The rally that was started on February 5, 2013, at the Shahbag intersection in Dhaka was against the sentences that were handed down to Abdul Quader Mollah by the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT). The organizers and the participants of the rally felt that the sentences were too light for the crimes for which he was convicted.
Mr. Mollah was sentenced to life imprisonment for two charges: 1) Mass murder of (344 people) at Alobdi village, and 2) Killing and rape of Hazrat Ali Laskar and his family members. He was also sentenced to 15 years in prison for three charges: 1) Murdering a freedom fighter, Pallab, 2) Killing a pro-liberation poet, Meherunnesa, her mother and two brothers, and 3) Killing an intellectual and journalist, Khandoker Abu Taleb. On another charge, he was found not guilty.
If there was any doubt about the charges, or if the evidences presented against the defendant were inadequate, the ICT should have acquitted him. If the ICT was sure enough (beyond any reasonable doubt) about the charges and the evidences to convict the defendant, it had to award him the harshest punishment available; because the crimes were indeed most heinous in nature.
The crimes for which Abdul Quader Mollah got the sentence of life in prison were similar to the crimes for which another convict, Abul Kalam Azad (Bachchu), had been sentenced to death earlier by the same ICT. Thus, the ICT seems to have failed to deliver the same standard for the two convicted criminals. It is indeed strange that the convict that was beyond the reach of the law enforcers in Bangladesh (Abul Kalam Azad) got the death sentence, whereas the convict that was under the custody of the law enforcers in Bangladesh (Abdul Quader Mollah) got life in prison. This raises several questions. Was Mr. Azad sentenced to death because that sentence would not actually be executed? Was the ICT judge functioning as a genuinely honest judge? Was the ICT judge unwilling to cause the execution of these convicts? Was the ICT judge scared to give an executable death sentence?
As for the provision for the death sentence, there are a lot of good minds in the world who would like to see it gone from everywhere. For me personally, I felt terribly sad to see pictures from Shahbag, where little boys, who looked less than 10 years old, printed signs like “Razakarer Fashi Chai” (want the Razakars hanged) on their bare bodies. Children of that age should be soft and sweet, should have no hatred, and should be scared of looking at any death.
Having said the above, do I think that Bangladesh should not have tried people who committed crimes against humanity in 1971? No. On the contrary, I think Bangladesh has proven to be a nation with no dignity by delaying the trials of the most heinous criminals of 1971. Most people of the country have been talking about 3,000,000 people murdered and 200,000 raped in 1971. Yet it took the country more than 40 years to begin the trials of the murderers and the rapists. By delaying the trials for so long, the big political leaders as well as the big-talking intelligentsia have proven how worthless they thought the lives of 3,000,000 Bangladeshis were, and how little value they placed on the dignity of 200,000 Bangladeshi women and girls.
In any case, better late than never; and it is good that an ICT has been formed, and several high profile criminals have been put on trial. However, the Shahbag enthusiasts need to realize that a court that is worth its name cannot act like a mob. A court cannot find defendants guilty unless if the cases against them have been proven beyond reasonable doubts with solid specific physical evidences and unwavering witness testimonies, especially when the alleged crimes are so heinous in nature, with the potential for the most severe punishments.
The rally at Shahbag has been going on over the last two weeks now. The principal demands from the rally now include death sentence for Abdul Quader Mollah as well as for all other defendants that are being tried at the ICT on charges of crimes against humanity, and banning of Jamat-e-Islami as a political party in Bangladesh.
Of course, no legal authority can fulfill the demand of the death sentence as such. The government of Bangladesh has done the most it could do about the sentences of Abdul Quader Mollah, and about the sentences for the others that are on trial. It has passed an amendment to the ICT whereby the prosecutor (government) can appeal against sentences. However, it should be understood that an appeal against a lighter sentence does not guarantee a change of the sentence to death.
The government is also in the process of passing a law whereby Jamat-e-Islami could be banned in Bangladesh. It looks like the banning of Jamat is only a matter of time; may be weeks, not months or years.
As for the trials of the war criminals, the crowds at Shahbag and beyond in Bangladesh need to realize that even if all the defendants that are under trial at the ICT were hanged, Bangladesh would not be anywhere near providing enough punishments for the most despicable crimes that were committed in that land in 1971. Most of the criminals are either safe in Pakistan or dead due to old age.
As for banning Jamat-e-Islami, that would not remove religion-based politics from Bangladesh. After all, the party (Awami League) that is widely claimed by its supporters to be secular, and widely blamed by its Islamist opponents (in BNP and Jamat) to be secular, did not remove Bismillah and Islam as the state religion from the constitution of the country. This is in spite of the fact that Awami League had more than three quarters majority in the country’s parliament.
While the trials of the 1971 criminals, of war and against humanity, should continue at the ICT, and while the ICT should deliver decisions based upon the available evidences, the enthusiastic crowd at Shabag and elsewhere in the country need to focus on the future of Bangladesh, not so much on the past. The unarmed civilian victims and the fallen heroic freedom fighters of the land can only be honored properly by removing the kind of hatred that caused their sufferings and demise. Through proper education and reasoning, the young generation needs to identify that hatred, and work seriously to remove that hatred. That task is enormously more difficult and needs a lot more sincerity than shouting slogans in a crowd.
About the Writer: Sukhamaya Bain is a US citizen who was born in a place that is a part of today’s Bangladesh. He earned a Ph.D. degree in Chemistry in 1987, and currently works for the US federal government, evaluating chemistry. While being a scientist by profession, he believes that societal justice is vital for the well-being of mankind. Thus, he occasionally writes on sociopolitical issues.