The second decade of the 21st century seems to be one of protests and demonstrations. The centers of these historic protests have been Tehrir Square in Egypt and Jantar Mantar in India and now the centre has shifted to Shahbag in Bangladesh. The protests in Shahbag, Dhaka are directed at demanding capital punishment for Abdul Quader Mollah and other war criminals for committing heinous war crimes in the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971.
The protests began on February 5 following the judgment of the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) of Bangladesh awarding the life imprisonment to Abdul Quader Mollah which the people found ‘undeserving’ for the ‘Butcher of Mirpur’. Also, they are demanding capital punishment for other war criminals. Thousands of protesters are on vigil day and night and have refused to move away from the Shahbag Square (as they call it) until their demands are met.
In 1971, Jamat-e-Islami, its student wing Islami Chatra Sangh of Bangladesh collaborated with the Pakistani army in the war atrocities. More than 3 million people were murdered and about 2.5 million women were raped. Over 10 million Bangladeshis were forced to become refugees in India. The incident is considered one of the most brutal war genocides of the 20th century. The proceedings of the ICT trials began in 2010 and the judgment against Abdul Quader Mollah came on February 5, 2013. The ICT found him guilty of 5 out of 6 charges against him, mostly of mass murders, rapes and violence.
Expecting capital punishment for him, the majority of the population of Bangladesh was disappointed with the verdict. Just after the announcement, popular activist blogs Blogger and Online Activists Network appealed to the population through the social networks to protest the verdict. Just after a few hours, the protests began at the Shahbag Square. On February 8, a mass rally was organized at the Shahbag Square. On February 12, a 3-minute long silence was observed throughout Bangladesh. Parliamentarians, celebrities, players and police honored the protest by joining in the silence. The demands of the protesters are capital punishment for Abdul Quader Mollah and all war criminals, ban on Jamat-e-Islami from politics and boycott of all of its cultural, educational and enterprises.
On February 15, the activist blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider associated with the movement was brutally murdered near his Dhaka home. He too was demanding the execution of all the war criminals. His brother has said that a website supportive of Jamat-e-Islami had named Rajib as its target. However, Jamat-e-Islami has denied its role in his murder and condemned it. Thousands of people attended his funeral and vowed that they will now leave the Shahbag Square until his killers are found and their demands are met.
However, the morale and spirit of the Shahbag protesters is still not down. Patriotic songs and poems are being recited at the Shahbag protests. The screening of the film about the Liberation War of Bangladesh was arranged there. A documentary ‘Join the Fight’ was also filmed meanwhile showcasing the Shahbag protest activities. Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms have been the most instrumental devices to help the large number of crowd to gather up. The recurrent posts on blogs and pages prompted the netizens of Bangladesh to take to the streets and demand the capital punishment of Abdul Quader Mollah and other war criminals. The Twitter hashtag #shahbag fed the world of all the updates about the protests. Shahbag.org is a website dedicated to the Shahbag protests where one can get all the details and updates about it. The online protests have been instrumental in bringing in the solidarity for the Shahbag protests from Bangladeshis living abroad as well.
We are now to see how the events turn up for the ‘awaam’ of Bangladesh and what their protests lead up to. Amen.