Bangladeshi religious minorities, activists fear for safety
Pro-Islamist activists instigate communal violence following the latest war crime verdict
Following the death sentence of Delwar Hossain Sayeedi , vice-president of fundamentalist Jamaat-e Islami Bangladesh on Thursday, supporters of his party have started attacking the pro-war crime tribunal activists and religious minorities across the country, some social activists say.
“Almost right after the verdict the attacks started against the activists demanding justice and against the religious minorities,” said Supriti Dhar, a Bangladeshi freelance journalist and social activist.
Dhar said the anti-liberal, anti-minority propaganda provided by certain media outlets is encouraging the Jamaat and its allied activists to commit such atrocities.
Sayeedi was found guilty in 16 out of the 20 charges of war crimes during the liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971.
Since the verdict was given at around 1 p.m. local time in Bangladesh on Thursday, at least 35 people have been reported dead as a result of the violence, reported a local online publication bdnews24.com. But according to unconfirmed reports, the death toll is is likely much higher.
There have been also reports of violence against minority communities in various parts of the country, including numerous temples being burned down, bdnews24.com reported.
“While we are all for the freedom of speech, no one has the right to spread hatred through their publications and endangering the lives of all these people,” Dhar said.
Dhar said she fears for the safety of some of the leaders of the pro-war crime tribunal mass movement known as the “Shahbag Movement” that started on Feb. 5 in Dhaka, the country’s capital. Many of the activists have received threats from the pro-Jamaat activists.
“Earlier today a bomb was discovered in front of a hotel near the “Shahbag” stage. Had it been exploded, who knows, how many of the protesters would have died today, ” said Dhar. The movement is controlled from this stage.
One of the movement’s leaders, Ahmed Razib Haider, was found hacked to death in front of his apartment in Dhaka on Feb. 15.
Mahiuddin Khan Alamgir, home minister for the Bangladesh government, told reporters Wednesday he is certain that pro-Jamaat activists are behind this crime, reported NTV, a Bangladeshi television station.
“The situation is very tense, but we are preparing ourselves to stay united against this,” said Manabendra Deb, an activist involved with “Shahbag Movement, and a member of the Communist Party of Bangladesh. “We have called for a mass protest in Dhaka as well as all across the country at 3 p.m. on Friday.”
Deb said they will continue to work to accomplish their goals of ensuring justice in all the cases of the tribunal.
In the meantime, Border Guards Bangladesh, the paramilitary force of the country, have been seen patrolling the streets of Dhaka and other key cities in Bangladesh since Wednesday, he said.
The charges laid against Sayeedi include committing and assisting the Pakistani Army with mass murder of Bangladeshi people in various villages, raping, multiple counts of arson and forcing religious minorities to convert to Islam.
Toby Cadman, a legal adviser for Delwar Hossain Sayeedi and others facing the war crime trials has referred to the verdict as “appalling”.
“The outcome of this trial had been pre-determined long before it actually started,” said Cadman, referring to the “Shahbag Movement” . “Besides, the verdict of such a trial should not be determined on the streets.”
Cadman and his team are preparing to appeal the verdict.
This verdict is the third on the series of war crime tribunals.
In the earlier cases, Abul Kalam Azad received a death penalty and Abdul Quader Mollah a life sentence for their respective war crimes.
Both Azad and Mollah are senior leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh.