Sayeedi Death Sentence Sparks Bloody Bangladesh Riots

Sam Hargadine, ContributorLast Modified: 11:50 a.m. DST, 15 March 2013

Awami Police Kicking Protester in Bangladesh, Photo by Protibadi Musafir

DHAKA, Bangladesh - Reconciliation can be decades long affair; thus 42 years later, Bangladesh is still exercising the ghosts of its War of Liberation.

The ‘International Crimes Tribunal’ is currently trying men accused of atrocities during the 1971 war with Pakistan. Then known as East Pakistan, Bangladesh played host to one of the bloodiest wars of the 20th century.

The tribunal in actuality is a domestic court and due to the weak nature of judicial institutions in Bangladesh, its rulings lack a sense of legitimacy. Due to this legitimacy gap, the sentencing of death to Delwar Hossain Sayeedi sparked the worst violent demonstrations in the country since the war.

Mr. Sayeedi is a leader of Bangladesh’s largest Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami. During the war, this group fought on the side of Pakistan and committed brutal murders against pro-independence Bengali citizens, particularly those of minority religious groups.

Over 100 people have died since the tribunal started handing down verdicts in February. Human rights groups allege that on the day of Mr. Sayeedi’s sentencing state military forces shot dead at least 23 protestors. Violence has begat violence all over the capital region. Northwest of Dhaka, the capital, over 10,000 Jamaat supports attacked police stations with sticks and homemade bombs.

Bangladesh is a largely secular Muslim majority nation. Jamaat-e-Islami, once a viable Islamist opposition political party, is degenerating into an insurgent movement. Young Jamaat sympathizers are attacking minority Hindu temples and homes in the chaos of recent days.

While the goal of the court is reconciliation for decades old crimes, this aim is defeated by the tribunal’s sham image. Transcripts of Skype conversations between judges suggest collusion. After the court was reconstituted due to a resignation, none of the three judges heard the full range of evidence presented by both sides.

What was once an attempt to bring closure has devolved into a clamp down on Jamaat-e-Islami as a party. Indeed, it makes for an easy scapegoat given its leaders’ wartime history and Islamism; however the conflict is dividing the country down the middle.

Most foreign diplomats in Bangladesh are staying out of the crisis. The United States is hampered due to its association with Pakistan during the war. Saudi Arabia stays mum along with China. And any overt meddling on the part of India or Pakistan would largely antagonize the other. This is indeed an internal Bengali matter; however, terrible crimes are being adjudicated without proper due process. Nobody is winning.

GRAPHIC PHOTOS taken by Protibadi Musafir in March 2013 documenting the brutal crackdown by police on the protesters are pictured below. CAUTION - most of the photos are graphic and some depict deceased victims.