“I wonder if the executive branch hasn’t been supporting the Shahbag square movement”
Protesters who support the [radical Islamic party] Jamaat-e-islami protested this weekend despite having been forbidden to do so by the government. That’s why the protests degenerated, as they often have since the start of the month. They are asking for the court to set up an independent panel of judges, because they believe the international tribunal’s judges are influenced by the government, who led the charge in the trial [against Quader Mollah]. Furthermore, I thought that international tribunals were not supposed to be able to sentence people to death for war crimes; that’s what the International Criminal Court and all the international tribunals have been doing since 1993.At the start, I was not really supporting any particular side, but police abuses and the lack of respect toward protesters supporting Jamaat-e-islami caused me to have more sympathy for them than for the Shahbag square movement. Especially because I get the impression that it’s a fake movement: when I see how the police protect them, I have to wonder whether the executive branch is supporting them. I can imagine that the executive would find it useful to see a crowd calling for a more serious sentence against the leader of an opposition party.Certainly, Quader Mollah committed very serious crimes. But if we call ourselves a democracy, then everyone must have the right to protest, even those who support criminals. The ban on protests for radical Muslims has led to police abuses, which in turn feeds the radical Muslims’ own violent tendencies. I am not trying to excuse their actions, but we should not be surprised that they are coming to beat up protesters in Shahbag square, whom the police sides with.
“Sentencing genocidal maniacs to death is not a human rights violation”
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.