By S. Binodkumar Singh*
On May 11, 2016, Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) amir (chief) Motiur Rahman Nizami (75), who masterminded the formation of the ruthless militia Al Badr that unleashed terror against Bengalis erstwhile East Pakistan, killed unarmed civilians, raped women and destroyed properties during the Liberation War of 1971, was executed at Dhaka Central Jail. Nizami was sentenced to death on October 29, 2014, by the International Crimes Tribunal-1 (ICT-1) after being found guilty on eight of the 16 charges brought against him. The four charges which brought him the death penalty included involvement in the killing of intellectuals; the murder of 450 civilians, and the rape of 30 to 40 women in Bausgari and Demra villages in Pabna District; the killing of 52 people in Dhulaura village in Pabna District; and the killing of 10 persons and rape of three women in Karamja village in Pabna District. He was also sentenced to imprisonment for life on the charges of involvement in the killing of Kasim Uddin and two others in Pabna District; torture and murder of Sohrab Ali of Brishalikha village in Pabna District; torture and killing at Mohammadpur Physical Training Centre in Dhaka city; and killing of freedom fighters Rumi, Bodi, Jewel and Azad at Old MP Hostel in Dhaka city.
Nizami had served as Minister of Agriculture in the then Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led coalition Government between 2001 and 2006. He is the fourth JeI leader to have been hanged for war crimes, after JeI Assistant Secretary Abdul Quader Mollah (65), known as ‘Mirpurer Koshai (Butcher of Mirpur), who was hanged at Dhaka Central Jail on December 12, 2013; JeI Senior Assistant Secretary General Muhammad Kamaruzzaman (63), the third most senior figure in the JeI, who was hanged at Dhaka Central Jail on April 11, 2015, and JeI Secretary General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed (67) who was hanged simultaneously with BNP Standing Committee member Salauddin Quader Chowdhury (66) at Dhaka Central Jail on November 22, 2015.
On May 3, 2016, ICT-1 sentenced Gazi Abdul Mannan (88), Nasiruddin Ahmed (62), Shamsuddin Ahmed (60) and Hafiz Uddin (66) to death; and Azharul Islam (60) to jail until death. They were all members of JeI. Seven charges were brought against them and the court found them guilty on all charges. On the first charge, the killing of eight people in Karimganj on November 12, 1971, Shamsuddin, Nasiruddin and Mannan were awarded the death penalty, while Hafiz and Azharul were awarded jail until death. Nasiruddin was the lone accused on the second charge of the killing of Miah Hossain of Ayla village on November 13, 1971. On the third charge, Hafiz was given the death sentence, while Shamsuddin, Nasiruddin and Azharul were awarded jail until death, for the abduction and killing of Abdur Gafur of Kalatali on September 26, 1971. All the five were awarded jail until death for the abduction, torture and killing of Fazlur Rahman of Atkapara on August 23, 1971, the fourth charge. Shamsuddin received the death penalty on the fifth charge, the killing of Paresh Chandra Sarkar of Ramnagar on September 7, 1971. According to the sixth charge, Mannan was involved in the torture and killing of Abu Bakar Siddique and Rapali Miah on August 25, 1971, and the tribunal handed down a sentence of imprisonment until death. Mannan was also given five years’ rigorous imprisonment on the seventh charge of arson and vandalism in Atkapara on September 15, 1971.
On February 2, 2016, ICT-1 sentenced to death Obaidul Haque aka Taher (66), an activist of the Nezam-e-Islam (NeI) and Ataur Rahman aka Noni (62), an activist of the Muslim League (ML) for killing seven persons on October 19, 1971, and for killing another six after abducting and torturing them on November 15 and 16, 1971. They were also sentenced to imprisonment until death for killing Liberation War organizer Fazlur Rahman Talukder, and looting and setting on fire Baushi Bazar on August 17, 1971; and for killing Dabir Hossain on October 4, 1971 after abducting and torturing him. Both were acquitted on two other charges which include grabbing the houses of Moloy Biswas and Shrish Chandra Sarkar and ‘deporting’ their family members in mid-May 1971, and for killing 15 persons including teacher Kamini Chakrabarty in early October 1971.
It is useful to recall that, the Sheikh Hasina Wajed led-Government constituted the ICT-1 on March 25, 2010, with the objective of bringing the perpetrators of War Crimes to justice, and subsequently, ICT-2 on March 22, 2012, to speed up the War Crimes Trials. So far, the two ICTs have indicted 57 leaders, including 37 from JeI, seven from the ML, five from NeI, four from BNP, two from Pakistan Democratic Party (PDP) and two from the Jatiya Party (JP). Verdicts against 31 of these indicted leaders have already been delivered – 23 were awarded the death sentence while the remaining eight received life sentences. Five of the 23, including Nizami, who received the death sentence, have already been executed, while 18 other cases are currently pending with the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.
As in earlier cases, JeI called a countrywide 24-hour hartal (general strike) on May 11, 2016, protesting the execution of its party chief Motiur Rahman Nizami. Earlier, JeI, on May 5, 2016, had called for a countrywide 24-hour hartal, denouncing the Supreme Court’s order that upheld Nizami’s death sentence. However, unlike previous hartals called by JeI, protesting against war crimes’ verdicts against party leaders, which had resulted in massive street violence, these two protests were largely ignored across the country and no major acts of violence were reported. Nevertheless, there were a few minor incidents, such as the May 11, 2016, protest by cadres of JeI-Islami Chhatra Shibir ( ICS) who hurled bricks at the Police during a clash at Chawkbazar Parade Ground in Chittagong city over a gayebana namaz-e-janaza (funeral prayer in absentia) for Nizami. Some 5,000 JeI-ICS cadres participated in the janaza led by Chittagong city unit JeI chief Shamshul Islam. Security Forces (SFs) managed to disperse the JeI-ICS cadres by firing blank shots. No one was injured in the incident. Further, on May 12, 2016, Police arrested 28 JeI-ICS cadres in connection with vandalism, arson and sabotage activities, including 16 from Bogra District, five from Chittagong District, four from Barisal District, two from Cox’s Bazar and one from Gaibandha District.
However, the trend of targeting intellectuals/ activists/ secularists/ or alleged ‘apostates’/ ‘blasphemers’, which commenced after the Shahbagh Movement of February 2013 seeking the death penalty for War Criminals of the 1971 genocide, appears to be escalating. 12 persons were killed in 2013; four persons in 2014; and nine in 2015. Disturbingly, since the beginning of the 2016, 11 intellectuals/ activists/ secularists/ or alleged ‘apostates’/ ‘blasphemers’ have already been killed across the country by suspected Islamist terrorists. In the latest of the series of such killings, on May 6, 2016, Mohammad Shahidullah (65), a pir (revered religious instructor, usually of Sufi orientation) was hacked to death at Jumarpara village of Tanore upazila (sub-district) in Rajshahi District. Further, on May 14, 2016, Mawng Shoi Wuu (70), a Buddhist monk was found dead with his throat-slit with a sharp weapon at a small monastery at Baishari of Naikhyangchari upazila in Bandarban District. Earlier, nine others were killed across the country by suspected Islamist terrorists. Significantly, out of the 11 murders in 2016, Daesh (Islamic State, formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham) claimed responsibility for six. Meanwhile, Ansar al-Islam (Sword of Islam), the purported Bangladesh branch of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), claimed ‘credit’ for another three. No group has yet claimed the remaining two killings.
The Shiekh Hasina Wajed Government has, however, blamed the BNP-JeI nexus for these incidents, describing them as ‘secret killings’, after the failure of the Opposition to topple the Government. Prime Minister Wajed thus declared, on April 30, 2016, “The BNP-Jamaat clique does not want development of the people. They cannot give anything except burning people to death and destruction. They have chosen the path of killing teachers and common people selectively.”
Rejecting the Prime Minister’s claim, BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir stated, on May 13, 2016, “BNP wants trial of those who committed crimes against humanity during our Liberation War. But the trial will have to be held in a transparent manner, ensuring international standard.”
With the hanging of JeI chief Nizami, the Awami League (AL)-led Government has once again reaffirmed its determination to honour its 2008 General Election pledge to bring the War Criminals of the 1971 genocide to justice. The achievements on this count are already remarkable, but, the frequent attacks on liberals, secularists and minorities across the country threaten the tenuous stability that has been achieved in the country. The trials themselves have deepened the polarization in the country between those intent of defending the secular identity asserted through the 1971 Independence movement, and those who seek to introduce a Government purportedly based on ‘Islamic’ principles. This rift presents a growing challenge for the Hasina Wajed regime.
* S. Binodkumar Singh
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management