In recent weeks Bangladesh has witnessed bitter street fighting between opposition forces, particularly from Jamaate Islami and its student wing, BICS (Bangladesh Islami Chattra Shibir) and the Police alongside ruling party members and its youth wings. Hundreds were injured, one member of the opposition was killed and many imprisoned.
This is mainly due to the recent so called War Crimes Tribunal which was set up try those who committed war crimes in the year 1971. Bangladesh was previously East Pakistan, and won independence in 1971. It is often described as a civil war between Bangladeshis, i.e the proponents of a united Pakistan and pro- Independence separatists. It also became a battleground between the Indian forces which backed the pro Independence forces, and the Pakistani army which was directly involved in the war alongside their Bangladeshi supporters.
The ruling Awami League party was forced out from power in around the year 2001. They lost mainly because the opposition formed a coalition, which included principally of the second largest party the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, and the third largest party, the Jamaate Islami. Ever since, the Awami party began to campaign and spread propaganda that the Jamaat leaders are war criminals (they were never portrayed as such before). This successfully played into the minds of many Bangladeshis and the four-party coalition lost the 2008 elections and the Awami League yet again came to power.
Thus they formed the ‘International War Crimes Tribunal’, and began arresting opposition members. The crimes which they have been accused of, has not been proven. It has become evermore clear that this is a partisan show trial, widely condemned. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the International BAR Association and others have expressed their opposition to the trial. They simply do not meet international standards. It met further condemnation, when fake witnesses were presented in the trial against the accused. Many of them upon cross examination admitted that they were not even born in 1971! Many of them are criminals, who seemed to be blackmailed into testifying in court. The Defence on the other hand, despite the partisan nature of the Tribunal fought well and hard. Thus the defence lawyers and its team have become subject to regular harrasment from the government, security and ruling party members and supporters.
The most prolific case so far has been that of Delwar Hossain Sayedee. His involvement in politics was in around the mid 70s. He would hold mass Tafseer gatherings all around Bangladesh, and would be a vocal critic of the government. Arguably, he is the most influential figure of the Jamaate Islami amongst the public. It is clear, even to a neutral observer, that Sayedee was not involved in the 71 war, since he entered politics later on. Due to his Da’wah many non- Muslims accepted Islam. Despite incontrovertible evidence to prove his innocence, his lawyers say that he may face the gallows in December. During his time in prison, his mother and his son would pass away.
Another important figure currently in prison is the ninety year old Professor Ghulam Azam. He is recognized by many international Islamic bodies, including the International Union of Muslim Scholars headed by the esteemed Shaykh Yusuf Al Qaradawi who has repeatedly call for his release. Ghulam Azam was a proponent of a united Pakistan. He argued that an independent Bangladesh would mean being surrounded by neighboring India. This would mean that India could do anything to Bangladesh as it liked after independence. This was his political position. There is no evidence, and he himself categorically denied his involvement in war crimes. He was simply a civilian figure, a leader of a political party, who did not have any role in the military or in the paramilitary forces. He was previously cleared of collaboration. Despite this, it has resurfaced. Besides, merely supporting a united Pakistan cannot constitute a war crime. The main criminals are those Pakistani Generals, who have mostly deceased. It has later surfaced that collaborators and possible war criminals are also within the ruling party, but they are not being tried. The bias of the tribunal becoming ever more clear to the international community.
In recent weeks, a previously prosecuting witness, who defected to back the defence (due to the fact that the prosecution was forcing him to lie), was abducted in front of the tribunal by plain clothed security officials. This was met with heavy condemnation from national and international quarters. The intent of the tribunal thus became clear.
Apart from the tribunal, the leftists and atheists within the ruling party have taken key positions within the government. These are dogmatic secularists who would do anything to suppress Islam. Thus, they have taken the position of the Education Ministry, and are plotting to secularise the education system of Bangladesh and restricting Islamic education. They have tried to erase Islamic elements of the constitution but faced heavy opposition, and so far have not removed it. The protests and meetings of opposition is constantly suppressed.
As December approaches, the Jamaate Islami have intensified their campaign calling for the release of their leaders. The coming days would determine which path Bangladesh will take; whether it will become like Mustafa Kemals Turkey, or whether it will be a place where the Islamic da’wah can easily flourish, or it becomes a lawless country plunged into civil war. Thus, Bangladesh, being part of the Ummah, and the third most populous Muslim nation, should be amongst the forefront of our concern.