Shibir. That the Jamaat had any hand in the genocide is news to them.

“Islamists are the most principled, pious, god-fearing and kind people on the earth… It’s far beyond their high moral standards to rape or kill someone,” claims a JEI spokesperson in an email. This is news to me. Are the Jamaat-Shibir supporters in India ignorant, wilfully blind, or do we smell theological affinity here to a totalitarian ideology parading as Islamic?

Keep the genocide of 1971 aside for the moment and take a look at what the “most kind” have been up to in recent years.

April 26, 2011: “A judicial commission has concluded that over 200 Hindu women were raped following the 2001 parliamentary election, forcing many terrorized families to flee the country. The acts were allegedly committed by cadres of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its ally Jamaat-e-Islami who won the 2001 polls, the report said, citing the involvement of many top leaders and lawmakers of the alliance that is now in the opposition… It lists 3,625 incidents of major crimes, including killing, rape, arson and looting”. (IANS report from Dhaka published by the Muslim news portal, Two Circles).

 September 26, 2005: Syed Najibul Bashar Maizbhandari, international affairs secretary of the ruling Bangladesh National Party (BNP) resigns from the party protesting “the government’s failure to act” against the Jamaat-e-Islami (part of the then ruling coalition) which he said had direct links to terrorist activities across the country. The Daily Star published from Dhaka, quoted police records that the over 100 militants who were arrested during 2005 in connection with the bombings (including the simultaneous bomb blasts at 459 spots in 63 districts across Bangladesh on a single day – August 17 – aimed at establishing Islamic rule in the country) either belonged to the Jamaat or its various wings, or had worked with them previously.

November 24, 2005: The BNP expels one of its MPs, Abu Hena, from the party for blaming a section of his own government and party for patronising militants. What’s more, he charged that two ministers “are doing everything for the militants”. Hena further alleged that the Jamaat was directly involved in the emergence of the outlawed Jamaatul-Mujahedeen Bangladesh. His expulsion notwithstanding, BNP’s standing committee member and former minister Oli Ahmed and BNP whip Ashraf Hossain also spoke out, implicating the Jamaat-e-Islami in the rise of militancy in the country.

March 6, 2013: “Over the past week, individuals taking part in strikes called by Islamic parties have vandalised more than 40 Hindu temples across Bangladesh. Scores of shops and houses belonging to the Hindu community have also been burned down, leaving hundreds of people homeless… Survivors told Amnesty International that the attackers were taking part in rallies organised by the opposition Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami (JIB) and its student group Chhatra Shibir. JIB has publicly denied any involvement in violence against the Hindu community”. (A press release by Amnesty International)

April 20, 2013: “Despite High Court directives to the government to protect religious minorities and their places of worships, criminals continue their attacks on minorities across the country. In the latest such crimes, a group of criminals torched a 200-year-old Hindu temple in Rajoir upazila of Madaripur (on April 19)… at least 94 attacks were carried out in March (2013) on minorities, mainly on the Hindus. In total, 187 houses, 162 businesses and 89 temples were attacked and looted and 133 idols were vandalised, according to the statement of a writ petition jointly filed by six rights organizations”. (Daily Star, Dhaka). As always, the JIB will no doubt deny any role in the recurrent targeting of Hindus.

As for “atheist conspiracy”, an entire galaxy of maulanas affiliated to the Imam Ulema Somonnoy Oikyo Parishad, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (Bangladesh) and other religious bodies in Bangladesh have publicly alleged that the Jamaat-Shibir is linked with terrorist Islamist organizations. “People who believe in Wahabism and Moududism (Maulana Abul Ala Maududi was the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami) are enemies of Islam as they misinterpret Quran and Sunnah”, thundered Ahle Sunnat (Bangladesh) secretary general Syed Muhammad Masiuddoula at a Sunni Ulema-Mashayekh Conference on March 17. (Daily Star).

On one side are the Jamaat which has never polled more than four per cent of total votes and extremist Islamist outfits dreaming of an Islamic state andshariah law. On the other side is the overwhelming majority of Bangladeshi Muslims love “their Islam” but would like it to stay far away from politics. It’s as simple as that. That’s what Shahbagh is all about.

Whose side are you on? The question is addressed in particular to Indian Muslim supporters of the violence-promoting Jamat-Shibir outfits in Bangladesh as much as to the Left Front and the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, both of whom seem to have granted to local Muslims the right to hold the state to ransom as often as they please.

(Javed Anand is co-editor, Communalism Combat, and General Secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy).

Bangladesh SC uphold death penalty to 2 army officers


30 April 2013

Press Trust of India

DHAKA, 30 APRIL: Bangladesh‘s Supreme Court today upheld the death sentences of two fugitive junior military officers awarded by a local court for killing four top national leaders, including the then acting president Syed Nazrul Islam, inside the Dhaka Central Jail in 1975.

“The appeal is allowed,” ruled Chief Justice Mozammel Huq, who headed a six-member Bench of the Appellate Division, turning down the 2008 High Court judgment in this case.

The High Court had acquitted sacked junior commissioned officers Marfat Ali Shah and Abdul Hashem Mridha in 2008. The state attorneys submitted a petition challenging the acquittal of several accused five months ago.

The two accused, who are on the run, are believed to be hiding in India. New Delhi has assured Dhaka of sending them back if tracked them down.

The four leaders ~ Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmad, AHM Qamruzzaman and Captain Mansur Ali ~ were brutally killed inside the high security Dhaka Central Jail in captivity by a group of army men.

Islam was the acting President and Ahmed performed as the Prime Minister of the then government in exile in India while two others were senior ministers of the interim administration to steer the 1971 Liberation War in absence of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who was in captivity in Pakistan at that time.

They were gunned down inside their prison cells by a group of army personnel months after the killing of Sheikh Mujib along with most of his family members in August 1975.

The post coup administration installed by the putsch leaders had put them behind the bar as they declined to support the “illegitimate government” and eventually killed just ahead of a counter-coup that ousted the August plotters.

The then self-proclaimed president Khandker Mushtaq Ahmed, however, had constituted visibly a “show case” enquiry commission to investigate into the carnage, though prosecution evidence suggested he himself had ordered the assassins entry inside the prison to kill the four leaders.

The SC, however, ordered immediate surrender of two absconding army officers as it allowed government to file the appeal more than three years ago.

The Metropolitan Sessions Judge’s court in October, 2004, originally sentenced to death three fugitive former military personnel and life term to 12 others for the jail massacre while it had acquitted four politicians and another former military officer.

Several of the suspects of the jail killings, however, were convicted and already executed under a separate judgment in Bangabandhu Murder Trial four years ago.

But the family members and the prosecution lawyers were not satisfied even with the lower court verdict in the jail killing trial as the belated trial began in 1996 alongside the Bangabandhu Murder Case. The two trials began simultaneously after Awami League‘s returned to power in 1996 general election after 21 years of political wilderness and scrapped an infamous indemnity law, which until then protected the killers from justice.

Bangladesh: Crackdown on Bloggers, Editors Escalates #FOS #FOE #Censorship


speech
As Protests Sharpen Along Religious Lines, Government Should Not Curtail Free Speech
APRIL 15, 2013, hrw.org
“By targeting peaceful critics in the media and blogosphere and promising more arrests, the government is abandoning any serious claim that it is committed to free speech. Bangladeshis should have the right to peacefully express their views, and the state should address these demands through the rule of law instead of embarking on politically motivated arrests.”
Brad Adams, Asia director

(New York) – The Bangladesh authorities should immediately drop charges against and release four bloggers and a newspaper editor arrested this month, Human Rights Watch said today. All five are facing criminal charges solely related to the peaceful exercise of their right to free speech.

Human Rights Watch said the government should stop targeting individuals and media publishing stories the government deems objectionable and reaffirm its commitment to freedom of expression, a principle which the governing Awami League has long claimed to champion.

“By targeting peaceful critics in the media and blogosphere and promising more arrests, the government is abandoning any serious claim that it is committed to free speech,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Bangladeshis should have the right to peacefully express their views, and the state should address these demands through the rule of law instead of embarking on politically motivated arrests.”

Bangladesh has been gripped by large-scale protests, political unrest, and violence since the  International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), a court set up to prosecute those responsible for atrocities committed during the country’s 1971 war of independence, sentenced a Jamaat-e-Islami party leader, Abdul Qader Mollah, to life in prison instead of capital punishment on February 5, 2013.

Hundreds of thousands throughout Bangladesh took to the streets in peaceful protests to demand that Mollah be hanged. The situation took a more violent turn after the ICT, on February 28, sentenced vice-president of the Jamaat party Delwar Hossain Sayedee to death by hanging after finding him guilty of war crimes. Following this verdict, supporters of the Jamaat party took to the streets in protest, leading to clashes between them, the Shahbagh protesters, and security forces attempting to control the protests. At least 90 people have died, most of them in police firing according to media and human rights groups.

While the “Shahbagh Movement” is campaigning for the death penalty for the accused, supporters of the Jamaat party are protesting the trial process and the rulings of the tribunal, claiming political bias.

Increasingly, the protests appear to have sharpened along religious lines, with some Islamist clerics demanding a blasphemy law and with others in the Shahbagh movement publishing statements supporting atheist principles, largely through blogs and other electronic media. In response, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina reaffirmed that Bangladesh is a secular state.

Bloggers arrested

However, the criminal justice authorities also cracked down on government critics in the media, including social media. Following the arrests of the bloggers, the government made clear that the restrictions and arrests will continue. The Home Minister announced that he had a list of seven other “atheist bloggers” who would be arrested soon. The Law Minister announced that the government intended to increase its control over social media, blogs, and online news websites.

On April 2 and 3, police arrested four bloggers, Subrata Adhikari Shuvo, Mashiur Rahman Biplob, Rasel Parvez, and Asif Mohiuddin, who had posted articles either critical of the government’s attempts to appease the Islamist demands or that said that the government had failed to address the concerns of minority religions. Police described the four as “known atheists and naturalists” who wrote derogatory things about the Prophet, and said the four would face charges of “instigating negative elements against Islam to create anarchy.”

“These bloggers can only be called political prisoners, since they are in jail for peacefully expressing their views,” Adams said. “Freedom of religion also includes the freedom not to believe in a religion and to make those views known. For a government that has always presented itself as liberal and secular this is a huge retreat from the values it claims to uphold.”

News raids

In a further attack on free speech, on April 11 the police arrested Mahmdur Rahman, the editor of an opposition news outlet, Amar Desh. Rahman was subsequently charged with sedition and unlawful publication of a hacked conversation between the ICT judges and an external consultant. The conversations exposed political interference with the trials. The conversations were originally published by The Economist and later republished in Bangladesh by Amar Desh and other news organizations and websites. The Shahbagh protesters had earlier demanded Rahman’s arrest for critical reports about their movement.

The state minister for home affairs, speaking at a press conference, said that Rahman has “hurt Muslim religious sentiments.” Rahman had previously been arrested in 2010 on defamation charges but was later released and the charges were dropped. Rahman alleged torture and ill-treatment while in custody.
On April 14, the offices of another opposition newspaper, Daily Sangram, were raided by the police. The editor, Mohamed Abul Asad, has subsequently been charged for printing and publishing copies ofAmar Desh after authorities had shut down Amar Desh after Rahman’s arrest.

Rahman’s mother, who is the Acting Chairman ofAmar Desh, has also been charged along with over a dozen others in the same case.

Earlier, on February 16, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission had shut down theSonar Bangla blog, known to be operated by Jamaat activists, for spreading “hate speech and causing communal tension.” This came after a pro-Shahbagh blogger, Ahmed Rajib Haider, was killed a day earlier by unknown assailants suspected to be pro-Jamaat.

“The arrest of a newspaper editor and shuttering his paper, which printed material that was terribly embarrassing to the government – so embarrassing that the chairman of the court resigned – suggests that the purpose of the arrests is to silence those who are critical of the way the war crimes trials have been carried out,” said Adams. “Rather than call for new trials that would have full credibility and ensure that any convictions are sound, the government has resorted to authoritarian tactics and a major crackdown on critics.”

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