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.

Loud and clear: Bangladeshi youth choose their platform


 Dhaka Tribune, April21, 2013

The next generation has found its voice through the Internet


  • Photo- DhakaTribune

I never knew how active Bangladesh, as an entire country, was virtually until the Shahbag story broke out on social media this year. You can have your opinions about the movement, be dismissive or inspired, but one thing few can argue is that online activists played a critical role in using the Internet to organise and spread the story, and got thousands of young Bangladeshis to work together.

The role technology is playing in current events in Bangladesh is revolutionary. It was Bangladeshi online activists and bloggers who first protested Kader Mollah’s verdict, demanding the death sentence, used social media to spread the word, and staged sit-ins. That set off the series of events which have brought us to the present day. The recent crackdown on bloggers confirms the power online activism enjoys.

The participation of women in this movement is also unique. Many attribute this to the fact that women in Bangladesh have been organising at the grassroots level for decades. Seeing female leadership in Bangladesh is not really something new to us, despite our patriarchal cultural roots. We have managed to have women in major leadership roles across the board. The Arab Spring may have showed the world how to use social media to build one’s political platform, but this generation of Bangladeshis showed the nation, and the world, how to use the Internet to try to finally gain closure from a bloody Liberation War from which the nation is still struggling to fully recover.

The view from abroad as a Bangladeshi was electrifying. Almost immediately my Facebook and Twitter feeds became consumed with the word “Shahbag.” It did not take long to figure out what my fellow Bangladeshis were talking about, or reach across the oceans and find one another.

As the “Western media” grappled with why thousands of youth were pouring into Dhaka’s streets, and holding images of the hang-man’s noose, Bangladeshis from Dhaka to Dallas were tweeting one another, connecting online, and reaching out to Bangladeshi writers around the world to ensure accurate coverage of Shahbag in the mainstream media.

In the first few weeks of the Shahbag story, my posts were a direct result of the information I received from my social media contacts. Those who reached out to me did so to get the word out on a story that was largely being overlooked and misinterpreted. People I had never met were emailing me links, articles, and pictures to tell the world that the youth in Bangladesh would not sit idly by, while politicians paved their future without their participation. Bangladeshis, in Dhaka and across the world, were creating uproar on the streets of Dhaka and in the pathways of the Internet. The energy was palpable, and I felt an instant patriotic connection with my fellow Bangladeshis, a majority of whom were people I had never met.

Although millions of people organise nearly millions of causes every day online, I had never experienced this camaraderie amongst my fellow countrymen. I grew up being told that my generation was passive and uninterested in the future of our country. As our parents recovered from 1971, we grappled with a Bangladesh in many ways at war with herself.

What the Shahbag movement showed me, as a Bangladeshi not living in Bangladesh, is that my generation is informed, politically aware, protective of its history, and is online. It showed me that we are not apathetic about the future of Bangladesh. We may have fallen into a coma spanning four decades since 1971, but the youth of Bangladesh, across the world, are awake. Barriers that separate Bangladeshis across social customs, class and gender all seemingly disappear online. When “Internet trolls” harassed female writers online, myself included, fellow Bangladeshis I had never met came to my defence. Sometimes groups even organised online to stand up for us, and defend our work.

So, while what is being done is nothing new, what is exciting is that Bangladeshi youth are doing it, too: Using the Internet to connect and communicate so as to cultivate a better path for the future of this country.

This generation of Bangladeshis understand the power of online organising and is using it. Call me idealistic and naïve, but it is so electrifying and inspiring that it makes me believe and want to work for the kind of Bangladesh whose dream we keep nestled deep in our hearts.

By positioning themselves at the forefront of these protests, Bangladeshi women and Bangladeshi youth are using their voices, and breaking an age-old myth that this generation is voiceless when it comes to our country’s politics and future. Shahbag changed all that. The voice of the new generation of Bangladeshis is informed, organised, aware, active and online. The question is: Are you listening?
Anushay Hossain is a Bangladeshi born-Washington based policy analyst. She writes the blog, Anushay’s Point (www.AnushaysPoint.com)

 

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.”

A dangerous connivance


Shahbag Protest

 

GARGA CHATTERJEE, The Hindu

It is worrying that West Bengal’s political class remained tactical spectators to the Kolkata rally organised by Muslim groups in support of Bangladeshi war criminals

West Bengal looked to the Shahbag protests in Dhaka with hope. In 1971, a massive relief and solidarity effort was undertaken in West Bengal for the millions trying to escape a veritable genocide. The then leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami in East Bengal and its students wing organised murder and rape squads in collaboration with the Pakistani forces. Their crimes included mass murder, rape as a weapon of war, arson and forced conversions. Post-1975, generals used them to cast an Islamic veneer of legitimacy over their illegal capture of power. Their immunity lasted until the present Bangladesh government restarted the legal proceedings in the War Crimes tribunal. The Shahbag protests demanded maximum punishment for the guilty.

SHOCKING

In West Bengal, a few meetings have happened around Shahbag, mostly expressing support. But, shockingly, the largest was a massive rally held in Kolkata on March 30, explicitly against the Shahbag protests and in support of the war criminals already convicted. Various Muslim groups, including the All Bengal Minority Council, the All Bengal Minority Youth Federation, the Madrassa Students Union, the Muslim Think Tank and the All Bengal Imam Muazzin Association, organised the rally. People arrived in buses from distant districts of Murshidabad and Nadia, as well as from neighbouring districts. Students of madrassas and the new Aliah Madrassa University were conspicuous at the gathering.

The old rallying cry, “Islam is in danger in Bangladesh,” was heard. We heard a similar cry in 1952 during the mother-language movement, in 1954 when Fazlul Haq and Maulana Bhashani challenged the Muslim League, in 1969 when the Awami League made its six demands and during the 1971 liberation struggle — basically during every secular movement for rights and justice. The rally thundered that West Bengal would be “cleansed” of supporters of war crimes trial and the present Prime Minister of Bangladesh. They promised that political forces supporting Shahbag would be “beaten with broom-sticks” if they came asking for Muslim votes. Like Taslima Nasreen and Salman Rushdie, Sheikh Hasina would not be allowed inside Kolkata. They expressed solidarity with the anti-Shahbag “movement” in Bangladesh. This assertion is worrisome, as the anti-Shahbag forces in Bangladesh have initiated a wave of violent attacks on Hindus, Buddhists and secular individuals, and the destruction of Hindu and Buddhist homes, businesses and places of worship. Amnesty International documented attacks on over 40 Hindu temples as of March 6. That number has increased.

This large gathering and its pronouncements have been in the making. A collapse in the Muslim vote was important in the Left Front’s demise. Muslim divines regularly remind the present government of this. The Trinamool Congress wants to ensure a continued slice of this vote. In an unprecedented move, the government handed out monthly stipends to imams and muezzins to build a class of Muslim “community leaders” who eat out of its hand. The debt-ridden, vision-deficient government is unable to solve the problems that are common to the poor. It has wooed a section of the marginalised on the basis of religion by selective handouts. These are excellent as speech-making points masquerading as empathy. This also gives fillip to forces whose trajectories are not under usual political control.

The Left Front’s political fortune stagnated after 2011. It has cynically chosen not to strongly oppose this communal turn. Waiting for the incumbent to falter is its roadmap to power. The damage this is doing to the West Bengal’s political culture is possibly irreparable. The incumbent’s connivance and the opposition’s silence are due to the long-eroded tradition of democratic political contestation through grassroots mobilisation. Both deal with West Bengal’s sizeable minority population primarily via intermediaries, doing away with any pretence of ideology in the transactions.

POLITICS OF BLACKMAIL

Organisations inspired by political Islam have used this disconnect to the hilt to blackmail the government. An emerging bloc of divines, and former and present student leaders have used students and youths as storm troopers at short notice. Sadly, they are unconcerned about life and livelihood issues of Muslims. With assistance from the Left Front regime, they drove out the persecuted humanist writer, Taslima Nasreen. The extent of their clout as blackmailers was evident from the government’s pro-activeness in keeping Salman Rushdie out of Kolkata, after his visit to Bangalore, New Delhi and Mumbai. This pushing of the envelope fits into a sequence of events that is increasingly stifling the freedom of expression. The double-standards are clear.

On March 21, a group of small magazine publishers, human rights workers, theatre artists and peace activists were disallowed from marching to the Deputy High Commission of Bangladesh to express their support to the war-crimes trial efforts. The police had “orders;” some marchers were detained. A month earlier, the same police provided security cover to an anti-Shahbag march and later to the marchers when they submitted a memorandum to the Deputy High Commission demanding the acquittal of convicted war criminals. Last year, public libraries were directed to stock a sectarian daily even before its first issue was published! The State thinks that it can play this brinksmanship game with finesse. When the political class acts as tactical facilitators or tactical spectators to apologists of one the largest mass-murders ever, the demise of Kolkata as a centre of culture is a natural corollary. A combination of circumstances can cause an uncontrollable unravelling. Bengal’s experience with sectarian politics is distinctly bitter.

The bye-election to Jangipur, a Muslim-majority Lok Sabha constituency, saw the combined vote of the two main parties fall from 95 per cent in 2009 to 78 per cent in 2012. The beneficiaries were the Welfare Party of India, a thinly-veiled front organisation of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, and the Social Democratic Party of India, a similar group. “Tactical pluralism” is their game, a concept quite akin to the tactical defence of Taslima’s freedom of speech by Hindu communal political forces. The rally in support of war criminals has exposed this faux pluralism.

There was another significant beneficiary in the same election — the Bharatiya Janata Party. Communal tension has been rising, with serious disturbances in Deganga and Canning. Sensing a subterranean polarisation, the majoritarian forces see an opportunity. Mouthing banalities about Bengal’s “intrinsically” plural culture is useless. Culture is a living entity, recreated every moment. It is being recreated by the victimisation discourse by fringe groups like Hindu Samhati and in certain religious congregations where unalloyed poison produced by divines like Tarek Monawar Hossain from Bangladesh is played on loud-speakers. Thanks to technology, vitriol produced in a milieu of free-style majoritarian muscle-flexing in Bangladesh reaches West Bengal easily. Hence the popularity of one of the convicted war criminals, Delwar Hossain Sayedee, who in his post-1971 avatar had become a superstar in the Bengali waz-mahfil circuit.

What are the effects of cultural exchange of this kind? The rally is a clue. A defence of Sayedee and the claim that he is innocent, made repeatedly in the rally, are like perpetrating Holocaust-denial.

A day after the anti-Shahbag rally in Kolkata, almost as a divine reminder of starker realities beyond the defence of Islam, nearly 45 lakh unemployed youth, Hindus and Muslims, sat for the primary school teachers’ recruitment examination for 35,000 posts. Clearly, the ‘minority’ employment exchange set up by the incumbents has failed. West Bengal has petitioned the Centre for a relaxation of the minimum qualifications for primary school teachers. The promotion of religious education is hardly the way to empowerment and livelihood generation for the minorities in a State where they have been grossly under-represented in all white-collar services. There are no short-cut solutions.

(Garga Chatterjee is a researcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

 

 

 

 

Rescued from Mumbai brothels, 18 escape from Bengal shelter #Vaw


Nine were caught trying to catch city-bound Gitanjali Express

Jayatri Nag mirrorfeedback@timesgroup.com

As many as 18 girls, including two minors, ran away from a shelter home in Kolkata on Friday. These women, rescued from various brothels in KamathipuraareaofMumbai,weresenttoWestBengal for rehabilitation. Being Bangladeshi nationals, they were to be deported soon. While nine of them were caught trying to board Mumbaibound Gitanjali Express at Howrah station last night, others are still missing.
On Friday morning at 6 am, security guards attheAllBengalWomen’sUniononEliotRoad first noticed that the girls had escaped through a second-floor window of the home. They immediately informed the Park Street police. Police stations near the Indo-Bangladesh border and the GRP at Sealdah and Howrah stations were also alerted. After being caught, the nine women were produced in the court on Saturday.
“We have informed the sub-divisional police officers (SDPO) of the bordering districts about the matter. They, in turn, have informed the BSF,” said Pallab Kanti Ghosh, joint CP, Crime.
The girls reportedly told police that they escaped because they were being tortured at the rehabilitation home. One Sobha Seth said, “We were not given food. We had no other way but to flee.” Another girl, Sapna Singh, said, “Wewerebeatenupregularlyandtortured.We could not bear it anymore.”
State police, meanwhile rued that hundreds of Bangladeshi women and children trafficked to cities such as Mumbai and Bangalore were sent to West Bengal for rehabilitation just because they spoke Bengali. Last year in December alone, 350 Bangladeshis were sent to Bengal from Mumbai.
“We have repatriated more than 450 women and children to Bangladesh and sent back more than 100 to Mumbai. The Maharashtra police sent them to West Bengal without verifyingtheircitizenship.Thisisnotafairpractice because such a move puts huge pressure on 18 shelter homes run by the West Bengal government and 28 run by NGOs,” said an official of the Women and Child Development Department.

 

Bangladesh -Jamat-e-Islami misguiding international human rights bodies


Thursday, 07 March 2013 20:28by Farooq Sulehria , viewpointonline.com

The Communist Party of Bangladesh or Bangladesh Samajtantrik Dol (Socialist Party) have been unwavering in their commitment to the war criminal trials

‘Sadly, the Awami League has not fully restored the 1972 constitution – the present constitution is a strange chimera – it has Islam as state religion and also says that that the republic is secular, at the same time !,’ says Garga Chatterjee.

He is a political commentator on the sub-continental issues. His articles are regularly published from newspapers and magazines in Lahore, Mumbai, Kolkata, Dhaka, Sri Nagar, Delhi, and Kathmandu. By profession, he is a brain scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Read on:

You were recently in Dhaka. Tell us about the unrest that has gripped the country of late.

I was in Dhaka recently when the protests at Shahbag were going on in full swing. The protests started when one of the war criminals of 1971, a Bengali killer-collaborator called Kader Mollah, was handed down a life sentence. The initial protest organizers, sort of an informal alliance between a network of bloggers and certain secular and left student organizations, snowballed into a continuous protest against the verdict. People from many walks of life, especially women and youth, joined in. People who have seen protests in Dhaka before told me that they have not seen anything this big since the pro-democracy protests against General Ershad. Some say this even dwarfs that. Soon enough, the demands on the protesters went beyond asking for death penalty for Kader Mollah. This finally coalesced in to the 6-point demand from the ‘Projonmo Chottor’, which is the informal name for the Shahbag demonstration – which roughly translates as the Generation Campus/Square.

The 6-points are:

1. Maximum penalty for all war criminals including Kader Molla.
2. Ensuring equal legal rights of both defendant and prosecution, ensuring 3-month time limit on all trials, abolishing clemency power of the state for these trials.
3. Banning Pakistani aggressor force’s allies Jamat-Shibir and all communal parties for resisting Bangladesh liberation and committing war crimes. Immediate arrest and justice for activists of Jamat-Shibir for threatening a civil war by identifying through television and print media pictures.
4.  Bring all the political parties, forces, individuals and organizations who are trying to safeguard these war criminals, resisting the trials and conspiring with them to justice.
5. Arrest and bring under ICT Trials all the war criminals who were either convicted or undergoing trial till their release on December 31, 1975
6.  Ban all the business, social and cultural organizations like Islami Bank, Ibn Sina, Focus, Retina Coaching, etc. Block all the local and foreign sources of income of Jamat-Shibir. Shut down war criminal owned media organizations like Diganta TV, Daily Naya Diganta, Daily Amar Desh, Daily Sangram, blogsite SonarBangladesh.com , etc.

The last point is significant because Jamaat and its cohorts run one of the largest business networks in Bangladesh.

Also, solidarity protests have been held beyond Dhaka in almost all parts of Bangladesh. I myself saw protests in Barisal being held in front of the Ashwini Dutta Town Hall. Certain progressive-left cultural troupes like Udichi are taking a very active role in organizing these- through singing songs of Liberation war and also Bangla songs of Robindronath, Dwinjendro Lal Ray and other stalwarts.

There are extempore paintings being done by local artists. In Shahbag, at any point, 2-3 film screenings, 4-5 street theatres and numerous small gatherings (jotlas) were happening side by side with the central assembly. The atmosphere was electric – nothing like what I have ever seen before, and being from Calcutta, I have been to many protests, including the much talked about Delhi rape protests.

It is being commented that people are asserting the secular identity of their country. Why this stress on war crimes. What is the link between the secular identity and the war crimes?

People in Shahbag are indeed asserting the importance of secular politics. This is evident in their slogans and in the absence of informal obeisance to this religion or the other, which take place in many other ‘secular’ scenarios. Apart from brief Namaj [prayer] breaks, I noticed nothing that had any particular stamp. What was interesting that most of the assemblies were not talking of ‘true Islam’ or ‘true Hinduism’ but of a politics bereft of the use of religion. I am not sure whether Shahbag’s strand of hard secularism is representative of Bangladesh as a whole, but Shahbag is a political act and in that, it aims for a change, rather than simply reflect what is. So Shahbag’s secularism is derived partly from the present polity but also is trying to project a political programme. Interestingly, this separation of religion from politics is something that is enshrined in the 1972 constitution, which the military rulers removed. Sadly, the Awami League has not fully restored the 1972 constitution – the present constitution is a strange chimera – it has Islam as state religion and also says that that the republic is secular, at the same time!

The question of war crimes is central to this movement. The 1971 Liberation war is the central defining event that resulted in the nation-state of the people’s republic of Bangladesh. That central fissure, of those for and those against the idea of Bangladesh, remains unresolved – as those against the idea have retained considerable clout in politics. They have tried to systematically distort history. The War crimes are important because in spite of all the distortion, except a few religious cranks, no one really disputes that they really happened. The war criminals represent a festering wound – of the kind few nation-states have. Imagine having the butcher of Jallianwalabagh being a minister in post-British Punjab! Then you start getting an idea of what we are talking about. The war crimes trials are a short-hand for historical justice, but also for many, something that needs to be resolved so that those who opposed independence violently can be delegitimized in politics.

The link between secular identity and war crimes is important. The war crimes happened in the name of preserving the unity of the Islamic state, Pakistan. The Hindus of East Bengal were victims of war crimes in disproportionately high numbers. Even in 1971, the pro Liberation forces were touted to be anti-Islam for being pro-Bengali. In this nation-state, Muslims form a progressively stupendous majority. So, the demand for war crimes trial, also is part of the demand the calls for a return to the ‘ideals of 71’ – which, in theory, is not communal.

Do you think there are lessons for other Muslim countries, especially Pakistan, in this movement?

There are important lessons for other countries with large Muslims majority populations. The Shahbag protests are quite different from the other iconic protest of recent times- the Tahrir Square. Unlike Tahrir, in Shahbag Islamists were not part of the protests. So beyond superficial comparisons, Shahbag is quite different – in composition, in political direction, in participation and leadership of women ( leading some pro-Jamaat groups and clerics to call Shahbag a den of vice and prostitution!). Shahbag also underlines the role of long-term political organizing in Muslim-majority societies that may be missed in the ‘spontaneity’. Make no mistake about it, without the student and youth organizations of the political left, there would be no Shahbag. I remember a cartoon by Sabir Nazar that was printed in The Friday Times, where he shows the successive destruction of ‘minorities’ in Pakistan – Hindus, Ahmadis, Sunnis and then a bullet coming towards the Sunnis. In Bangladesh, this politics of ‘purification’ is something that was countered, albeit incompletely, during 71. Given the devastating effects of finding the one pure faithful befitting Pakistan, Shahbag, in its prioritizing the issue of genocide and war crimes of 71, brings to front, what solution such ‘purifying’ politics leads to. In all places, where minorities are living a threatened existence, Shahbag should act as a political message. From Shahbag, there have been slogans that venerate Surya Sen and Pritilata Waddeddar. These ‘Hindu’ freedom fighters from 80 years ago were centre of mass slogans by an assembly that was largely Muslim. Can Pakistan conceive of a politics where Bhagat Singh can have a similar status? These are issues that need to be reflected upon.

Jamaat was feared in Bangladesh. It seems that fear is disappearing. Your comments.

This is something I heard at many places. Many said, if Shahbag has done one thing, it is this – earlier, in many places, the ‘commoner’ would criticize Jamaat in a low voice. Now they swear openly at it.

The Jamaat and its associates are a marginal but significant political force in Bangladesh. The silence was due to their terror techniques. Especially notorious is their student wing, the Islami Chhatra Shibir. The similarity with the IJT’s terrorizing of campuses in Pakistan is striking.

Has Jamaat-e-Islami been on the defensive? Is it true that JI members have been killed by Awami League? Or is it the case that Jamaat has been targeting opponents. In Pakistan, Jamaat is propagating that their members have been killed by Awami League activists?

If the 6 demands of Shahbag are fulfilled, then Jamaat will be severely compromised politically – though their strand of politics will find other outlets. So for JI, this is a battle for political survival. They are fighting back on all fronts. In any case JI cadres are brain-washed to believe that they are perennially besieged. They are doing online propaganda, trying to misguide international human rights organizations, and on the streets, they are doing looting, killing and arson. Very recently, they have been targeting Hindu and Buddhist temples, homes and businesses to create a riot-like situation. The state forces of Bangladesh have come down in a heavy handed manner – so it is incorrect to say that Awami League (AL) is killing them now. It is true that AL, BNP and Jamaat have been involved in murderous clashes. The student and youth wing of the Awami League has been particularly violent in the last 2 years – but most of it has been feuds between AL factions. The student wing of the Jamaat however is the most notorious, having earned the terrifying epithet of ‘rog-kata’ or ‘muscle/tendon cutters’.

What has been the role of Awami League and other mainstream parties during these trial? Also, what about the left: its stand and level of participation?

The AL has been formally supportive of the trial. This was one of their elections manifesto pledges. They have however mismanaged the trial but nominating a bunch of loyal but worthless lawyers in the prosecution side. Also the tribunal does not have much resources. This has led many to question whether AL really wants the trial and prosecution of war criminals. AL has earlier made underhand deals with many powers, including the Jamaat. However, this time, the tenor of the struggle on the ground is different.

The left organizations, like the Communist Party of Bangladesh or Bangladesh Samajtantrik Dol (Socialist Party) have been unwavering in their commitment to the war criminal trials. They have been trying to follow a line of tactically criticizing the AL to keep it in line with its election manifesto commitments on the war trial issue. The AL smells election benefits of Shahbag, if it can channelize the youth vote, which is an increasingly large part of the electorate. At the same time, AL knows that the widespread support and participation in Shahbag has happened as it was no explicitly partisan. It is a case of the goose that lays the golden eggs. AL wants to steal the eggs – however, it also knows that trying to do that too brashly, will kill the goose.

Farooq Sulehria is currently pursuing his media studies. Previously, he has worked with Stockholm-based Weekly Internationalen. In Pakistan, he has worked with The Nation, The Frontier Post, The News, and the Pakistan. He has MA in Mass Communication from the University of Punjab, Lahore. He also contributes for Znet and various left publications internationally.

Bangla young crusaders on a song at ‘ carnival’ of protests


By, TNN | Mar 13, 2013,

DHAKA: It’s a carnival that’s rocking the entire nation. Quite literally. The Shahbag Movement — fuelled by music, art, blogging and the sheer spontaneity of youth — is teaching a new way of protest to a country ravaged by vengeance and violence for over four decades.The teenagers leading the movement have the natural confidence of youth. Violence and death threats do not deter them. For they have seen the vision of a new Bangladesh. Rarely in history has a ‘carnival’ engineered social change as here.

The young crusaders put it very simply — they are “tired of strikes, explosions and goonda raaj”. “Violence can’t be a solution. Look at the youngsters at Shahbag Square — they are singing, painting. But they are more powerful than the fundamentalists,” said Safiqul Islam, a middle-aged autorickshaw driver, who is caught up in the energy of the movement.

His profession brings him face to face with various sections of the society every day. And over the past month, he noticed that all roads led to Shahbag Square. “Finally, overcome by curiosity, I decided to take a look,” says the native of Brammanberia district. He is now a convert. Age no factor.

“Every day, I visit the square at least once even though I sacrifice some of my earnings. Initially, I was a bystander. One evening, a young girl asked me to join in their song. I can’t read or write. I hesitated. But they cheered me on. Now I even compose songs and sing them,” said Safiqul.

He is now ‘mama’ (uncle) to all us youngsters, say like Lucky Akhter and her journalist friend Roksana Amin. Lucky, a native of Noakhali, studies in Dhaka Jagannath University. Her father was a liberation fighter. “I grew up with the stories of the Liberation War. Ours is a war for the entire nation — to ensure justice for the martyrs,” says Lucky, who has been with the movement since the first day and is loved for coining powerful slogans.

Roksana feels it is the duty of all Bangladeshis to join the movement. She quit her job to join the Shahbag army and is now organizing a ‘squad’ of protesters in the name of the legendary Jahanara Imam, mother of a martyr.

Imran Firdaus from Rajsahi, a student of linguistics at Dhaka University, confesses he “just couldn’t stay away”. In the past month, Shahbag Square has given birth to several little magazines and newspapers. And Imran, a freelance filmmaker and researcher, writes for them as if his life depended on it.

Shahbag Square has turned into a must-stop for millions of people. Sanatan has his hands full meeting business targets for his private firm but ensures that his first stop from office is always the protest platform. “I spend at least three hours here as an expression of solidarity,” said Sanatan. It’s the same with college lecturer Amita Chakraborty.

The Jamat-backing outfit Hefajat e Islam has threatened to stop the mass meeting of Shahbag protesters at Chittagong on Wednesday, but the crusaders have laughed it away. “We won’t give up. We will definitely hold our meeting in Chittagong,” said Imran H Sarkar, convenor of the protest forum.

Showing a thumb to the fundamentalists, it’s an open forum for girls. The Shahbag revolution has brought a message of gender and class equality. Boys and girls stay in the square till late night or often the entire night. Shahbag is the bridge between the age of Liberation and its third generation. “The spontaneity of the people has made all the difference,” says Shah Asif, one of protesters. “People are pulled here by an inner urge, melting in the wave of protest…”

Lucky’s firebrand slogans, Rokasana’s songs, someone’s painting, colours, grief, joy and tears melt into “Notun Diner Notun Daak. Shahbag Shahbag (Call of a New Day, Shahbag-Shahbag)”.

Bomb attack at press meet

Activists of the Jamat-backing outfit Hefajat-e-Islam hurled bombs near the Dhaka Press Clubwhere Shahbag Movement campaigners were holding a press conference on Tuesday evening.

No one was hurt in the attack but it triggered fears of violence in Chittagong on Wednesday since Jamat has called a strike on the same day as the Shahbag crusaders plan to organize a rally.

Tuesday’s press conference was called to give details of the proposed march in Chittagong when Hefajat men attacked with bombs, police sources said.

The Shahbag campaigners, who have floated the Gana Jagaran Mancha, have been getting threats to cancel their Chittagong march but they have vowed not to be cowed down.

 

URGENT PRESS RELEASE- condemning attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh, Christians in Pakistan


URGENT
PRESS STATEMENT
Sunday, March 10, 2013

CITIZENS FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE, MUMBAI

The Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), Mumbai condemns the attack on innocent Hindus in Bangladesh over the past week and Christians in Pakistan yesterday by a angry mob of 7,000 and more. We appeal to all Indians and the wider human rights community to join us  in condemning these dastardly attacks.

While condemning the targeted and  violent attacks against Bangladesh’s minority Hindu community, the CJP calls upon the Indian government and international organisations to ensure that the Bangladeshi authorities provide them with better protection. There have been disturbing reports that individuals taking part in the protests called by supremacist Islamic parties (including reportedly led by Jamaat-e-Islaami, Bangladesh) have vandalised more than 40 Hindu temples across Bangladesh, scores of Hindu homes and shops have also been burned down, leaving hundreds homeless. The attacks have come in the wake of protests to implement the findings of the country’s ongoing war crimes tribunal, the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT). The role of the Jamaat-e-Islaami-Bangladesh has been pointed to in the recent anti-minority attacks. In Pakistan, regarding the targeted attack against a group of Christians in Lahore, the CJP urges the Indian government and international organisations to lend voice to their demand that the   the Punjab government should have given the Christian community more protection in Lahore following the false allegations of blasphemy.

All of us undersigned condemn these dastardly attacks and call for the immediate punishment of those guilty. It is long overdue that the demands of human rights activists from all countries in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal. Afganistan, Srilanka, Burma and Bhutan are met and a South Asian Commisison/Authority for Human Rights  Protection is established that looks into all instances of cross border human rights  violations, atrocities against women and children and traffking, caste atroctries and attacks on identities, ethnicities and religious minorities. CJP has been part of efforts to set  up this kind of mechanism for over a decade.

Teesta Setalvad
Secretary & trustee

Other trustees: IM Kadri (Vice President), Raghunandan Maluste (Vice-President), Arvind Krishnaswamy (Treasurer), Alyque Padamsee, Cyrus Guzder, Javed Akhtar, Taizoon Khorakhiwala, Anil Dharkar, Rahul Bose, Javed Anand, Ghulam Pesh-Imam, Cedric Prakash

Bangladesh moves Supreme Court for #deathpenalty to Abdul Quader Mollah


PTI Mar 3, 2013,

DHAKA: Bangladesh government today moved the Supreme Court seeking death penalty for Jamaat-e-Islami leader Abdul Quader Mollah, who escaped with life imprisonment from a court here for committing “crimes against humanity” during the country’s independence war in 1971.

The attorney general’s office submitted the 484-page appeal to the section concerned of the apex court in this morning.

Attorney general Mahbubey Alam said his office will now file an application in the chamber judge of the Appellate Division for fixing a date for hearing the appeal at a regular bench.

In its petition, the government asked the Supreme Court to award Mollah, Jamaat assistant secretary general, capital punishment considering the gravity of his crimes committed during the 1971 Liberation War.

The verdict delivered on February 5 by a war crime tribunal convicted 65-year-old Mollah for five wartime criminal offences out of the six he was charged with, and sentenced him to life imprisonment.

In two of the five acts of crimes against humanity, at least 350 people were killed and a girl was raped.

Mollah was also sentenced to 15-year imprisonment for his complicity in three other criminal offences in which six people were killed. He was acquitted of the charge of killing hundreds of people at Keraniganj in Dhaka as the charge was not proved in the tribunal.

The life imprisonment for Mollah angered thousands of secular protesters, mostly youths, who have been demonstrating at Shahbagh Square here since February 5 to press enhancing his punishment to death sentence.

Mollah’s party colleague and Jamaat vice-president Delwar Hossain Sayedee was last week sentenced to death for setting ablaze 25 houses in a Hindu village and aiding the killing of two persons.

The court found him guilty of helping a pro-Pakistani armed group which abducted three Hindu girls and raped them and forced 100 Hindus to convert.

In January, former Jamaat leader Abul Kalam Azad was sentenced to death on similar charges.

The government’s moving the apex court to seek death for Mollah came on a day when Jamaat and its student wing Islamic Chhatra Shibir attacked civilians and clashed with police across Bangladesh, leaving 14 people dead.

 

Deconstructing Jamaat-e-Islami in Bangladesh #Sundayreading


 Alal o Dulal – 26 February 2013

Wali Nasr’s Vanguards of the Islamic Revolution is perhaps the best known book on the party available in English. That book, as well as Jamaat’s own literature—in both Bangladesh and Pakistan—makes it clear that it does not believe in western-style electoral, representative democracy. Nor can it be characterized as a mass political party. At the risk of oversimplification, Jamaat’s internal organization may be described as following some form of “democratic centralism”: the top leadership collectively takes a decision, and through a hierarchy and network of members, cadres, or activists, the party’s decision is carried out. The top leadership is, in turn, chosen from the rank and file through elections and other representative mechanisms.

As in Pakistan, the party’s aim in Bangladesh is to create an Islamic state, where the party is the sole arbiter of what counts as Islamic. The essential question for the party leadership is how it will achieve power.

After the Pakistan Army launched its murderous crackdown in East Pakistan on 25 March 1971, Jamaat threw in its lot behind the generals. Whereas a number of Islam-pasand politicians—including many from various factions of the Muslim League—supported the junta’s quest to maintain a united Pakistan, Jamaat went a step further.

Activists of its student wing, Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT) / Islami Chhatra Sangha (ICS), volunteered for the pro-Pakistan militias set up by the army. Matiur Rahman Nizami, head of the East Pakistan IJT/ICS, led a particularly fierce group called the Al Badr whose death squads are alleged to have killed several prominent progressive intellectuals and activists during the war. A reading of contemporary newspapers suggests that Jamaat expected that the army would militarily defeat the Mukti Bahini resistance, but would find it hard to fill the political vacuum created by the elimination of the Awami League. Jamaat aspired to fill that vacuum.

Much like the Pakistani generals, Jamaat leaders blame the Indians for the defeat of 1971. They believe that the main reason behind India’s intervention was a fear of a Jamaat-dominated East Pakistan. The lesson they took away from 1971 is that for Jamaat to achieve power in Bangladesh, it must contend with India.

The immediate post-war years were a difficult for Jamaat. Even before Dhaka was liberated on December 16th, the provisional government of Bangladesh banned Jamaat. Some of its leaders, including the provincial chief Ghulam Azam, escaped to Pakistan, the Gulf and the United Kingdom. Others went into hiding. Azam tried to lead a movement to “recover East Pakistan,” which fizzled when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto received Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in Lahore for the 1974 Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) summit. At the local level, party members abstained from direct political activities, concentrating on social work instead.

Bangladesh politics took several dramatic and tragic turns in 1975. The country’s first leader, Sheikh Mujib, responded to instability by imposing a draconian one-party state, and then was killed by a military coup. Countercoups followed, descending into a larger armed mutiny. By the end of the year, many of the people who politically or militarily led the country’s freedom struggle in 1971 were dead or marginalized, with the exception of Major General Ziaur Rahman, who emerged as the country’s de facto ruler.

Zia gradually reintroduced electoral politics, and a parliament was elected in 1979. The ban on Jamaat, which had begun in 1971, was not, however, formally lifted because the Election Commission was not convinced of the party’s commitment to Bangladesh’s sovereignty. Nonetheless, six of its members were elected to the 300-member assembly under the banner of the Islamic Democratic League. Azam returned to Bangladesh on a Pakistan passport around this time. (His citizenship was revoked by the Bangladesh government in 1973.) The IJT/ICS was also re-launched under the name of Islami Chhatra Shibir. Zia was assassinated in 1981, and Lt. Gen. H.M. Ershad assumed power in 1982. As Ershad moved to legitimize his rule through elections, the ban on the Jamaat was lifted.

From here on, Jamaat’s aim was to achieve political legitimacy first, and capture state power ultimately.

How to do it?

Azam devised a multi-pronged strategy.

First, Jamaat was to become a parliamentary party and contest elections, under its own name if possible, but under other names if needed. But, they would not contest across the country. Rather, they targeted 50 seats bordering India. The idea was to turn these seats into strong Jamaat bastions that could become centers of resistance if India were to “invade again.”

Of course, 50 seats are far short of a majority in a 300-seat parliament. This is where the second strategy comes in. Jamaat would seek alliance and coalition with anyone and everyone depending on the specific circumstance. So, for example, Jamaat and the Awami League (AL) participated in the parliamentary election in 1986, breaking a promise to boycott it because it was held under martial law. The election helped give constitutional cover to the Ershad’s military regime. But in 1990, Jamaat again joined the AL along with its rival, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), and the leftists in an urban uprising that toppled the Ershad government. In 1991, the BNP formed a government with Jamaat’s support. By the mid-1990s, Jamaat had once again allied with the AL in a series of street protests against the BNP government.

By 2001 however, Jamaat had entered into an electoral alliance with the BNP for the upcoming election. This alliance seems to have held through electoral triumphs (2001, when BNP won 197 and Jamaat 17 seats) and disasters (2008, BNP 32, Jamaat 2). During the quasi-military “caretaker government” rule of 2007-2008, there were strong rumors of a Jamaat-army tacit understanding: while both AL and BNP leaders were jailed, Jamaat was practically untouched.

These alliances conferred one major benefit. Jamaat regained, at least partially, the legitimacy it lost by violently opposing the country’s birth.

In conjunction with these tactical alliances, Azam had a third prong. Drawing on various revolutionary movements across the world, Jamaat has pursued infiltration—putting ideologically committed men and women in key sectors of state, society and the economy, so that, if and when the time comes, a coordinated putsch could catapult it to power. This was pursued most vigorously between 2001 and 2006. When the BNP led alliance (of which Jamaat was a key partner) won the 2001 election, Jamaat demanded two things. First, they wanted a suitable official post for Matiur Rahman Nizami. The former Al Badr leader had been the party’s parliamentary head in the early 1990s, and had replaced Azam as the party chief by the end of the decade. Second, the party’s number two, Ali Ahsan Mujahid (who was not an MP), had to be made the minister of social welfare.

The social welfare ministry was chosen because this ministry regulated the country’s massive NGO sector and was supposed to look after sociocultural organizations throughout the country. In 1971, Jamaat targeted progressive voices violently. During the 2001-2006 period, it made things difficult for progressive activities, while generously supporting Islamic institutions that adhered to its interpretation.

And finally, there is the fourth prong. IJT lost control of the campuses in the 1960s, first to the leftists, then to the nationalists led by the AL. They wanted to rectify it in the 1980s. They focused on the universities of Rajshahi and Chittagong for their proximity to the border — consistent with their electoral strategy.

Have these strategies worked?

Up to 2007, many observers would have answered in the affirmative. While its larger ally, BNP, was hobbled by corruption scandal, Jamaat was seen as relatively clean — consistent with its mantra: Allah’s law, and honest men’s rule. After the quasi-coup of January 2007, BNP seemed to be in disarray, and many expected Jamaat to emerge as the main alternative to the AL. In the post-9/11 world, Jamaat offered a so-called moderate Islamism to the west.

But, its role in 1971 continued to shackle the party. While Azam played down 1971—evading answers or shifting the discussion whenever the war and the party’s role in it was raised—the newer leaders made a series of confrontational statements that tried to rewrite the history of 1971, erasing any allegation of war crimes. This provoked a backlash, and the demand for trials of its leaders (and a few individuals in other parties) on charges of war crimes gathered momentum.

The Shahbagh Movement

Trying the killers and collaborators of 1971 was a key electoral promise made by the AL in the 2008 elections, which it won in a landslide (232 out of 300 seats). Most of the top leadership of Jamaat was arrested in 2010, when the war crimes trial process started. When Abdul Quader Mollah, also known as the “Butcher of Mirpur,” escaped the death penalty after being convicted of atrocities in 1971, protestors came out to the streets in droves. The Shahbagh movement is the largest movement since the 1990 toppling of the Ershad government. Among other things, the movement demands banning of Jamaat and of religious politics.

It is too early to tell how the movement will play out. Perhaps Jamaat will be banned. Perhaps, not. However, the party has found the past few years quite difficult. With its top tier in jail for alleged war crimes, and the second tier in jail for opposing the war crimes trial process, the party is essentially being run by its 3rd or 4th tier leaders. While they formally adhere to the strategy devised by Azam, in practice, the limitations of that strategy in the current circumstances have resulted in significant internal debate.

One faction, led by what is understood as the business wing of the party (with significant financial connections in the Gulf), want to reboot the party along the lines of the Turkish AKP. Mir Quasim Ali, a business tycoon, and Barrister Abdur Razzaq are often touted as potential leaders of such a revamped party. Some speculate that the ruling AL condone, if not bless, such a scenario. A revamped JI would draw votes away from the BNP and benefit AL.

But another faction, led by former Chhatra Shibir men who saw the triumph of violence in Chittagong and Rajshahi, want to take direct action. They are also inspired by various Arab uprisings, and dream of emulating them in Bangladesh. Since November, they have taken to coordinated violence across Dhaka and other cities.

Finally, there are former Jamaat members who found the party too moderate when it was in government in the 2000s and too pusillanimous in opposition since. Some of them joined violent jihad under the banner of organizations like Harkatul Jihad or Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh—both effectively suppressed in 2006-2007. If Jamaat is banned, some of its more radical elements may well return to the ways of the bomb.

The people who led the party in 1971, and committed horrific crimes while collaborating with the murderous Pakistan army, will soon be gone. If not in the gallows, these old men will die soon in their beds. What their younger followers choose remains to be seen. And the choice will have significant ramifications for Bangladesh.

Anwar Dayal is a political analyst who blogs with Alal-o-Dulal.

 

 

 

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