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“Down, down Sheikh Hasina!” chanted a crowd unanimously on April 13th in one of the busiest corners of the world, Times Square. Thousands of New Yorkers, from all cultures and backgrounds, united to spread the word and prevent the dark cloud of an imminent civil war in Bangladesh. Protests are nothing new to Times Square. Because of the attention that Times Square gets, it’s a perfect location to get the word around about social injustice and humanitarian crises. This was proven when the people poured out and cried out to save Bangladesh. The rally, which went for about five blocks, demanded the end of government crackdown on dissenters and opponents that have left a great many dead and injured.
While the majority of the rally’s participants were of Bangladeshi origin, many religious and community leaders from various organizations joined in to speak of the deadly situation in Bangladesh. They were very adamant that we, as humans and as Muslims, cannot and will not allow this injustice and suffering to continue. The audience roared out in agreement as one leader spoke about the biased kangaroo court leading the war crimes tribunal. He spoke what was on everyone’s minds: the war crimes tribunal was tainted by outside influences and any verdict made by them was by no means fair. Another speaker explained the restrictions on free press and the onslaught of violence on journalists who were not giving in to the pressure to sensationalize news the way government-supported journalists were. The few journalists with integrity are currently jailed and protestors demanded the release of these men and women, particularly the editor of Amar Desh, Mahmudur Rahman.
The rally became even more heated when Shahana Masum, another community leader, spoke passionately against the torture and imprisonment of women all over Bangladesh. Her sentiment about the treatment of both young and elderly women alike by the Bangladeshi police was met with teary eyes and angry shouts to bring an end to this travesty.
As Muslims, it is our duty to help our fellow brothers and sisters that are in need. In and around Bangladesh, there are millions crying for help. The Hindu minority has been used and abused as part of the government’s agenda to demolish their opposition. The protestors collectively agreed that these minority groups need to be protected from people who will exploit and violate them.
And let’s not forget about the most forgotten people in the world! The Biharis and the Rohingyas are unwanted and struggling to exist daily. The refugees are unwanted in both the places they are from and in the places they are seeking asylum. The Biharis have existed as stateless residents of Bangladesh since the 1971 war, with no acknowledgement or justice in sight for the violence inflicted on them by Bengalis during the war; the tainted war crimes tribunal has disregarded their suffering. The Rohingyas fleeing targeted death and destruction in Burma have been rejected by the Bangladesh authorities for asylum. The Time Square rally was addressed by a Rohingya representative to raise awareness of their pain and the inhumane rejection they have suffered.
The 8-point resolution given was simple and agreed upon by the crowd:
- Cease crackdown on peaceful rallies in Bangladesh.
- Stop the intimidation campaign against independent journalists and opposition politicians
- Release all the journalists who are in jails immediately, particularly Mr. Mahmudur Rahman, editor of the daily newspaper, Amar Desh.
- Disband the present war crimes tribunal which in fact is a kangaroo court
- Establish a truly independent international tribunal against war crimes to provide justice for both Bengali and Bihari victims and to punish perpetrators from all sides
- Vacate the death penalty given to opposition leaders and Islamic scholars by the kangaroo court
- Set up a truth and reconciliation commission so that the great nation of Bangladesh can start the healing process and then move forward
- Form an independent commission to investigate the murder and arson that took place in the last few months including against Bangladeshi Hindus and the peaceful protesters, and prosecute the perpetrators including those belonging to the law enforcement agencies
The people also called for the involvement of the Obama administration in demanding the Bangladeshi government follow the rule of law and appoint an unbiased and genuine international war crimes tribunal, the way it was done for the people of Bosnia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone. True justice must be rendered to all the victims.
Meanwhile, Abdul Azeez Bhuiyan asked the participants to call Ms. Marie Orler at 212-963-1293 and tell her “not to recruit Police from Bangladesh on Peacekeeping forces who are terrorizing their own citizens in Bangladesh”.
The current situation in Bangladesh is another crack in the heart of a broken nation. Over 40 years ago, a nation emerged and now deep-rooted corruption is set to destroy the country that was founded on the blood of martyrs. The people who are calling for the hangings of the war crimes tribunal defendants, or their brand of “justice”, forget to speak of a very dark side of today’s repressive Bangladesh. Opposition members are put through police brutality each day, families are torn apart by death, businesses looted and vandalized. They refuse to criticise a “democratic” government that cracks down on any media outlet that publishes the other side of the story.
Corruption, deceit and lies have seeped into every crack of the Bangladeshi government. It is sadly the innocent civilians that have to deal with the repercussions of being under a crooked government. It will be a long healing process, but the Bangladeshi people are known to triumph over injustice. They made and saved Bangladesh in 1971, they can do it again.
Sharmin Hoque is from Queens, New York, and is a student at Long Island University.
Source: The Khichuri