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The current verdict on a series of war crime tribunals has brought the nation together in an unprecedented politically neutral platform, Bangladeshi social activists say.
“The spark of this movement was created by the common people of Bangladesh, not by any political parties,” said Razib Mir, an assistant professor of Mass Communication and Journalism at Jagannath University, Bangladesh, referring to a mass movement that was initially started by an association of bloggers, but has now drawn thousands of people from all walks of life.
He said today there were at least 25,000 people present at the protest.
Mir has been actively participating in a mass movement that has been sweeping the streets of Bangladeshi capital Dhaka since a verdict as part of the International Crime Tribunal in Bangladesh gave a life sentence to one of the defendants Abdul Quader Mollah, instead of a much expected death penalty, said Mir.
After almost 42 years following the nine-month long liberation war of 1971, in which the people of Bangladesh gained their independence from Pakistan, an International Crime Tribunal has brought charges against a number of local collaborators who, along with the Pakistani army, took part in the genocide, rapes and torture of Bangladeshi people.
Since the tribunal has been set up in March 2012, the court has given death penalty to one of the accused Abul Kalam Azad (aka Bachchu Razaakar) on Jan. 21.
However, on the second and latest verdict that was announced on Feb. 5, another one of the war criminals on trial Abdul Quader Mollah, was found guilty in five out of the six war crime cases against him.
Charges against Mollah included killings of at at least 350 people, along with charges of torture and rapes during the liberation war of Bangladesh.
The verdict upset both the defense and the prosecution in the case and both have decided to appeal the ruling.
“The demand from the common people is the capital punishment for all the accused, they are saying, they will not go back, unless they achieve it,” Mir said.
Toby Cadman, a legal adviser for the defendants, expressed his shock at the verdict.
“This is a political witch-hunt. That’s all this is,” Cadman told Humber News earlier this week.
His team is currently working on the appeal process.
He said he admits those responsible for the atrocities during the war in 1971 should be brought to justice, however, the process for that justice has to be fair.
“I’ll make it very clear that I do believe that Bangladesh should hold trials, but the only way to ensure proper trials, is through an international judicial process,” said Cadman, who is currently lobbying to the European Union and Organization of Islamic Countries to create pressure on the government of Bangladesh.
In the meantime, the movement in Dhaka and all across the country in demand of a capital punishment for the accused is getting momentum.
“On the day of the verdict, some Bangladeshi bloggers sat down in a protest at a central square at Shahbag, in Dhaka, but gradually thousands of students, cultural and social activists joined them and it turned in to the biggest mass movement in Bangladesh in recent history,” said Manabendra Deb, a member and activist of the Communist Party of Bangladesh.
Since then the movement has been gathering support from all around the country, confirmed Mir, who has been seating at the protest at Shahbag Square for the past two days.
“The people in the square have four principal demands at the moment, to ensure death penalty for Abdul Quader Mollah, to ban his party, the fundamentalist Jamaat-e Islami’s politics in Bangladesh, to prevent any political party’s involvement in the movement, and finally, to make sure, there will not be any compromise when it comes to the process of our International Crime Tribunal,” said Mir.
Jamaat-e-Islami is widely believed to have been the main collaborator of the Pakistani army during the liberation war of Bangladesh, he added.
“I did not see ’71 with my own eyes, but I, like most of my generation in this country have grown up with the spirit of ’71, and for us, the biggest factor is our independence. This spirit is beyond all political parties and belongs to the common people,” said Mir.
The entities such as Jamaat and its collaborators who worked against the liberation of Bangladesh will not be tolerated in this country, he added.
“As long as this movement remains apolitical, it will gain acceptance of Bangladeshi people as well as the world and will achieve its goal,” said Mir.
Deb, who has working along with his counter parts from other political parties as well as the various social and cultural organizations, agrees.
“After a long time, the common people have come out to the street en-mass. And the fact that this movement is for and abut the demands of common people, makes it really special. We will not allow any political party or power to jeopardize this spirit of unity,” said Deb.
Mir said he has high hopes for the movement and he counts on the power of the common people to ensure justice for the martyrs of the liberation war.
“We have to ensure that this evil power, that has caused such atrocity, is exterminated. Because if we fail to do that, they will eventually destroy the spirit of independence in this country and our existence,” Mir said.
Three million people were killed and 250,000 women were raped by Pakistani troops and their collaborators during the liberation war of Bangladesh.
The protesters have called for a grand rally on Friday at the Shahbag Square.