bloggers of Shahbagh are facing a backlash – hunted by fundamentalists,
denounced in mosques as atheists, arrested by the government. Those abroad are
under threat. Meanwhile activists are still demanding justice and cyber
movements are using their mobilising power to deal with disasters.
The latest conviction and death sentence handed down by the ICT has already sparked further protests. As the state-sponsored clampdown on the press quickly grows to encompass anyone willing to speak out, what does this mean for demands for accountability?
The protests in Shahbagh errupted apparently spontaneously in response to the first verdict handed down by Bangladesh's domestic tribunal for war crimes committed during the war of independence in 1971. The primary demand? The death sentence.
Protests at Shahbag that
call for the death penalty for Abdul Quader Mollah have been hailed as a move
beyond 'partisan politics' in the spirit of the Arab Spring. Clear government
backing puts this, and the nature of the justice being meted out, in doubt.
The second verdict handed down by Bangladesh's war crimes tribunal is life imprisonment. Now a death sentence is being demanded in mass protests supported by the ruling regime, with calls for violence that extend into Bangladeshi society. Yet the guilty verdict itself may be a far cry from sound.
The Bangladeshi International War Crimes Tribunal quickly became a stage for political interference and intimidation. With elections approaching, escalating tactics threaten to condemn the entire pursuit for justice.
While criticism of the ICT is
important, its chief critics have dehistoricized the context in which this
trial is taking place, and expressed disdain in terms which position Bangladesh
as the under-developed, untrustworthy ‘Other’.
The arrest of a leading opposition figure in Bangladesh is a stark reminder that without due legal process, examining the wrongs of the past can quickly become an opportunity for political leverage in the present.
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