Bangladesh explodes in religiously and politically motivated violence

Despite the election being over, clashes continue

Photo credit: freddie boy

Photo credit: freddie boy

Khaleda Zia, leader of Bangladesh National Party (BNP), has had to deal with the consequences of her childish-election-boycott. Her nemesis and political opponent Sheikh Hasina, leader of the Awami League, was sworn as Prime Minister last week again.

These two women have rotated as Prime Minister for twenty years. Both of their fathers played an important rule during Bangladesh´s Independence. The returns aren´t surprising as Hasina´s party was the only one on the ballot. She banned the third largest party Jamaat-e-Islami just in time before the elections – which were accompanied by violence.

Her challenger Zia didn’t present herself as a candidate, because she declared from the outset that the elections were a farce. Instead she called all citizens to a so-called “hartal”. These strikes, in which stores closed nationwide and the traffic system was paralysed, degenerated into violent protests.

These clashes were used by Islamic groups as a pretense for attacks which were motivated partly by political grievances, but also partly religiously motivated. Followers of the radical Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami have launched attacks in Hindu-dominated regions such as Pabna or Jagannathpur in the weeks leading up to the election, because of the residents’ religion and because they almost all support the Awami League, the mainly secular party.

In Natore a Hindu Farmer was stabbed to death a few days ago, his wife was raped and the houses of his relatives were burned. Bloggers who criticise the mixing of politics and religion in government were also made target of the attacks by radical Islamists.

Those who believe that now the election is decided the disputes will cease are wrong. The crisis in the country, which has a population of 160 million, has been raging for over a year and is indeed not really related to the elections. Originally, the riots were triggered by a judgment in December 2012 in which seven men were sentenced to death for crimes and rapes during Bangladesh’s Independence War against Pakistan in 1971.

It is probably not coincidental that all convicts belong to the opposition, mainly Jamaat-e-Islami. Furthermore, those two convicts were hanged right before the election. The so called Shabag-Movement, named by an historical place in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, connects students, activists and bloggers throughout the country. They demand by peaceful art projects to hang the remaining five convicts as well.

In Bangladesh’s corrupt judiciary, the death penalty might be the only fair compensation for the victims, and the children of victims, of systematic rapes and executions in 1971. One of the activists explained: “Whoever is sentenced to prison in Bangladesh will be free after a couple of days with a few thousand Taka and some good contacts”.

Islamists reply to this Statement with violence again as they mobilize more brutal student groups. Their tactics include throwing stones at buses, setting railway stations on fire and clashing with the police. Several hundred people have already been killed since the conflicts began more than a year ago. Prime minister Sheikh Hasina promised on Twitter a few days ago the same as she did before the last election in early 2009: “War Criminals will face justice. They will not escape. Islamist terror and violence in Bangladesh will be stopped. I promise”.

It is obvious now that the remaining five convicts are going to be hanged during Hasina’s third term. However, the conflict endures and ethnic minorities in Bangladesh are still threatened even though they have nothing to do with the decision regarding the death penalty.

3 comments

  1. Great reporting! Very informative.

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  2. Jamaat was not responsible for attacks on minority. If you have read follow up Bangla newspapers, you would have found out that police arrested the culprit behind the attacks and raping of minority and those were part of Awami (Jubo) League. On many occasions Awami League blamed oppositions for conducting acts of terrorism. The reality is that Bangladesh is in a state of anarchy. The government is using all its resources to terrorize opposition and all Islamist parties in country. I am also sure you have heard of the term ‘cross fire’, what it really is that RAB or Police would arrest opposition leaders and shot them dead claiming the individual died during raid. Please do read the HRW and ICG reports.

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  3. Amin, it is inaccurate Awami (Jubo) League was mainly responsible for attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh. It was mainly Shibir thugs belonging to the Jamaat-e Islami. On the article, there were some factual errors. For instance it was Khaleda Zia’s husband Zia-ur-Rahman who was a freedom fighter, not her father. Also, so far one person (Kader Mollah) has faced the noose, not two persons (though that will probably change soon).

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