Major victory for Shahbagh protesters

In a major boost for the protesters at Shahbagh square in Dhaka, Parliament on Sunday amended the country’s war crimes law to allow the government to appeal against verdicts of the war crimes tribunals. The amendment to the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973 also empowers the war crimes tribunals to try and punish any organisation for crimes committed during liberation war in 1971 — a move that could put the Jamaat-e-Islami in the dock.

The ruling coalition, which has three-fourths majority in Parliament, passed the amendments for which the Shahbagh protesters have been pressing since February 5. The bill will now be placed for presidential assent.

The amended ICT Act will facilitate not only an appeal against Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Molla’s life sentence but also dragging organisations such as the Jamaat-e-Islami, which violently opposed Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan, to the special tribunals and charging them with committing ‘crimes against humanity’.

Nine top leaders of the Jamaat and two of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) are standing trial in the two war crimes tribunals.

Jamaat, an ally of the BNP, has been on a fierce street campaign for weeks to force the government to stop the war crimes trial. While its cadres launched attacks on the police force, people took to the streets defending the trial and demanding capital punishment for all the war criminals.

Earlier on Saturday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina launched a broadside against the Jamaat stating that the Islamist party had no right to do politics under a democracy.

She made this remark after visiting the family of slain blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider who participated in the Shahbagh mass uprising. Rajib was killed, allegedly by Jamaat militants, in front of his house in Dhaka. Ms. Hasina described the blogger as the first ‘martyr’ of the Shahbagh uprising.

On protest for the 13th day on Sunday, the Shahbagh demonstrators vowed to prevent Monday’s hartal called by Jamaat-e-Islami across the country.

Thousands of youths took the vow, hoisted the National Flag and sang the National Anthem at educational institutions across the country.