Reazul Bashar and Ashik Hossain
Tens of thousands of people on Wednesday chanted slogans demanding death to all convicted war criminals in a Dhaka neighbourhood where no party other than Jamaat-e-Islami usually stages rally.
The organisers of ‘Ganajagaran Mancha’ of Shabagh intersection were overwhelmed by the huge crowd thronging the city’s commercial hub Motijheel to join a rally.
This was the third rally organised in Dhaka outside Shahbagh, where the unprecedented protest against the life sentence of Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Molla, galvanised millions of Bangladeshis to take to the street.
The two other protest rallies were held at Mirpur and Rayerbazar, both witness to a spate of mass murders during the 1971 Liberation War.
The organisers said although their movement demanding death sentence to war criminals and a ban on Jamaat started at Shahbagh, it has already spread across all corners of Bangladesh.
“Our protest is not only confined to Shahbagh, it has reached everywhere across the nation,” Bangladesh Chhatra Moitree President Bappaditya Basu told the rally.
He called upon the people to set up ‘Ganajagaran Mancha’ at each school, college and locality.
Demonstrations at the iconic Shahbagh intersection, now christened as ‘Prajanma Chattar’, rolled into the 23rd day on Wednesday.
The International Crimes Tribunal-2 on Feb 5 awarded life imprisonment to Molla, sparking off a wave of anger and frustration, drawing people to Shahbagh to form mass protests.
The Islamist party which opposed Bangladesh’s birth also held a rally at Motijheel on the day prior to the start of the Shahbagh movement.
The rally by the ‘Ganajagaran Mancha’ in the business district came a day before the ICT-1 is expected to deliver a verdict on Jamaat leader Delwar Hossain Sayedee on charges of crimes during the nation’s nine-month bloody independence struggle in 1971.
People from the broad spectrum of the society started flocking to Motijheel carrying national flags and shouting slogans. Thousands of students of the city’s several schools and colleges also joined in.
The rally kicked off around 3.40pm with singing of national anthem.
The wife of Liftman Zafar Munshi, who died in an attack by the activists of Islami Chhatra Shibir – the student affiliate of the Jamaat-e-Islami – came and expressed solidarity with the movement.
”You have already shown Jamaat-Shibir that they have no place in this country by rejecting two of their strikes”, said Imran H Sarkar, spokesperson for the ‘Ganjagaran Mancha’.
“I urge you to resist tomorrow’s strike by Jamaat and Shibir and show them their places.”
Thousands of supporters roared in solidarity with the resistance call from ‘Ganjagaran Mancha’.
Talking directly to the International Crimes Tribunal, he said, “We do not impose any pressure on you. Please continue working in a neutral manner. Do not fear Jamaat -Shibir’s anarchy and terror.”
He demanded death penalty for Sayedee saying, “Support the call of the nation. Do not be confused. Do not have fear.”
The blogger also requested media outlets to not run any advertisements for institutions involved with Jamaat-e-Islami.
Speaking at the rally, Bangladesh Chhatra Union General Secretary Hassan Tarek slated the international human rights organisations for ‘questioning on-going the trial process of the war criminals’.
He alleged such organisations had indeed opposed Bangladesh’s War of Independence from Pakistan.
Bangladesh Chhatra League General Secretary Siddiqui Nazmul Alam also spoke on the occasion
There will be a continuous sit-in at Shahbagh starting from Wednesday night. People from all walks of life have been asked to join a mass procession that will be taken out from Shahbagh at 10am on Thursday amidst the shutdown
The protesters went back to Shahbagh following the end of the rally.
‘Alllah’s house no political office’
A delegation of the Olama Mashayekh slated Jamaat for using mosque to further their political agenda after expressing solidarity with the protest.
“Mosque is not an office of any political party,” Maulana Abdul Momen Shiraji said in his address to the thousands in the rally.
He said the Baitul Mukarram National Mosque is the ‘house of Allah’, ‘not a party office’.
“Those who set the house of Allah on fire do not conform to Islam.”
Shiraji said: “Islam talks about humanity, peace and love towards other religions. Over 100,000 messengers of Allah talked about humanity in Islam.
He also urged everyone to stay alert against the on-going conspiracies related to Islam.
Olama Mashayekh Parishad’s Abdul Halim Shiraji said,” Islam does not suit Jamaat. Don’t pay heed to propaganda by those who had led killing, rape and loot.”
He alleged Jamaat was spreading false propaganda against the slain Shahbagh movement activist Ahmed Rajib Haider that he had defamed Islam.
He supported the demands of the youths for hanging the war criminals saying: “The law of Allah permits killing for a killing. So these killers deserve nothing other than death sentence.”
“They (war criminals) deserve several deaths. The Olama Mashayekhs will pronounce their death sentence as per the Sharia law if tribunals fail to do so,” he added.