Monday, July 29, 2013

Bangladesh: Resisting Justice

S. BINODKUMAR SINGH

On July 17, 2013, the International Crimes Tribunal-2 (ICT-2) awarded the death sentence to Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) ‘secretary general’ Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed. The prosecution had stacked seven charges against him, including the killing of eminent journalist Serajuddin Hossain in Dhaka; mass killings at village Baidyadangi in Faridpur District; confinement of Ranjit Kumar Nath after taking him out of a Pakistan Army camp in Faridpur District; confining and causing torture to Abu Yusuf Pakhi; killing of Badi, Rumi, Jewel, Azad and Altaf Mahmud at Nakhalpara Army Camp in Dhaka; killing of intellectuals in Dhaka; and killing of Hindu civilians and persecution in Faridpur District. The Court found him guilty on five of these charges, but the prosecution failed to prove the charges of confining Ranjit Kumar Nath and confining and causing torture to Abu Yusuf Pakhi. Mojaheed was arrested on June 29, 2010, and was indicted on June 21, 2012.

Earlier, on July 15, 2013, former JeI Ameer (chief) Ghulam Azam was sentenced to 90 years in prison after the ICT-1 found him guilty on all five charges brought against him by the prosecution. These included instigating his followers to commit crimes against humanity and genocide all over Bangladesh in 1971; complicity in commission of the crimes specified in section 3(2) of the Act, 1973; the murder of Siru Miah and three other civilians; holding of group meetings with the Chief Martial Law Administrator of Pakistan in support of the Pakistan Army’s genocidal campaign; and organizing press briefings on several occasions in connection with these activities. Azam had been arrested on January 11, 2012, and was indicted on May 13, 2012.

Meanwhile, prosecutors A.K.M. Saiful Islam and Nurjahan Begum Mukta, at a press briefing on July 18, 2013, disclosed that charges against JeI Assistant Secretary General A.T.M. Azharul Islam (arrested on Aug 22, 2012) had been submitted to the registrar of ICT-1. The prosecution team added that the charges included genocide of 1,225 people; the murder of four; abduction of 17; one rape; abduction and torture of 12; and setting on fire and looting hundreds of houses.

In addition, ICT-1, formed on March 25, 2010, and ICT-2, created on March 22, 2012, to speed up the War Crimes (WC) Trials, have delivered judgement in cases of four other JeI leaders. The ICT-1 awarded the death sentence to JeI nayeb-e-ameer ('deputy chief') Delwar Hossain Sayedee on February 28, 2013; ICT-2 sentenced JeI leader Maulana Abul Kalam Azad alias Bachchu Razakar and JeI ‘assistant secretary general’ Muhammad Kamaruzzaman to death on January 21, 2013 and May 9, 2013, respectively, and awarded life imprisonment to JeI ‘assistant secretary general’ Abdul Quader Mollah on February 5, 2013.

The two tribunals have, thus far, indicted 11 high-profile political figures, including nine JeI leaders and two Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leaders. While nine persons had been indicted earlier, JeI leaders Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin and Ashrafuzzaman Khan were indicted in absentia by the ICT-2 on June 24, 2013, for their alleged involvement in killing a total of 18 intellectuals, including nine university teachers, six journalists and three physicians, between December 10 and 16, 1971.

Meanwhile, violent protests resumed across the country soon after the July 15 and July 17 verdicts, resulting in the death of at least nine persons and injuries to another 77. Indeed, according to partial data collected by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), since January 21, 2013, when the first verdict in the War Crime Trials (WCT) was delivered, the country has recorded 162 fatalities, including 68 JeI-Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS) cadres, 85 other civilians, and nine SF personnel (all data till July 21, 2013) in street violence. As many as 4,316 persons, including JeI-ICS cadres and other civilians, and SF personnel have also been injured and 2,317 JeI-ICS cadres have been arrested for their involvement in 155 incidents of violence. The country has witnessed several hartals (general strikes).

The JeI-ICS combine, backed by the BNP as well as other fundamentalist groups such as Hefazat-e-Islam (HeI, 'Protectorate of Islam'), are opposing the WC Trial, and have brought turmoil to Bangladesh through their violent and disruptive protests. JeI Member of Parliament (MP) A.N.M. Shamsul Islam, condemned the formation of the ICTs as ‘politically motivated’, and on June 16, 2013, told Parliament, “The Government in the name of so-called trial of crimes against humanity is plotting to kill the top leaders of JeI, including Delwar Hossain Saydee and Motiur Rahman Nizami, using the judiciary.” He also alleged that the Government has revived a 42-year-old settled issue like War Crimes to weaken the opposition alliance and divest the country of its Islamic leadership.

Unsurprisingly, it is this combine that has solely been responsible for the bloodshed over the past months, and these various political and extremist formations have worked in tandem. In the aftermath of violence that began on May 5, 2013, HeI enforced a 'Dhaka Siege' programme. On May 8, 2013, State Minister for Law, Advocate Quamrul Islam claimed, “The BNP-JeI men carried out vandalism, arson and looting during Sunday’s violence”. Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu, had noted, on May 2, 2013, “The movement of HeI is not to protect the faith of Muslims. They are working as the shadow of JeI-ICS, to foil the trials of war criminals.”

Indeed, ICT-1, while delivering the July 15, 2013, judgment against Ghulam Azam observed that the JeI, as a political party under the leadership of Ghulam Azam, had deliberately functioned as a ‘criminal organisation’, especially during the Liberation War in 1971. The ICT also noted:
In the interest of establishing a democratic as well as non-communal Bangladesh, no such anti-liberation people should be allowed to sit at the helm of Executives of the Government, social or political parties including Government and Non-Government Organisations. We are of the opinion that the Government may take necessary steps to that end for debarring those anti-liberation persons from holding the said superior posts in order to establish a democratic and non-communal country for which millions of people sacrificed their lives during the War of Liberation.
Significantly, the prosecution in ICT-2 disclosed on July 19, 2013, that it was preparing to file a case against JeI, for trial as an organisation engaged in War Crimes in 1971. Prosecutor Tureen Afroz stated, “We are working on the issue after the verdict in the Abdul Quader Mollah case. We all know about the role of this political party during the Liberation War. So they have no right to work as political party in Bangladesh.” Hannan Khan, Chief Coordinator of the Tribunal’s Investigation Agency also disclosed, “Our officers are working with the prosecution team. We have got many documents as proof of anti-liberation activities of Jamaat. They have no right to conduct political activity in an independent Bangladesh.”

Expectedly, the offices of JeI remain virtually closed across the country. Even the JeI central office at Maghbazar in Dhaka wears a deserted look as JeI men hardly visit it. JeI leader Barrister Abdur Razzak on July 18, 2013, said, "I look after mainly legal aspects of the party. Most of the front ranking as well as second tier leaders of JeI are in hiding." At present, the party has been demonstrating its existence mainly through its website and through statements issued to the email addresses of various media houses. However, JeI-ICS cadres have remained quite active on the streets whenever ahartal or any agitation programme is announced by the party, employing new tactics to escalate violence. On July 17, 2013, for instance, posing as mourners at a funeral, some 30 JeI-ICS cadres vandalised two buses and torched another in Dhaka city’s Kalshi area, and then disappeared.

Strong resistance is, however, now building up against the consecutive hartals called by Islamist combine. On July 18, 2013, for instance, people defied the JeI-ICS-sponsored countrywide hartal and came out on streets to do their routine work. More significantly, the sustained ‘Shahbagh protests’, which begun on February 5, 2013, demanding capital punishment for all war criminals, have continued for well over five months now. Similarly, on July 16, 2013, Sammilita Sangskritik Jote, a cultural organisation, rejected the verdict against Ghulam Azam and sought capital punishment for him at a rally at the Teacher-Student Centre (TSC) on the Dhaka University campus. Another citizens’ platform against militancy and communalism, Samprodayikota-Jangibad Birodhi Mancha (SJBM), on July 17, 2013, urged all political, social and cultural organisations imbued with the spirit of the Liberation War to urgently demand an immediate ban on JeI and all its associate bodies.

As the radical combine comes under increasing pressure, now virtually fighting for survival, it is likely to unleash even more violence. With a General Election due in early 2014, and a slew of WCT judgments hitting powerful extremist political formations in the country, political turbulence in Bangladesh can only escalate over the coming months, creating a grave challenge for the regime at Dhaka.

First published in SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW, Weekly Assessments and Briefings, Volume 12, No. 3, July 22, 2013

S. Binodkumar Singh, Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management