That Motiur Rahman Nizami, former head of Jamaat-e-Islami would be sent to the gallows was a given, considering the War Crimes Tribunal had already pronounced a guilty verdict. He was found guilty on eight counts for war crimes during the in 1971 liberation movement. The question is whether this will further aggravate an already volatile situation in a deeply polarized country. Will this further shrink democratic space in Bangladesh and drive anti-government factions underground? Nobody knows for certain. But Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina needs to break the current deadlock with the Opposition.
For the families of the victims of the brutal 1971 killlings, the hanging will come as a just closure for the murder of their loved ones and of a gory chapter in the country’s history. For Sheikh Hasina’s government the series of hangings are a promise kept.
But those who are not with the Awami League are critical of the workings of the War Crimes Tribunal and say it has more to do with politics than the law.
"Few object to trying those who had engaged in atrocities in 1971, but the present mdus operandi have been questioned mainly because legal experts and human rights activists have felt there are procedural flaws which has brought the entire process under a cloud, with some calling it more of a political exercise rather than legal action," said Fazal Kamal, a columnist in Dhaka.
Bringing those responsible for genocide to book was a commitment made to the people ahead of the 2008 national polls by the Awami League. In her earlier term as prime minister Sheikh Hasina did not have the numbers to do so. The War Crimes Tribunal was set up in 2009, and hearings began in 2010. The purpose of the trials were "to bring to justice the perpetrators of the crimes against humanity and genocide, including the well-identified masterminds, who actively collaborated as auxiliary forces with the occupying forces during our War of Liberation in 1971," according to a note issued by the Bangladesh government.
Initially, 16 charges were brought against Nizami, but the prosecution was able to prove eight of them. These are genocide — killing professionals and intellectuals — murder, rape, detention, torture, and persecution on religious and political grounds in collaboration with occupying Pakistan army.
Nizami, 73, was hanged at the Dhaka Central jail after the Supreme Court rejected his appeal. The Jamaat leader was a former agriculture
and industries minister in a coalition government headed by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. Nizami had been elected from the Pabna constitutency from 1991-1996 aand again from 2001 -2006. He was defeated by an Amwami League candidate during the 2008 national elections, which brought back Sheikh Hasina’s party to power with an overwhelming majority.
As a young man in 1971, Nizami was a member of the Islamic Chhatra Sangh, the student wing of the Jamaat. The party was against independence from Pakistan, and worked closely with the Pakistan army.
Nizami, who was also a religious preacher, refused to appeal for clemency to the President. It is unlikely that the mercy petition would have been granted.
US and Western criticism
The situation in Bangladesh is being closely monitored by the US and other Western democracies. The War Crimes Tribunal had evoked much criticsm in the US and European capitals. They have charged Sheikh Hasina’s government of not giving a fair trial to the accused. Pakistan naturally had also criticised the Awami League government and believes that the government had put in place kangaroo courts to pass rapid fire sentences
on those who supported Pakistan in 1971.
Sheikh Hasina's responsibility
The problem in Bangaldesh today is the government’s increasing intolerance of dissent. It is also not able to nab those elements responsible for attacks on secular writers and others who were recently hacked to death. The authorities continue to blame the opposition, but is unable to apprehend and prosecute the real culprits. This had led to a fear psychosis among intellectuals and secular groups in the country.
It is time for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to step down from her high horse and initiate a dialogue with the BNP. After all it is one of the two main parties in the country. The government must show greater flexibility in reaching out to the BNP. "It is for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to realise that she cannot run a one-party show. The Opposition needs to have its space in a democracy. Blaming the Opposition for everything is not the answer," Srinath Raghavan of the Centre for Policy Research said.
Lisa Curtis, a South Asian expert at the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Centre in Washington makes the same point. "The government is increasingly targeting the Opposition and closing off its legitimate political activity, but it’s precisely that polarised political environment and limiting of the opposition’s space to participate in the political process that is creating new space for extremists."
Jamaat calls for strike
The Jamaat has called for a 24 hour general strike on Thursday. Funeral prayers are being held in many places across Bangladesh and on Friday, Jamaat will offer prayers at several mosques in the country. Reports have come in from Chittagong and Rajshahi of protesters and police clashing.
Today the Jamaat is no longer as strong as it used to be. The government has cracked down on Jamaat supporters, and the kind of crowds that the party could mobilise till around 2013, is not possible now. In 2013, conviction of the Jamaat leaders triggered clashes between violent supporters and the police, which led to several hundred deaths. The violence gave the government the perfect excuse to act against the leaders. Most of the party leadership has left the country. Many of the cadres are in prison. Whether the Jamaat can shut down the country as it had done in the past is not known.
Published Date: May 11, 2016 10:01 pm | Updated Date: May 11, 2016 10:43 pm