See our special coverage of Bangladesh's #Shahbag Protests
Protesters calling for war criminals in Bangladesh to be put to death are pushing back after Islamists staging violent counter-protests accused the movement of being atheist and anti-Muslim.
Clashes between Bangladesh police and supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, the country's largest Islamist political party, making a stand against the popular Shahbag movement left four people dead and nearly 1,000 others injured, including 14 journalists, on February 22, 2013.
Rallies at mosques around the country, organized by Jamaat and 12 other like-minded Islamic parties angry over alleged insults to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (Sm) on blogs and Facebook from Shahbag supporters, turned violent. Protesters reportedly vandalized the Shaheed Minar, a structure in remembrance of martyrs for the Bengali language movement, in Sylhet, burned the national flag in Chandpur, and assaulted police and other Muslims during the tumult.
The secretary general for Jamaat, Abdul Quader Mollah, was sentenced to life in prison by an International Crimes Tribunal judge on February 5, 2013 for crimes committed during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, in which an estimated 200,000 to 3 million people were killed by the Pakistani army with the help of local political and religious militia groups in Bangladesh.
The short-of-death sentence sparked protests in Shahbag square in Bangladesh capital Dhaka the same day, calling for those who perpetrated mass murder, rape, arson, and other crimes against humanity during the war to be hanged. The movement quickly spread throughout the country, supported by the local blogging community and a variety of political, cultural, and student organizations.
But the Islamist resistance to the movement has religious tensions rising in Bangladesh, where 89 percent of the population is Muslim.
Shahbag supporters beat off the accusations of atheism and blasphemy online.
On Facebook, Nijhoom Majumder republished a famous photo that captured the moment when refugees from East Pakistan poured into India by the millions during the Bangladesh Liberation War as a reminder of the terrible history and why the protests should continue:
আমার মা'কে, আমার বাবাকে, আমার বোনকে, আমার ভাইকে এত তীব্র কষ্ট যারা দিয়েছিলো তাদের বিচার চাইতে গেলেই আমি নাস্তিক? তাদের বিচার চাইতে গেলেই আমি আওয়ামীলীগের দালাল? বিচার চাইতে গেলেই কি আমাকে এইসব অসভ্য প্রোপাগান্ডার মুখে পড়তে হবে?
Former Jahangirnagar University student and Facebook user Saikat Shuvro Aich [bn] posted his reaction on the destruction of the Shaheed Minar and the burning of the national flag:
BNP is a “nationalist” party! But they supported the degradation of the two supreme icons of our nationalist feelings: the Shaheed Minar and our national flag. They strongly supported the hartal (strike) called by the people who committed this acts. They went silent when the Shahbagh movement started and then started making confusing comments. Sometime they talk about saluting the movement, then they said they are not supporting the movement and they will be countering this with their own gonotontro moncho (democracy stage) along with the people who degraded our flag and the Shaheed Minar!
I have heard the term political bankruptcy from childhood. Now seeing BNP, i understand the term. There’s no question of consideration for those who oppose seventy-one (liberation war). Ta Ta, BNP, bye bye.
Shashanka Baran Roy [bn] wrote on Facebook that he is optimistic about the movement:
They burned our national flag and destroyed the Shaheed Minar. This fight is from the soul of every person of this country except the Rajakars Al-Badrs. There is no option except victory.
Blogger, activist, and Facebook user Bijoy Majumder [bn], published:
What is the relation between the demand for hanging of atheist blogger’s and the burning of Shaheed Minar and the National Flag?
People living in and outside the country are waging battles for and against the Shahbag movement on Twitter. Tarek Fatah (@TarekFatah) tweeted:
Shahed Haq (@BrotherShahed) tweeted about Ghulam Azam, one of the people accused of the war crimes:
In reply to the tweet, Pinaki (@pim863) wrote:
Ishtiaq Opal (@opal_snaps) tweeted that Jamaat, despite its claims, does not support Islam or Bangladesh:
Twitter user Iftekhar Chowdhury (@iftekhat_chy) had this to say:
“Bangladesh Fan” (@BAN_FAN) wrote:
Anu Likhon (@anulikhon) tweeted a note to Jamat:
The Internet was not only host to pro- and anti-Shahbag commentary. Supporters of the Islamic counterprotests even hacked the website of leading English newspaper The Daily Star, and Shahbag-supporting hackers broke into the website of the Bangladesh Islami Student Shibir. Bangladesh Telecom Regulatory Commission (BTRC) has until now blocked 12 blogs and Facebook pages [bn] administered by Jamaat-Shibir supporters on charges of inciting hatred and violence.
Jamaat leaders are not the only ones to face prosecution. A couple of leaders of the main opposition party Bangladesh Nationalist Party and one leader of the ruling party Awami League also stand accused of genocide, rape, arson and crimes during the country's liberation from Pakistan in 1971.
Dr. Imran H. Sarker, convener of the Bloggers and Online Activists Network [bn], which organized the original Shahbag protests, detailed the six main demands of the movement in a speech on February 21 [bn]:
1. All involved in the murders of Shaheed Rajib Haider, Jafar Munshi, Bahadur Miah, Kishor Russel Mahmud have to be arrested within 7 days.
2. To ban the participation of anti-independence, terrorist group Jamaat-Shibir in politics, form charges and start legal action against Jamaat-E-Islami according to the amended law.
3. The economic institutions which finance the terrorist activities of the group have to be identified and brought within the confines of the law by creating an independent investigation commission.
4. To ensure the speed and endurance of the trial of the war criminals the International Criminal Tribunal has to be institionalized.
5. To ensure the safety of the general people and to stop the violence and terrorist activities of Jamaat-Shibir, law enforcing agencies have to take special steps to arrest the criminals, retrieve illegal arms and expose hideouts. The true face of this group has to be unmasked to the national and international media.
6. Take immediate steps against the mass-media which have incited murder and communal feelings to protect the war criminals.
Shahbag supporters say they will continue with their movement until their demand for capital punishment is met.