Crime and penalty in Bangladesh

The ongoing war crimes trial in Bangladesh, which seeks to heal decades-old wounds in society by finding and punishing those who committed grievous crimes during the >country’s liberation war in 1971 , has invited applause and also raised concerns. After more than 40 years of independence, justice is finally being seen to be done as the Sheikh Hasina government took it upon itself to see the trials through. These crimes remained unresolved all these years because of Bangladesh’s complex post-liberation history. That the past is unresolved is still seen in the present, as the fundamentalists and even the Pakistan government have opposed the trials and the subsequent punishment. The secular civil society, on the other hand, has put pressure on the government to carry forward the trial and punish the war criminals. This contradiction was on display once again when two convicted war criminals — Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid of the Jamaat-e-Islami and Salauddin Quader Chowdhury of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party — >were hanged on Sunday.

While there’s little doubt that the Awami League government is committed to doing what it can to punish the >war criminals , what acts as a dampener is its embrace of the death penalty as a means to bring in justice. From a moral standpoint, executions actually weaken the Bangladesh government’s position in its struggle with the extremists. It gives the trial proceedings the colour of revenge rather than the conviction of justice, which should be the basis of a state’s legal system. On the other side, these executions happen at a time when Bangladesh is grappling with the >problem of Islamist fundamentalism. If the Sheikh Hasina government thought that these hangings would weaken the Islamist politics in Bangladesh, it could well be proved wrong in the long run. The hard-line position the government is taking against the opposition could help extremist groups recruit followers from among embittered opposition sympathisers. Recent incidents in Bangladesh show that it is already happening. Despite the government’s tough position and the hanging of its leaders, >Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s largest Islamist party, is still organisationally strong, and has vowed to “take revenge” by “establishing Islam in Bangladesh”. Further, it may not be a coincidence that >attacks against secular writers and their publishers have been on the rise ever since the execution of war criminals started. In other words, the government’s position has sharpened the contradictions of the present rather than redressing the injustices of the past. The challenge before Dhaka is huge. It has to ensure that those who committed crimes against humanity during the war are brought to justice, while at the same time preventing Islamist forces from using that process to their benefit. By bringing the war criminals to trial and punishing them to life imprisonment, they could have brought the tragic events to a just closure, but relying on the death penalty dampens the otherwise welcome process.

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Printable version | May 28, 2020 11:17:35 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/crime-and-penalty-in-bangladesh/article7912962.ece

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