Monday, February 11, 2013

Bangladesh War Crimes Trial: Thousands join Shahbagh sit-in

Daily Star, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Thursday, February 7, 2013
Thousands join Shahbagh sit-in

Demand capital punishment for Quader Mollah; protests spread across country
Thousands take position at the capital's Shahbagh intersection for a second day yesterday demanding capital punishment for Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Mollah. Protestors, who include teachers, students, politicians and cultural activists, vowed to continue the movement until their demand is met. Inset, people march in procession to the Shahbagh demonstration. Photo: Rashed ShumonSushmita S Preetha

Forty-two years after the Liberation War, sentiments of liberation were rekindled as thousands yesterday refused to leave the street and go home until their demand for capital punishment for war criminals were met.

The spontaneous agitation began on Tuesday afternoon shortly after a tribunal gave life sentence to Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Mollah, and continued throughout the night. The occupation of Shahbagh intersection, initiated by bloggers and activist network went on all day yesterday, with the number of people escalating as the day wore on.

The spirit of the protest spread to other parts of the country, with sit-ins and demonstrations taking place in Chittagong, Sylhet, Rajshahi, Rangpur, Sunamganj, Barisal, Rajbari, Noakhali and Narsingdi.
In the capital's Shahbagh, different political parties and their student wings joined the rally that began as a people's movement. The parties include the ruling Awami League, Workers' Party of Bangladesh, Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB), Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD), Bangladesh Samajtantrik Dal (BSD) and Ganotantrik Bam Morcha.

However, nobody from the main opposition BNP and its student wing, Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal, was seen in the rally.
The spirit in Shahbagh was infectious as people broke out in chants of “Tui Razakar” (you're a war criminal) and sang gono shongeet (mass song) in unison.

Art college students painted murals and caricatures of the known war criminals while others made effigies with papers and card boards and hung them from the nearby poles. There was even a life-size game of “Razakar ludu” -- a game of snakes and ladders with the war criminals as the main players.
Street plays and dances lent the event a festive air, without lessening the gravity of the protestors' demand. Candle light vigils and torch processions continued throughout the evening.

“One can't help but feel alive after being here for a few minutes,” said Mohaimmen Kabir, a writer, adding that he hadn't seen such a spirit since the movement against Ershad's autocratic regime in the 1990s.
“It gives me hope to see the youth carry on the fight that we started 43 years ago,” said Nazir Ahmed, a freedom fighter.

Many people from Ahmed's generation echoed his view, saying they were impressed to see the passion and dedication of the youth.
Saying that he had lost hope seeing the war criminals enjoy state power over the past decade, Saiyed Ahmed, another freedom fighter, said: “But now, once again we can collectively fight against our nation's enemies, and our young generations will lead the fight."

Many joined the demonstration after seeing and hearing the news in the media, while others had been attending the demonstration on and off since it began.
“We will stay here till our demand is met,” exclaimed Viqarunnisa student Fairuz Ashraf.

Others around her echoed her sentiment.
Prominent political and cultural personalities gave speeches throughout the day, motivating the crowds.

“The verdict does not fulfill Awami League's demand,” Environment and Forests Minister Hasan Mahmud said at the rally.
He, however, dismissed reports of a mutual understanding between the government and Jamaat.

CPB President Mujahidul Islam Selim said, “When the Pakistani army surrendered on December 16 [of 1971], they agreed formally to withdraw their camps, soldiers and associates from this country.”
Therefore, Jamaat should not be able to function in independent Bangladesh, he argued.

Eminent dramatist and freedom fighter Nasiruddin Yousuff Bachchu said, “I think the centre of the movement has been shifted to the young generation from the freedom fighters.”
Information Commissioner Sadeka Halim rejected the verdict and said she had been driven to the demonstration by her consciousness.

JSD leader Shirin Akhter said people must continue their movement on the streets.
Ministers Shahjahan Khan and Dilip Barua, worker's party president Rashed Khan Menon and its General Secretary Anisur Rahman Mollik, JSD President Hasanul Haque Inu, eminent historian Muntassir Mamoon, sculptor and survivor of the 1971 war crimes Ferdousy Priyobhashini, Jahangirnagar University Vice-chancellor Anwar Hossain, barrister Amir-Ul Islam, singer Mita Haq, AL leaders Nooh-Ul-Alam Lenin and Abdus Sobhan Golap, among others, joined the rally.

Organisers announced the movement would continue today and there would be a grand rally tomorrow. They invited student and youth organisations from all parts of the country to join the event.
"Slogan 71," a pro-liberation organisation formed by a group of Dhaka University students, supplied drinking water among the demonstrators.

When several thousand people joined the Shahbagh demo, members of another pro-liberation organisation "Brittanto 71" were seen patrolling the city streets on a pickup to drum up public support in favour of the demand for death sentence for Quader Mollah.

Dissatisfied with the verdict, the AL high command has directed the party rank and file and all of its associated and like-minded bodies to stage demonstrations across the country to mobilise public support in favour of the war crimes trial.
Accordingly, central party leaders yesterday directed its 73 organisational district units to take to the streets.

“We have directed all our district unit leaders to stage demonstration in favour of the war crimes trial and capital punishment for the war criminals,” AL Organising Secretary AFM Bahauddin Nasim told The Daily Star yesterday.
The verdict that gave life sentence to Quader Mollah did not reflect people's expectations, he said replying to a query.

New York  Times

February 13, 2013
Politics in Bangladesh Jolted by Daily Demonstrations
Andrew Biraj/Reuters

Protesters in Dhaka raised their hands for three minutes of silence Tuesday, demanding the execution of all war criminals.

Published: February 12, 2013

NEW DELHI — Huge daily demonstrations in the heart of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, are upending the nation’s politics and illustrating how heavily the country’s bloody past still weighs on its present. Thousands of protesters, most of them college students and other young people, demonstrated again on Tuesday, fueled by broad public anger over a recent ruling by the country’s special war crimes tribunal that they say was too lenient.
Andrew Biraj/Reuters
Plain clothes police officers arrest a Jamaat-e-Islami activist. Clashes erupted after the Bangladeshi government rejected a request by Jamaat leaders to stage a counterprotest against the youth demonstrations.

Though the protests have been peaceful, a gunfight erupted in another part of Dhaka on Tuesday when followers of Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s largest Islamic political party, vandalized vehicles and clashed with the police. Earlier in the day, the Bangladeshi government had rejected a request by Jamaat leaders to stage a counterprotest against the youth demonstrations.
For more than two years, the Bangladeshi government has been prosecuting defendants accused of atrocities during the country’s 1971 war of independence from Pakistan. On Feb. 5, the special tribunal hearing the cases convicted Abdul Quader Mollah, 65, now a leader of the Jamaat party, on charges of rape and mass murder and sentenced him to life in prison.

Within hours of the verdict, protesters gathered at Shahbagh, a major intersection in the center of the capital near Dhaka University. Their message was loud and clear: they thought the life sentence was too lenient, possibly the result of a political deal, and they demanded that Mr. Mollah be sentenced to death. Protesters waved torches and banners and chanted slogans like “Joy Bangla.”
“We were really surprised” at the large turnout the first day, said Imran H. Sarkar, one of the organizers. “But young people were very concerned.” Last weekend, the crowds swelled to 200,000 or more by some estimates.

Protests and strikes, common in Dhaka, are often coordinated and organized by political parties. But the Shahbagh protests, as the demonstrations over the verdict have come to be known, were organized by bloggers and have attracted poets, artists, social activists and untold numbers of other citizens. Related protests are being held in other cities.
The protesters have directed their ire at Jamaat-e-Islami, which has been accused of opposing independence and collaborating with Pakistani forces during the 1971 war, charges the party has denied. At the Shahbagh protests, thousands of people pledged to boycott the Jamaat party and its related businesses, and a delegation of protest leaders presented the Bangladeshi Parliament with a list of demands, including that laws be changed so that Mr. Mollah’s life sentence can be appealed.

Political analysts in Bangladesh say the youth demonstrations reflect broad public disenchantment with the usual style of Bangladeshi politics. Debapriya Bhattacharya, a Bangladeshi economist and former United Nations diplomat, said the demands for tough sentencing reflected a broader public desire for closure on the 1971 war, in which rapes and assaults of women were common and an estimated three million people were killed.
“There is a general understanding among the people that they want justice in the case,” said Mr. Bhattacharya, who is now a senior fellow at the Center for Policy Dialogue, a leading research institute in Dhaka. “And somehow, at the end of the day here, justice is about capital punishment.”

The protests, he said, are entwined with a rising patriotism among many young Bangladeshis, who are proud of their country’s progress even as they often distrust the established political parties. “This is something different and something new,” Mr. Bhattacharya said of the protests. “This is the rise of a new social force that can change the political calculus in the country.”
The Awami League, the political party leading the national government, now faces political pressure from opposing directions. The Shahbagh protesters are complaining that the recent verdict is too lenient, while opposition parties, including the Jamaat party, have accused the government of manipulating the tribunal to ensure convictions of their leaders.

One justice has resigned from the tribunal over irregularities in its work. Before its verdict on Feb. 5, Jamaat and other opposition parties staged huge protests against the tribunal’s proceedings; they sought to renew those protests on Tuesday, but the government denied their request. Tensions are expected to remain high as the tribunal issues more verdicts in coming weeks.
The scattered violence on Tuesday occurred about a mile from the Shahbagh protest site. Followers of Jamaat and members of its youth wing were photographed smashing vehicles and clashing with security officers. Officials say that the Jamaat followers opened fire with machine guns and that the police responded with rubber bullets.

Bangladeshi news media reported that at least 10 people were injured by the rubber bullets, and that members of the Jamaat youth wing were seen firing weapons and throwing fire bombs.
Julfikar Ali Manik contributed reporting from Dhaka, Bangladesh.

New York Times

February 17, 2013

Vast Throng in Bangladesh Protests Killing of Activist

Pavel Rahman/Associated Press

Mourners in Bangladesh on Saturday carried the coffin containing the body of Rajib Haider, an organizer who was killed.

Published: February 16, 2013

NEW DELHI — Tens of thousands of people resumed mass demonstrations in Bangladesh’s capital on Saturday, intensifying their demands for more severe punishment for war criminals from the country’s 1971 liberation war, while also demanding justice for the slaying of a blogger who had been a leading organizer of the protests.
The coffin bearing the body of Rajib Haider, an architect and blogger, was carried through the crowd in a public funeral at Shahbagh, a major intersection in Dhaka, the national capital. Bangladeshi television showed thousands of people kneeling in prayer, chanting slogans or waving banners bearing Mr. Haider’s image. The crowd were estimated at more than 100,000 people.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited Mr. Haider’s family on Saturday to express her condolences. Mr. Haider’s body was discovered Friday night near his home, after he had been savagely stabbed. His family has told the Bangladeshi news media that they believed that he was killed for his role in the protests and his outspoken criticism of the fundamentalist Islamist political party Jamaat-e-Islami.
“Haider’s killing occurred at a time when the youngsters have awakened and united the whole nation,” the prime minister told Bangladeshi reporters during her visit to the family’s home. “Let me promise that we will not spare the killers.”

Saturday was the 12th consecutive day in which crowds of protesters have poured into the Shahbagh site for demonstrations. The movement began Feb. 5, when a coalition of bloggers called for protests against a verdict by the special tribunal prosecuting people accused of committing atrocities during Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.
The tribunal had handed down a life sentence to Abdul Quader Mollah, a Jamaat leader, after convicting him of murder, rape and torture. Protesters, however, demanded that he be sentenced to death, given the severity of his crimes. Many suspected that some sort of political deal had been reached to spare Mr. Mollah’s life.

The bloody legacy of the 1971 war continues to cast a shadow over Bangladesh: an estimated three million people were killed and many of those suspected of committing atrocities have never been prosecuted. Besides the protests in Dhaka, demonstrations have spread to other major cities and towns across the country.
By the weekend, protest organizers had agreed to reduce their round-the-clock demonstrations to only seven hours a day. But they reversed that decision after the killing of Mr. Haider, and the crowds quickly swelled with college students, workers and other citizens.

Meanwhile, followers of Jamaat-e-Islami have staged often violent protests against the government, which the party has accused of manipulating the tribunal as a way to go after political rivals.
The presiding justice of the tribunal has resigned over irregularities that arose over its proceedings.

Telegraph, Calcutta
Monday , February 18 , 2013
Dhaka alters law to reflect public fury at 1971 atrocity
Dhaka, Feb. 17 (Agencies): The Bangladesh parliament today amended a law that effectively allows the state to seek the death penalty for a 1971 war crimes convict and defuse a popular uprising ignited by lenient punishment and the murder of a blogger.
Some analysts felt that the amendment could also be used for outlawing the Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh’s largest Islamic party.
Reminiscent of the Delhi protests against the gang rape, tens of thousands of demonstrators have been jamming the central Shahbag Square in Dhaka for the past 13 days.
They were seeking the death sentence after a tribunal sentenced prominent Islamist Abdul Quader Mollah to life in prison in connection with the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.
The life sentence had stunned many Bangladeshis who were expecting the death penalty as Mollah, assistant secretary-general of the Jamaat-e-Islami, was convicted for murder, rape and torture.
Jamaat, a key ally of the main Opposition party led by Khaleda Zia, had campaigned against Bangladesh’s war of separation from Pakistan, but it denies committing atrocities.
Amid the popular upsurge, an anti-Islamist blogger was killed on Friday.
The protesters burst into cheers amid driving rain as parliament today approved the amendments to a 1973 law.
The amendments do not mention the specific case but empowers the state to appeal any verdict in war crimes trials it deems inadequate and out of step with public opinion.
Before the amendments were incorporated, only a defendant could appeal against a sentence. State prosecutors were not empowered to call for a retrial except in the case of acquittals.
The amendment will “empower the tribunals to try and punish any organisation, including the Jamaat, for committing crimes during country’s liberation war in 1971”, law minister Shafique Ahmed said.
In a coincidence, Indian foreign minister Salman Khurshid was in Dhaka today. Khurshid expressed the hope that the Teesta river water issue could be resolved by September when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is scheduled to visit India. Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee is opposed to the treaty in its current form.
Lawyers said the Dhaka amendment sets a timetable for the government to appeal against Mollah’s sentence and secure a retrial.
The Opposition benches were empty as the Bangladesh Nationalist Party of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and its allies have been boycotting sessions almost since her arch rival, Sheikh Hasina, leader of the Awami League, took office in 2009.
In its first verdict last month, the tribunal sentenced a former Jamaat leader, Abul Kamal Azad, to death in absentia for murder and torture.
Eight other Jamaat leaders, including its current and former chiefs, are being tried for war crimes during the 1971 conflict. Three million people were killed and thousands of women raped.
The government is facing growing pressure from the protesters to ban Jamaat and groups linked to it. Law minister Ahmed said the government was considering such a ban.
Jamaat activists have called a countrywide strike on Monday but many shopkeepers have pledged to resist any attempt to enforce a shutdown.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has criticised the amendments, saying passing retroactive laws to overturn unpopular verdicts violates the country’s commitment to protect the rights of defendants.



1 comment:

Vivek Gautam said...

Wow what a wonderful blog Prof U are doing a wonderful job. I stay in Delhi but was totally unaware abt Chakmas residing in Mizoram. Chakmas are the most unfortunate comunity to hv lost everything .

Sir, keep up the good work. God bless you.

Pl tell more abt yourself by mailing me vivekgautam3 at