Bangladesh's parliament moves to ban Jamaat-e-Islami | Connect Asia

Bangladesh's parliament moves to ban Jamaat-e-Islami

Bangladesh's parliament moves to ban Jamaat-e-Islami

Updated 19 February 2013, 16:29 AEDT

The Bangladeshi parliament has amended the country's war crimes law, allowing the prosecution of the largest Islamic party - Jamaat-e-Islami.

The decision could see a ban on the party. Some of the party's leaders are on trial for war crimes allegedly committed in the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.

Tens of thousands of protestors on the streets of central Dhaka, demanding the ban, have welcomed the news. Meanwhile clashes between police and Jamaat-e-Islami supporters, have left at least one man dead.

Presenter: Liam Cochrane

Speaker: Dr. Ashutosh Misra, Research Fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security, at Griffith University in Queensland



MISRA: I think this is both because even today you will see that the memories of the 1971 war in which the Jamaat-e-Islami has been heavily involved in committing mass murders, rapes and abductions, still evokes a very strong response from the people in Bangladesh because of the nature of the heinous acts committed by JI and its operatives. But at the same time why I say both is because Bangladesh has been rocked by extremist violence in the last 15-20 years, and in fact in 2005 the country was rocked by 450 serious blasts in one single day in which 35 people were killed. And as a result even the pro-Islamist party officials, Bangladesh Nationalist Party of Khaleda Zia, she was even forced to wage a crackdown, such was the nature of the extremist violence. And that has continued ever since, and the extremist groups in Bangladesh have strong connections with groups in Pakistan and they have for over the years, have been patronaged from there as well. So as a result these groups have been posing a serious security threat to Bangladesh also, so I would say it is also to send a strong message to the Islamists in Bangladesh, but at the same time also trying to correct a historical wrong.
COCHRANE: I guess the assumption underlying that kind of action against the Jamaat-e-Islami Party is that a lot of those extremists are directly linked predominantly with that party. I mean is that the case or is that unfair to label the Jamaat-e-Islami Party as a sort of haven for extremists?
MISRA: It is, I mean most of these who have been arrested, for instance the former Jamaat-e-Islami chief Ghulam Azam was convicted, their former chief Moulana Matiur Rahman, he has been arrested. Now present chief Abdul Quader Molla he has been arrested, given a jail sentence, and apart from that a whole lot of officials, office bearers from Jamaat-e-Islami  Nazami Mohammad(?), Qamrusaman(?) then you had Niamira Atolnah Huzzain Sahiti(?), Mohammad Alias(?), I mean all these names they are all members of the Jamaat-e-Islami who are under arrest. And they have been arrested not yesterday, they were arrested in 2010 after the International Criminal Tribunal was established to investigate the war crimes in 1971. So this has been continuing for quite some time and Jamaat-e-Islami has been involved in undertaking these kinds of extremist activities in the last 15-20 years, so this is not new as far as JI is concerned. So JI today does represent the extremist bent of politics in Bangladesh, and because of its affiliation with a whole lot of other Jihadi groups which are there, like Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami Bangladesh, then you have Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh and then  Islami Chhatra Shibir which is JI's student wing. I mean JI has very strong connections with all these Islamic groups in Bangladesh, so it is fair to say that JI does represent a very extremist bent of political violence in Bangladesh.
COCHRANE: The other main opposition group, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party has also said that these trials are based on bogus charges, part of a wider political vendetta and has boycotted parliament. What's their role in this?
MISRA: Bangladesh Nationalist Party has been a long term ally of the Jamaat-e-Islami, we have to understand that. I mean in the 1990s when we saw Awami League led by the current Prime Minister, the current government, Awami League led by Sheikh Hasina, and then BNP leader Khaleda Zia, they have been involved in musical chairs in power because they're the two leading parties. Now BNP had a very strong affiliation with the Jamaat-e-Islami. That is why when BNP has said that these are all bogus charges and this is basically to neutralise and nullify JI, that is because it considers JI is a very strong affiliate of the BNP in the political process of Bangladesh.
COCHRANE: And I guess they also perhaps see the danger in having their own political party taken on as a party, rather than individuals?
MISRA: Absolutely, absolutely, that's why at the beginning of my interview I said that, that the nature of extremist violence in Bangladesh has become such that even Khaleda Zia who has been very closely connected with JI and its leaders, was forced to really crackdown following that serial blast in 2005. So BNP somewhere it does recognise the long term threats that these extremists pose. But at the same time there are political complications and maybe because of political expediency that BNP finds it very difficult to see the whole of JI being prescribed in the current move. So that is why it has been saying that this was a bogus move.
COCHRANE: There have been demonstrations on the streets of Dhaka. I mean what do you think the situation will be as far as the response from the supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami and the action on the street?
MISRA: If you look at Bangladesh in the last I would say ten years or so a very important element has emerged from the developments in Bangladesh politics. In the latest instance you see that the role of civil society is becoming stronger and stronger in the political process. We have seen over 100-thousand people who gathered at the Shahbag Square, included teachers, students and writers and artists and even the cricket team of Bangladesh, which shows that civil society is becoming extremely virulent in raising its voice against those threats which it considers inimical to Bangladesh's long term interests. So here we see the role of civil society which was not the case before that so much. So now you see that moment taking place. Second, in 2011in fact the 15th amendment bill was passed in Bangladesh by the current government which made Islam the state religion. Now it raised a lot of eyebrows in the secular constituency that it is a big blow to the secular credentials of Bangladesh. But the current move of our government shows that you can differentiate between religion and religious fanaticism. That you can have Islam as the state religion, but at the same time you can also rule with a heavy hand differentiating between religion and religious fanaticism. And third, if you've got a strong political will, which the current government has shown, not only in terms of dealing internally with the extremist violence, but also in terms of regionally, because it has waged a crackdown on lots of extremist leaders who have been seeking refuge from India into Bangladesh, and they have waged a crackdown on those elements as well. So it shows the political will of the Bangladeshi leaders and how it can make a difference, even you have  a predominantly Islamic and Muslim state.

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