Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, the widely respected waaz mahfil orator and septagenarian leader ofJamaat-e-Islami was handed a death sentence yesterday. This post is an observation on the immediate aftermath, upon which there is much to reflect. The significance of the accused, the verdict and its impacts across the country will be analysed in forthcoming articles.
Sayeedi’s trial in particular, was not short of drama. News of his condemnation had been expected for some time, however judgement was postponed after leaks revealed Judge Nizamul Haque discussing when and not whether a guilty verdict against Sayeedi could be passed with long-time death penalty campaigner Ahmed Ziauddin. The case has seen the defence team harassed, a defence witness Shokronjon Bali apparently abducted and the aforementioned judge resign in disgrace. Yet, in spite of these events, trials have continued as if nothing happened, marking a new low point in the history of the country’s judiciary.
Any verdict would have been controversial in light of the Shahbag spectacle. There, execution campaigners have been dancing in celebration on the streets, accompanied by police. Contrast this to the treatment meted out to those angered at the decisions. Jamaat followers and religious people inspired by Sayeedi’s words have been prevented from protesting, been shot, killed and injured by the police firing live ammunition. In the government clampdown on protests and resistance by Jamaat and others around 92 people, police and protesters included, are believed to have lost their lives. We mourn all loss of life, injury and damage to property.
Reporting and attributions of violence from Bangladesh are difficult to take at face value given the current climate of fear and the corporate media’s vendetta against and tendency to frame Islamists. For example, last week’s police firings on multi-organisational nationwide Jumma protests against a few Shahbag writers, in which four people were killed and many injured, was transformed by some into a story of Jamaat violence against journalists. The social media account was embellished with the ‘heinous crime’ of prayer mat arson. An alternative reports suggest 25 journalists were injured by police firing.
As far as law and order institutions are concerned, the recent video footage of the beating and shooting of a Bangladeshi youth at point blank range in the head does little to inspire confidence in the police. Shibir on the other hand, have a cloud of suspicion above their heads which is not entirely undeserved, and risk being locked into a desperate and dangerous battle for survival.
The international press seems confused and conflicted at the image of an Islamist being punished in the same breath as a shrill mob of secular liberal progressives demanding executions. They routinely omit the fact that this trial is mired in controversy, corruption and intrigue. The BBC is a major offender, with just a throw-away line at the end of its report that the trial has attracted an avalanche of criticism from human rights campaigners. However, legal professional and human rights bodies continue to probe deeper. At the time of writing, the International Commission of Jurists have come out condemning the decision and the trial.
In general, the media blames the post-verdict violence squarely on Jamaat, with The Chicago Tribune and Transcom Group’s The Daily Star going so as far as to suggest that Jamaatis have torched Hindu temples and properties in Begumganj, Noakhali. Whether this serious allegation is true, a case of political cross-dressing, or simply a hasty insinuation is unclear as reliable investigative reporting is elusive at present.
Complexity, complicity and perplexity aside, yesterday’s verdict heralds testing times for Bangladesh. Far from healing festering wounds or ending impunity, as tribunal marketers pitched, these trials have inflicted new wounds, reconstituted impunity and alloyed it with an intolerant mob mentality.