On February 5, 2013, at least three people were killed and another 35 were injured when cadres of the Jamaat-e-Islam (JeI) and its student wing, Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS), protesting against the ongoing War Crimes (WC) Trial, clashed with the Police during the party enforced country wide dawn-to-dusk hartal (general shut down) in Chittagong District.
Two ICS cadres (Imran Khan and Afzal Hossain) and Shafiqu, a factory worker, were killed during a clash with Police. Police later arrested 15 ICS cadres from the same District. Protests and demonstrations, disrupting normal life and commercial activities, were also reported from other Districts, including Dhaka, Comilla, Rajshahi, Khulna, Sylhet, Satkhira, Bogra, Natore, Bhola, Chuadanga and Dinajpur, in which at least another 65 persons were reported injured.
Earlier, on January 31, 2013, six persons, including four JeI-ICS cadres, one Policeman and a civilian, had been killed during nationwide protests and demonstrations. In Bogra town (Bogra District), four JeI-ICS cadres were killed in a clash with Police; while another clash in the Manirampur sub-District of Jessore District saw one Police Constable killed. In Feni District, an auto rickshaw driver succumbed to his injuries after his vehicle was attacked by JeI-ICS cadres. In Jessore District, 20 people, including Policemen, were injured in clashes. Protests and demonstrations, disrupting normal life and commercial activities, were also reported from the Districts of Dhaka, Jhenaidah, Sylhet, Chittagong, Lakshmipur, Barisal, Moulvibazar and Sirajganj.
Since the constitution of International Crime Tribunal (ICT), on March 25, 2010, Bangladesh has experienced a resurgence of street violence and protests, resulting in the death of 13 people, including seven JeI-ICS cadres, five civilians and one Policeman, and injuries to another 818, including 404 Policemen, according to partial data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management. As many as 2,691 JeI-ICS cadres have been arrested for their involvement in violence over this period.
Significantly, protests and demonstrations, culminating in street violence, have intensified in the aftermath of recent judgments pronounced by the ICT-2 against two of the seven JeI leaders indicted for war crimes during the Liberation War of 1971.
On January 21, 2013, a death sentence was meted to JeI leader Moulana Abul Kalam Azad alias Bachchu, by ICT-2 (constituted on March 22, 2012), for war crimes. The prosecution had stacked eight charges against the expelled JeI leader including: abduction and torture of Ranjit Kumar Nath; abduction and torture of Abu Yusuf Pakhi; murder of Sudhangshu Mohan Roy; murder of Madhab Chandra Biswas; rape of two Hindu women; murder of Chitta Ranjan Das; genocide of Hindu majority in Hasamdia village of Faridpur District and abduction and torture of an unnamed Hindu girl. Azad was found guilty on seven of the eight charges, including 'genocide', and was sentenced to be hanged by the neck till dead. However, the judgment noted, "Since the convicted accused has been absconding the 'sentence of death' as awarded above shall be executed after causing his arrest or when he surrenders before the Tribunal, whichever is earlier."
Azad had escaped from Dhaka city on March 30, 2012, and went into hiding seven hours before an arrest warrant was issued by ICT-2, on April 3, 2012. According to an unnamed official of Detective Branch of Police, Azad fled to India crossing the Hilli border in the Dinajpur District of the Indian State of West Bengal illegally, and proceeded to Karachi, the provincial capital of Sindh in Pakistan, where he is currently believed to be staying. He was, however, indicted in absentia by ICT-2 on November 4, 2012.
Following the judgment, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni, on January 25, 2013, declared, "You know he (Bachchu) has been awarded death penalty... he'll be brought back home as soon as possible through diplomatic efforts after being sure of his hideouts... We are carrying our coordinated efforts to that end."
Meanwhile, on February 5, 2013, ICT-2 awarded life term imprisonment to another JeI leader Abdul Quader Molla on war crimes charge. Molla, who was arrested on July 13, 2010, in a criminal case and on August 2, 2010, was shown arrested in connection with War Crimes, was indicted by ICT-2 on May 28, 2012. The ICT-2 convicted Molla on five charges including the murder of a student, Pallab, of Bangla College; the murder of pro-Liberation poet Meherun Nesa, her mother and two brothers in the Mirpur area of Dhaka city; the murder of Khondoker Abu Taleb, also in Mirpur; the murder of 344 civilians in Alubdi village, in Mirpur; and the murder of Hazrat Ali, along with five members of his family in Mirpur area. The final verdict found the accused guilty of 'crimes against humanity' and sentenced him to imprisonment for life and for a second sentence of 15 years which was, however, 'merged' into the sentence of life imprisonment.
War crime trials for another seven indicted persons continue. They include five JeI leaders - nayeb-e-ameer (deputy chief) Delawar Hossain Sayeedi (indicted on October 3, 2011); former JeI chief Golam Azam (indicted on May 13, 2012); present JeI chief Motiur Rahman Nizami (indicted on May 28, 2012); JeI 'general secretary' Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed (indicted on June 21, 2012); JeI 'assistant secretary' Mohammed Qamaruzzaman (indicted on June 4, 2012); as well as two Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) political figures and lawmakers - Salauddin Quader Chowdhury (indicted on April 4, 2012) and Abdul Alim (indicted on June 11, 2012).
Conspicuously, reiterating that the ongoing WC trials cannot be stopped by the anti-Liberation forces by unleashing attacks and enforcing hartals, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed on January 31, 2013, categorically reiterated that the war criminals would not be spared. Sheikh Hasina said the present Government is pledge-bound to try the war criminals responsible for killing three million people and shaming many women during the Liberation War. Sheikh Hasina declared, "We've got a verdict against one war criminal...the verdicts against the other war criminals will come one after another and no war criminal would be spared."
Significantly, massive and sustained protests, which commenced just hours after Molla's sentencing, and that are still continuing, were initiated against the 'leniency' of the sentence imposed, and demanded the death sentence for the accused. By February 8, 2013, in what has been described as 'Bangladesh's Tahrir Square', nearly 100,000 people had gathered in the Shahbag Avenue of Dhaka, demanding the death penalty for Molla. On February 10, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni joined the ongoing popular pro-WCT protests, even as protestors submitted a six-point demand, including the death penalty for Molla and all other war criminals, to the Speaker of the National Parliament, Abdul Hamid. The six point demand also included trial of all political parties, forces, individuals and organisations trying to save war criminals and conspiring to foil the WC trials; and revocation of the state´s power to declare general amnesty for the persons convicted by the tribunals. Earlier, on February 6, 2013, residents of Thakurgaon, Chandpur, Nilphamari, Lalmonirhat, Mymensingh, Rangpur and Manikganj Districts formed human chains and took out processions demanding capital punishment for Molla.
With their very existence at stake, anti-Liberation forces can be expected to continue their efforts to discredit and subvert the WC trials and decisions. The country can, consequently, be expected to experience cycles of disruption and violence, certainly till general elections that fall due between October 26, 2013, and January 24, 2014. However, the recent and protracted mass demonstrations in favour of the trials and protesting against the 'light sentence' of life imprisonment imposed on the second convict, Abdul Quader Molla, have set a new dynamic into motion, and will give the Sheikh Hasina Government greater strength. The outcome of the elections of end-2013 or early 2014, however, will remain pivotal: if a hostile regime is, once more, elected, it would be likely to allow the WC trial process to fall into neglect, and to reverse the present judgments - unless the process of appeals and execution of sentences has already been completed by this stage. The present sentences are, of course, major milestones in the long, slow journey to justice for the atrocities of the 1971 Liberation War, but they are yet to secure their legitimate goal, and bring closure to this hideous phase of Bangladesh's history.
(The writer Sanchita Bhattacharya is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management)
(The view expressed in the article is of the author and not India Blooms News Service)