Wednesday 16th Jan 2019
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MIDNIGHT MASSACRE of Hefazat Protestors
Hundreds of innocent people killed in a joint operation in Dhaka

Cover Story

SK. ENAMUL HOQUE reveals the fascist face of Sheikh Hasina government that allowed its joint forces to kill rather ruthlessly about 3,000 protestors of Hefazat-e-Islam Movement who had gathered there in Dhaka with their 13-point demand to ensure that Islam and all its sacred symbols are protected in the country.

There is a hue and cry in Bangladesh as to why the government of Sheikh Hasina took such a tough stand against the peaceful assembly of non-political association, Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh, in which about 3000 innocent people have died. The central leaders of the Hefazat-e-Islam claimed that 3000 of their activists and supporters died when they were peacefully gathering at Motijheel Shapla Square in front of Bangladesh Bank (Central Bank of Bangladesh) in downtown of Dhaka city. Political parties and representatives of civil society and human rights organisations stressed the need for immediate formation of an independent judicial inquiry into the incident so that all sorts of confusion are removed.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the main opposition party in the parliament, has demanded an ‘international neutral investigation’ into the ‘genocide’ committed in the operation early Monday (6 May) to flush Hefazat-e-Islam activists out of Shapla Square.

The BNP standing committee in a statement on 7 May urged people irrespective of opinion to raise their voice ‘peacefully’ against the ‘killings’ and demand for a ‘fair trial’. ‘We along with the countrymen and conscientious people around the world are shocked at the barbaric killings committed by Sheikh Hasina’s government after midnight of 6 May on lakhs of unarmed people who were attending a peaceful sit-in programme of Hefazat-e-Islam at Shapla Square at Motijheel in the capital,’ the statement said.

‘It is beyond their imagination that a civilised government can kill the people in such a barbaric manner,’ it said. Again it said paramilitary force along with law enforcers ‘with weapons used in a war’ was deployed in the late-night operation to break up a rally of ‘unarmed’ people. ‘Whereas the incumbent government did not allow such an operation to save the army officers and their families trapped in Pilkhana during the BDR mutiny despite their repeated appeal,’ the statement said.

‘It has been learnt from foreign media and various sources that 2,500 to 3,000 people were killed and more than 10,000 injured in the Shapla Square operation. No government press note was issued on the ‘barbaric’ operation nor was an exact figure of casualties made public,’ the BNP statement said.

‘BNP leaders along with the people were horrified watching the video footages and photos of the massive firing in the operation, numerous bodies lying strewn, heavy vehicles ploughing through the bodies and taking them away on trucks,’ the statement said.

It said no media could dare to publish reports of the killings after Diganta and Islamic televisions were taken off-air. It claimed that only government’s statements and publicity material were being broadcast and published on the domestic media.

The government’s ‘fascist’ character was exposed after it imposed restrictions on the rallies in the capital on the day after the incident, it said adding that the killings were committed in a planned way which had been clear when Awami League had deployed its ‘armed activists’, shifted the blame on Hefazat, stopped supply of electricity and drove journalists of print and electronic media out of the spot before the operation. The BNP standing committee said that the government had carried out the operation to ‘eliminate’ the Hefazat after Awami League general secretary Syed Ashraful Islam had issued such ‘threat’ at a news conference on 5 May. It said the BNP supported some of the Hefazat’s demands but differed with others. ‘BNP believes in religious values and wants to build up a liberal, moral and non-communal modern nation,’ it added.

The BNP blamed the ruling party activists for the arson, vandalism and plunder of shops, commercial centres, footpath shops, and burning of vehicles and religious books, including the Holy Qur’ān in the night of 5 May. It said that BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia had urged the city dwellers and party activists to supply food and drinking water to the Hefazat ‘guests’ in the city but failed to do so due to ‘obstructions by the ruling party terrorists and law enforcers’.

It said that the 5 May ‘black night’ could be compared only to the genocide of March 25 in 1971.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami also condemned the barbaric attack of law enforcers on the peaceful assembly of religious people at Shapla Square. Maulana Rafiqul Islam Khan, Acting Secretary General of BJI in a statement said he had no strong word to condemn the genocide. “We also call upon the people of all walks of life to wage a united movement to unseat this autocrat government,” he said.

Representatives of civil society and human rights organisations stressed the need for immediate formation of an independent commission to conduct thorough investigation into the clashes taking place between Hefazat-e-Islam (HI) men and members of law enforcing agencies.

The task of the proposed commission, they said, would be also to identify those responsible for acts of arson and vandalism and excesses committed by joint force comprising members of Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and Police. They were sharply critical of the government for what has been termed as its dual role in allowing the HI to hold its rally on one hand and on the other letting attacks on HI men by ruling party men to foil the rally. 

Advocate Elena Khan, chief executive of Bangladesh Human Rights Foundation, said the operation of the joint force in the darkness of midnight was a gross violation of human rights. The proposed commission, she said, should include representatives of professional bodies, newsmen, teachers, human rights activists and lawyers for fair and acceptable investigation into the incidents. There could have been infiltration of evil forces in HI but not only HI men but also ruling party elements could be held responsible for acts of arson and vandalism. Describing the midnight action as barbarous, she said some ruling party men could be blamed for making the HI men violent attacking them on their way to Dhaka.

She was bitterly critical of the dual role of the government. The police action to disperse the rally should have been taken either Sunday evening or Monday morning.  The people, she said, have the right to know the purpose of the government behind the midnight action for dispersal of the rally. 

Former adviser to caretaker government Dr. Akbar Ali Khan, stressing the need for formation of an independent commission headed by a High Court judge, said different figures of deaths being quoted by different media at home and abroad might cause the country’s instability and tarnish the image of the government as well as the country.

Former adviser to caretaker government Hafizuddin Khan was critical of HI men for acts of widespread vandalism and arson in the city and at its outskirts on Sunday and Monday. He said people have seen HI men entering the city carrying sticks, which is not permissible under law.  HI, he said, cannot shift its blame on Jamaat-e-Islami or the BNP. The picture of the number of casualties is not yet clear, he said adding people have a right to know where the bodies have been dumped. The government got one month time; it could have negotiated with HI during the period, he said.  He said the police action could have been carried out during the day time. Advocate Shahdeen Malik said the events of Sunday and Monday expose the worst aspects of our politics, governance and religious extremism. In terms of politics, the eminent lawyer said the events degenerated into meaningless violence particularly against small traders and businessmen and innocent people.

He said, “As per governance, resort to use of extraordinary force by the government through joint operation of police, RAB and BGB indicated failure of the government to resolve the crisis peacefully. As for the demonstrators and the HI, events of these two days show the meaningless extremism in which they can indulge for the so-called protection of Islam.” He said, we should take a lesson from those events and urgently find ways to resolve our differences peacefully and meaningfully.

[SK. ENAMUL HOQUE is City Editor, The Daily Sangram, Dhaka, Bangladesh]

 



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