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Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Bangladesh: Momentous Ruling


In a landmark ruling, the Dhaka High Court (HC) on August 1, 2013, declared the registration of Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), the biggest right-wing party of Bangladesh, illegal. A three-member Special Bench, including Justice M. Moazzam Husain, Justice M. Enayetur Rahim and Justice Quazi Reza-Ul Hoque, passed the judgment, accepting a writ petition challenging the legality of JeI's registration as a political party. The petition filed by the secretary general of the Bangladesh Tariqat Federation, Syed Rezaul Haque Chandpuri, and 24 other leaders of the Federation on January 25, 2009, noted that JeI was a religion-based political party and rejected the independence and sovereignty of Bangladesh. In its verdict, the Court observed: "By majority, rule is made absolute and registration given to Jamaat by the Election Commission is declared illegal and void. It is hereby declared illegal."

Chief Election Commissioner, Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad, on August 1, 2013, stated, "Let us get the certified copy of the verdict first. We will take a decision after scrutinising the verdict. After the execution of the verdict, anybody from the party [Jamaat] will be able to take part in elections individually. Nobody can take part in the polls from the party platform."

The JeI was registered with the Election Commission (EC) on November 24, 2008, by making some provisional changes in its original charter. Significantly, the military-backed Caretaker Government (CG) had introduced the registration system before the December 29, 2008, parliamentary polls.

At the time of its registration as a political party, JeI had promised to further amend its Charter by January 24, 2010, in line with the 2008 Representation of the People Order (RPO), disallowing the registration of a communal outfit as a political party. However, JeI did not deliver on its pledge and, even after the expiry of the deadline, continued to ignore the EC's repeated calls to amend its Charter.

According to the EC's findings, a number of provisions in JeI's Charter, including the call for establishing rule of Islam through organized efforts and the refusal to accept Parliament's plenary power to enact laws, were not in conformity with the country's Constitution and the RPO. Indeed, JeI was founded in undivided India in 1941 by its first ameer (chief), Maulana Abul A'la Maududi, with the goal of developing an Islamic community of devout believers guided by and subordinated to 'Islamic law' alone.

On July 24, 2013, moreover, the EC had finalised proposed amendment to the Electoral Rolls Act 2009, in order to drop convicts of any offence under the International Crimes (Tribunal) Act 1973 from the voters' list.

Condemning and protesting the exclusion of war crimes' convicts from the electoral rolls, a JeI delegation, in a written statement to the EC on July 28, 2013, declared, "According to electoral law 2009, every citizen reserves right to be included in the voter list who are 18 years old of the People's Republic of Bangladesh. But EC has been determined to remove the convicted Jamaat leaders from the voter list. This is contrary to human rights and constitution." On the same day, JeI 'acting secretary general' Maulana Rafiqul Islam Khan alleged, "The government is trying to come to power again in the illegal way. The country will prevent strictly this kind of conspiracy."

It is significant, here, that the International Crimes Tribunals (ICTs) have, thus far,indicted 12 high-profile political figures, including 10 JeI leaders and two Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leaders. While 11 persons had been indicted earlier, the JeInayeb-e-ameer (deputy chief) and alleged founder of the infamous Razakar Bahini, A.K.M. Yusuf, was indicted by the ICT-2, on August 1, 2013, on 13-counts, including seven charges of genocide, one charge of looting and arson attacks on Hindu houses, and five charges of abduction, torture in confinement and murder in the Khulna region.

Thus far, six of the 12 persons indicted, all from the JeI, have been awarded sentence, four death penalties and two to extended terms of imprisonment. ICT-2 sentenced to death JeI leader Maulana Abul Kalam Azad alias Bachchu Razakar on January 21, 2013; ICT-2 awarded life imprisonment to JeI 'assistant secretary general' Abdul Quader Mollah on February 5, 2013; ICT-1 awarded death sentence to JeI nayeb-e-ameer Delwar Hossain Sayedee on February 28, 2013; ICT-2 handed over a death sentenced to JeI 'assistant secretary general' Muhammad Kamaruzzaman on May 9, 2013; ICT-1 sentenced to 90 years in prison former JeI ameer Ghulam Azam on July 15, 2013; and ICT-2 awarded the death sentence to JeI 'secretary general' Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed on July 17, 2013.

Meanwhile, protests, hartals (general strikes) and street violence, which have become the order of the day in Bangladesh, escalated after the HC verdict banning JeI. The JeI, its affiliates and supporting political formations, including the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) have been engaging in violent street mobilization since the constitution of the ICT on March 25, 2010, to investigate and prosecute suspects for the crimes committed during the Liberation War of 1971. Since the latest cycle of violence erupted, at least 30 persons have been injured. Moreover, according to partial data collected by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the country has recorded 139 fatalities, including 70 JeI and Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS, the students' wing of JeI) cadres, 60 other civilians, and nine Security Force (SF) personnel (all data till August 2, 2013) since March 25, 2010, in street violence unleashed by the JeI-ICS combine backed by BNP, as well as other extremist groups such as Hefazat-e-Islam (HeI, 'Protectorate of Islam'), who are opposing the War Crimes trials.

However, as SAIR noted earlier, strong resistance is, now building up against the repeated hartals called by the Islamist combine.

Against this backdrop, there are apprehensions that the cycle of violence will escalate, even as JeI's linkages with other dormant Islamist formations within and outside Bangladesh are restored. For instance, the Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), which came into the limelight after it carried out near simultaneous blasts in 63 out of 64 Districts of Bangladesh on August 17, 2005, has historical links with JeI. On July 13, 2010, the 'chief' of the JMB Maulana Saidur Rahman, who was arrested on May 26, 2010, had exposed the connections between JeI and JMB, revealing that he and several other members of the group had earlier been members of the JeI. Rahman is still under trial for the serial blast, though the group's other leaders, including Abdur Rahman, Abdul Awal, Khaled Saifullah, Ataur Rahman and Hasan Al-Mamun, were executed on terrorism charges on March 30, 2007.

Similarly, linkages between the banned Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT) and JeI were exposed on July 11, 2010, when HuT 'adviser', Syed Golam Maola, arrested on July 8, 2010, told interrogators that JeI 'Publicity Secretary' Tasneem Alam coordinated a meeting in 2008 to discuss a joint campaign against the National Women's Development Policy, 2008.

JeI links with Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B) were exposed on March 29, 2013, when Detective Branch (DB) personnel arrested 13 extremists, including former JeI leader Farid Uddin Ahammad, along with Afghan war veteran Farid Uddin Masud who was a leader of HuJI in Pakistan, from Dhaka city. Nazrul Islam Mollah, Deputy Commissioner of DB, on March 31, 2013, stated, "The detained militant leaders directly and indirectly support the anti-government movement and they were working against the war crimes trial. Farid Uddin Ahammad opted for reviving HuJI as there are similarities in the ideologies of the HuJI in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan."

Deputy Leader of the Jatiya Sangsad (Parliament), Syeda Sajeda Chowdhury, warned against a extremist-terrorist revival on July 25, 2013: "They are trying to raise heads once again. they are conspiring again. We must get united as we'll have to resist JeI. we'll have to be tougher. we the freedom fighters will have to annihilate them in our lifetime. We'll have to resist those who still dream of turning the country into Pakistan. We'll never let the country slip into the hands of Pakistan. We'll have to move forward with the Liberation War spirit."

As the country's General Elections approach, the Sheikh Hasina Wajed Government will be confronted with a rising challenge to stem escalating violence and to provide an environment of security and safety for an ordered exercise of the people's democratic rights.

First published in South Asia Intelligence Review, Weekly Assessments & Briefings, Volume 12, No. 5, August 5, 2013

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

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