Bangladesh in turmoil after execution of Islamic leader

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Nazmul Hassan Chowdhry

Rabi' al-Awwal 01, 1435 2014-01-02

News & Analysis

by Nazmul Hassan Chowdhry (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 11, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1435)

By executing a top leader of the Jamaat-e Islami, Prime Minister Hasina Wajed may have opened a front in Bangladesh that she may not be able to control. Endless turmoil can be expected in the troubled country.

South Asian politics are not only family affairs but also consumed by extreme hatred for political opponents. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Bang-ladesh where Prime Minister Hasina Wajed is on a personal vendetta against political rivals.

On December 12, a top leader of the opposition Jamaat-e Islami, Abdul Qauder Mollah was executed within hours of the Supreme Court rejecting his appeal for review of his death sentence. He was hanged at 10:01pm local time on December 12. A few hours earlier, his family members were allowed to visit him in prison for the last time. His son, Hassan Jamil said his father was completely calm when they met him and said he was honoured to be a martyr for the Islamic movement in the country. “He told us that he is proud to be a martyr for the cause of the Islamic movement in the country,” Jamil said after the final meeting with his father.

As soon as the country’s Deputy Law Minister Quamrul Islam announced the hanging, violent protests erupted in different parts of the country. Bangladesh was already on boil amid rising political tensions over the incumbent Prime Minister Hasina Wajed’s refusal to hold the January 5 elections under a neutral caretaker government. The opposition does not trust her for obvious reasons. More than 200 people had already died in election related violence prior to the execution of Mollah. The main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), led by Begum Khalid Zia had announced boycott of the polls unless a neutral caretaker government was formed to conduct the polls. On December 20, the European Union announced that it would not send elections observers in view of the opposition boycott delivering another blow to transparency.

Begum Zia is the widow of a former president, General Ziaur Rahman, who was gunned down by rebellious soldiers in a failed mutiny in 1981. Hasina Wajed is the daughter of the first Bangladeshi President and Prime Minister, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Mujib has a mixed legacy among Bangladeshis. Some view him as the father of the nation while others as an Indian agent who destroyed the country by leading a separatist movement turning the former eastern wing of Pakistan into Bangladesh.

Mujib was killed on August 15, 1975 by irate military officers over his total subservience to India. All his family members that were staying at the prime minister’s official residence were also killed with him. Hasina Wajed survived because she was away in India at the time. She is known to be very close to India and in fact under Delhi’s thumb. The military officers that had led the coup against Mujib were executed in 2010 after Wajed returned to power. She organized kangaroo trials for the coup plotters and had them all executed.

The execution of 65-year-old Mollah through an equally flawed tribunal and trial has exacerbated an already explosive situation in the country. While the Jamaat-e Islami is officially banned, its members and cadres continue to wield political influence. Since Mollah’s execution, nearly two-dozen people have been killed, mostly unarmed protesters, by police firing. Many buildings and shops have also been torched. Strikes continue and are unlikely to end unless there is some agreement on the caretaker government issue.

Abdul Qauder Mollah was accused of supporting the Pakistan army during the 1971 mutiny led by Mujib aided by the Indian army that invaded East Pakistan in November of that year. He was also accused of killing Bengalis and raping women, both charges he strongly denied. He never picked up a gun; instead, he wanted to preserve the integrity of the country for which he paid the supreme sacrifice of his life. Accusing him of raping Bengali women is an outrageous allegation against a man who throughout his life advocated protection of the honour of women. He went to the gallows with his head held high. He was at peace with himself. Even his jailers were forced to admit his calm demeanour before his hasty execution.

Support for the Pakistan army could not be considered a crime when Bangladesh had not come into existence and East Pakistan was part of Pakistan at the time. Further, had the separatist movement failed, it would have led to the trial and execution of many of its leaders who currently occupy positions of power and consider themselves owners of the country.

Wajed is on a personal vendetta against those that had opposed her father’s secessionist movement aided and abetted by India. The execution of Mollah is part of this policy. The Jamaat-e Islami denounced the execution as a “political murder” and warned it would exact revenge for “every drop” of Mollah’s blood. The ensuing turmoil and killings by police show that Bangladesh will not witness calm for a considerable period.

Bangladesh is a deeply divided country today. While Islamic groups and the opposition protested the execution, there was also a pro-execution rally organized by secularists, among them many Hindus that exercise considerable influence in the overwhelmingly Muslim country. Such polarization will have negative consequences for the country.

The flawed nature of Mollah’s trial can be gauged from the fact that the Bangladesh government set up its own International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) in 2010 to try people accused of what it claimed were “war crimes” in the 1971 uprising. Human rights organizations decried the so-called tribunal calling it deeply flawed and falling short of international standards. Even so, when this flawed tribunal handed down a life sentence to Mollah in February, the government appealed to the Bangladesh Supreme Court. At the same time, it rushed through legislation in parliament, boycotted by opposition parties for years, to impose the death penalty on any person accused of supporting the Pakistan army in the 1971 war.

This law was then applied to Mollah’s case retroactively. When the Wajed regime took the matter to the Supreme Court, in an incredible move, the country’s highest court increased Mollah’s life sentence into death sentence in September. Many legal experts denounced this as “judicial murder.”

He is the first person convicted by the so-called International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) to be executed but may not be the last unless the political situation in Bangladesh changes radically. Given the volatile situation, anything is possible. Several other leading figures of the Jamaat-e Islami have also been convicted by the tribunal. At least five other leaders are under death sentence.
Instead of bringing closure to the sad episode of the 1971 war, Wajed insists on opening new wounds. She is not only an Indian agent but totally consumed by hatred. She may consume the entire country and its 170 million people in her hate-filled campaign of vengeance against real or imagine enemies.

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