Protesters are present in Shahbag square around the clock, rotating off with one another. There are no tents, nobody is camping, and the weather is good. Women and children can be seen there in the middle of the night, despite the fact that Bangladesh has never been a very safe country for women. On the first nights, I could not believe there was such calm. People are helping each other out; there is no central authority.
Aerial view of Shahbag square occupied by protesters. Photo: shahbag.org.
Radical Islamic protesters are very violent against those who support the Shahbag square movement. Last Friday, after the prayer, some of the protesters vandalized outdoor stages used for Shahbag movement meetings in several cities and desecrated the national flag. In Dhaka, they tried to take over Shahbag square by arriving on mopeds at three different entrance points, but the police were able to rein them in.
Of course, there have been some police abuses. But when the police are attacked with homemade explosives, should they really remain stoic? That said, some policemen did lose their composure, and it is also true that some Islamic radicals as well as passersby were killed near the riots. These incidents require independent investigation.
“The radical Islamic protesters are poor and easy to manipulate”
The February 17 legislation will not cause the government to ask for the death penalty; it just modifies the appeals procedure. The current government has in the past collaborated with Jamaat-e-islami, so there is no reason to believe that it wants to send war criminals to the gallows. Unless, of course, it is being pressured to do so, and that is why we are protesting – to apply pressure.
To me, to sentence to death a person that has committed two or three murders is a human rights violation. But when it comes to genocidal maniacs, when they have killed hundreds of thousands of people and raped 200,000 women, they deserve capital punishment. Furthermore, if Jawaat-e-islami returns to the government, it could very well select a president who will pardon war criminals, most of whom are members of this party. That is why the Shahbag movement is also calling for the tribunal to be permanent.
The members of Jawaat-e-islami are wrong and are lying: they want people to believe that we want to outlaw all religious parties. They said that all bloggers were atheists and apostates. That is all false. There is a great divide between Islamic radicals and the rest of the population, which is largely a question of education. Many of the Islamic radicals who riot did not have access to a secular, scientific education. They are very poor people and often become mercenaries that are easy to manipulate.