A Deplorable Act by a Deplorable Government
By Abdullah al-Ahsan, Professor of History and Civilization — Malaysia
Prison authorities in Bangladesh have hurriedly carried out the execution of Abdul Qadir Mollah, an Assistant Secretary General of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami (BJI), following an equally swiftly conducted hearing by a full bench of the appellate division of the Supreme Court which upheld his death sentence.
The execution was carried out at 10:01 pm Thursday, Dec. 12. Earlier Mollah was arrested on Oct. 14, 2010 without any charges. Six cases were filed against him on Oct. 28, 2012; and later, on Feb. 5, 2013 he was given life imprisonment for crimes committed against humanity.
This was followed by demands for his death sentence by a small segment of population. The government responded by amending the constitution (ICT Act 2013) to facilitate the death sentence for Mollah and appealed against the life imprisonment on Sep. 17, 2013.
The government secured its desired verdict and immediately announced that he would be executed at 12:01 am Tuesday, Dec. 10. But, it was not much time that the government fell under huge international pressure.
Although the country’s Attorney General claimed that there was no scope for appeal in such cases, the Supreme Court Appellate division met under pressure. However, without much discussion, it upheld the earlier verdict and thus fulfilling the government’s desire. According to many lawyers this became a case of judicial murder.
Burying a Body or a Crime?
The authorities not only have carried out the execution in a bustle manner, they also have buried the dead body swiftly. According to one of the two sons of Mollah, some thugs belonging to the ruling party surrounded the family house in attempt to prevent them from joining the funeral. The thugs turned violent when the family members tried to get out, and at that stage the police intervened but only to arrest 16 members of his immediate family.
Within few hours Mollah was buried at his ancestral home several hours driving distance from where he was executed. His sons were not allowed to join the funeral prayer.
Why were the authorities in so much rush? There is no other explanation but to accept the popular view that this and all other such cases (there are a number of other cases currently being tried) are politically motivated. The government from the very beginning of these trials has ensured that no international observer is allowed into the court, although the whole process has been called “International War Crime Tribunal (ICT).”
In fact, the expression in our title “a deplorable act by a deplorable government” was originally used by the British international lawyer Toby Cadman for this trial. Cadman’s attempt to visit Bangladesh has been curbed by the government. The government also prevented Turkish lawmakers who tried to observe the trial process. The whole process is a sham.
The Government’s Interests
The government’s interests in ICT have been under discussion in many national and international forums. The story of a Skype conversation on the subject between the trial judge and a Europe-based lawyer has been exposed by the Economist (Dec 12, 2012) and a Bangladeshi daily. Also the story of a prosecution witness who decided to speak the truth and was abducted by plain-cloth police from the court is also quite well-known.
The witness was found in an Indian prison three months later. India’s role in Bangladeshi politics is very important subject for discussion: the current government seems to enjoy India’s total patronage.
What does the government want to achieve? Does the government want to take advantage of international media’s attention in South Africa to avoid immediate criticism? Many pundits have suggested this: Clearly the government’s desire is the total elimination of BJI from the political landscape of the country. This is because BIJ’s participation in all elections since the end of the dictatorial rule of President Ershad indicates that it holds the political balance in the country and its members can not be bought.
The authorities have already banned BJI from participating in the forthcoming election which is due within a month. And currently BJI is in coalition with the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Abdul Qadir Mollah’s execution seems to be a part of government’s design to ensure its continuation in power. The government hasIndia’s blessings in this design; this has been made public not only by pro-Indian think-tanks, but also by visiting Indian officials to Bangladesh.
On its part, India seems to enjoy US approval; the US ambassador has been visitingDelhi for consultation on Bangladeshi affairs. However, the US seems to hold the view that BJI and its supporters are not Islamist extremists and that preventing them from the political process would encourage extremism in the region. This seems to be a dilemma for both Bangladeshi and Indian governments.
Violence has already erupted in many places in the country following the execution of Mollah. But in the context of Bangladesh where political violence is common, particularly in the wake of an election, these acts might be considered negligible. BJI has called for protest marches throughout the country but has urged supporters to restrain from violence. In fact, Mollah himself is reported to have urged his sons and his lawyer on Dec. 10, the day he was scheduled to be executed, to convey the message to the outside world that his supporters and sympathizers should not get involved in violence. His lawyer has conveyed the message saying, “all his concern was about the Islamic Movement. All throughout the last meeting he was smiling like a normal person. But he wept several times only for the Movement and Movement only.”
However, it is difficult to predict how far BJI will succeed in containing violence.
Last Friday hundreds and thousands of people throughout the country attendedSalatul Janaza al-Ghaib (funeral prayer without the presence of the dead body) for Mollah and little violence was reported. However, in many cases violence in the past has erupted due to provocations by law enforcement agencies. The government has been citing the example of Egypt where the law enforcement agencies are blaming the Islamists for violence.
The government is also using the media to justify execution of Mollah by conducting interviews with those whose relatives were killed in 1971 without any reference to the way Mollah’s trial has been conducted. Many observers have also suggested that the government is looking for an excuse for declaring emergency. An emergency rule would enable the government to postpone the general elections which is due in a few weeks time.
International Community’s Response
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay had called for a stay of execution just three hours before the scheduled execution by an urgent press release. The UN High Commissioner urged the government not to carry out the execution of Molla because ICT “did not meet international standards for imposition of death penalty” (UN News Center, Dec 10, 2013).
This prompted other international leaders including John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, and the Turkish Prime Minister Erdugan to call the Bangladeshi prime minister to halt the execution.
All these efforts went in vein.
After the execution, Amnesty International (AI) issued a statement saying: “The execution of […] Mollah should never have happened.” Quoting one of its researchers, AI said: “The country is on a razor’s edge […] with pre-election tensions running high and almost non-stop street protests.”
It is noteworthy that the generally Islam-bashing Human-Rights’ agencies and the Islamophobic media too are very critical of the Bangladeshi authorities on this issue. This is because the government of Bangladesh has crossed all limits of civilized behavior and nobody, except perhaps India, wants to be part of this heinous act. Bangladehs’s Prime Minister Hasina has cited the example of Egypt in justifying her actions against Islamists such as Mollah and other opposition parties. She appears to argue that such actions are needed for the sake of democracy and security.
As for India, it has always camouflaged its hypocrisy behind its staged democracy. Its treatments of the people of Kashmir and Sikkim are blatant example of double standards. But Bangladesh does not seem to have mastered this “quality” and it has to conduct an election soon. That is why Bangladesh authorities have come under criticism by human rights agencies and the international press. However, it would be hard for the country to survive long with such behavior. The government is already in trouble with its own coalition partners on the mechanism of holding forthcoming election. The government may not last long.
Lessons from Mandela’ Legacy
When the world is engaged in saying the final farewell to Nelson Mandela, one wonders whether he would have a message on Abdul Qadir Mollah’s execution. After all, Mollah has been accused of collaborating with Pakistan in 1971 against the struggle for independence and self-determination of Bangladesh.
Mandela too championed similar cause.
In a statement on the occasion of Mandela’s death, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has declared Mandela a true Gandhian. Would Mandela or Gandhi have approved the kind of politics that India and the government of Bangladesh are playing?
Supporters and sympathizers of Mollah too should consider whether they have something to learn from Mandela’s legacy. No, Mandela’s struggle was not absolutely violence-free, but Mandela’s approval of violence was very limited. Mandela also was just one-term president of the country. Are the supporters and sympathizers going to set such an example?
Prof. Abdullah al-Ahsan is professor of History and Civilization at the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC), International Islamic University of Malaysia. His books and articles have been translated into Arabic, Bengali, Bosnian, Turkish and Urdu.