Subscribe to South Asia Citizens Wire | feeds from sacw.net | @sacw
Home > General > Bangladesh: Islamists run riot in Dhaka (selected press reports 5-6 May (...)

Bangladesh: Islamists run riot in Dhaka (selected press reports 5-6 May 2013) [updated on 7 May 2013]

by sacw.net, 7 May 2013

print version of this article print version

=========================================
Bangladesh: Islamists Run Riot in Dhaka - selected press reports & commentary 5-6 May 2013 [with some updates from 7th May 2013]
=========================================

  1. 36 dead is Bangladesh street violence
  2. Hefajat Strikes Horror
  3. 13-point demand - Hefajat cuts off capital from country
  4. Three dead in Dhaka as Bangladeshi Islamists protest for blasphemy law
  5. 3 killed as Paltan turns battlefield - Police open fire to control situation
  6. Hifazat men burn CPB office
  7. Women fear to leave their homes
  8. Behind the rise of Bangladesh’s Hifazat
  9. Old wine in new bottle
  10. Let calm heads prevail [7 May 2013]
  11. Hefajat’s barbarity - Shocking and condemnable [7 May 2013]
  12. Hefajat mayhem points to govt’s politicking gone awry [7 May 2013]

1. news24.com - 6 May 2013

36 dead is Bangladesh street violence

Dhaka - Bangladeshi police broke up a protest by tens of thousands of religious hardliners and shut down Islamist television stations on Monday, after 36 people died in some of the fiercest street violence for decades.
http://www.news24.com/World/News/36-dead-is-Bangladesh-street-violence-20130506

o o o

2.

The Daily Star, May 06, 2013

Hefajat Strikes Horror
Part of downtown Dhaka set ablaze; offices, shops burnt, looted; 3 dead

Star Report

Islamic books, perfumes, prayer beads and mats were not spared during the violence centring on the Hefajat-e-Islam rally yesterday afternoon. The photo shows stalls and pushcarts that sell these things at the south gate of Baitul Mukarram mosque in flames. Photo: Amran Hossain

Islamic books, perfumes, prayer beads and mats were not spared during the violence centring on the Hefajat-e-Islam rally yesterday afternoon. The photo shows stalls and pushcarts that sell these things at the south gate of Baitul Mukarram mosque in flames. Photo: Amran Hossain

Bangladesh has seldom experienced brute violence of this scale. Several parts in downtown Dhaka now resemble a burned-out and looted zone.
Thousands of radical Hefajat-e Islam men, instigated and bolstered by Jamaat-Shibir activists, exploded into an awe-striking force and set fire to hundreds of shops and police outposts as the evening descended.
Dhaka’s night skyline turned orange, as flames leaped from burning establishments after power supply was cut off. The Hefajat men forced into a parking lot at Dilkusha area and torched at least 50 government buses.
The affected areas were rocked with loud explosion of bombs thrown by Hefajat and Jamaat men, while police rained thousands of teargas shells and rubber bullets on the marauding Islamists.
As police and Hefajat men fought in the streets — from Paltan to Bangabandhu Avenue, and from Motijheel to Bailey Road — at least three people were killed in the violence.
A few thousand shops, including jewellery, electronics and furniture shops, were looted at Paltan, Baitul Mokkaram and stadium markets.
Hefajat had earlier promised to hold a non-violent rally at Shapla Chattar to protest what they called anti-religion write-ups by “atheist bloggers” and press home its 13-point charter of demands, including a blasphemy law.
But it eventually took a nasty turn after police tried to block a procession of Shibir men at Nayapaltan around 11:30am.
The clash there soon spread to Bangabandhu Avenue, as Shibir and Hefajat men tried to attack the Awami League office there around 1:30pm.
Dhaka last night resembled a strike-torn city like Lebanon.
Violence broke out in the Paltan area and the office of deputy Commissioner (traffic) was set ablaze.
The government issued a stern warning to the Hefajat men that they leave the capital immediately or face drastic action. But the zealots ignored it and vowed to stay put.
As their programme to lay siege to the Dhaka city was over, the Hefajat men started marching toward Motijheel for attending the rally.
Thousands of men in white robes with sticks converged in Motijheel by the afternoon.
CITY TURNS BATTLEGROUND
Large sections of the capital, including Purana Paltan, Baitul Mukarram, Bijoynagar, Dainik Bangla intersection, Bangabandhu Avenue and Motijheel turned into a battle ground during the mayhem that began in the morning.
Two of the deceased were identified as Siddiqur Rahman, 28, a worker of Hanif Paribahan and Mohammad Nahid, 21, employee of a shop in Baitul Mukarram area.
The identity of the other victim could not be known.
Hefajat men vandalised over 150 vehicles in the city, including at least 50 buses of the public administration ministry and set fire to 30 of those at Rajuk Avenue.
Besides, they also set 100 shops and business establishments on fire in Bijoynagar and Paltan areas, and looted shops in Baitul Mukarram mosque complex last evening.
They also set fire to the deputy commissioner’s (Traffic-east) office, showroom of Ideal products and office of Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB), smashed windows of most of the offices on both sides of the roads from Dainik Bangla intersection to Janata Bank intersection.

o o o

3.

The Daily Star, May 05, 2013

13-point demand
Hefajat cuts off capital from country
Armed with sticks, hundreds block Dhaka’s entry points

Star Online Report

Thousands of activists and supporters of Hefajat-e Islam gather near Buriganga Bridge-1 to block the entry point Sunday morning as part of its Dhaka siege programme. Photo: Firoz Ahmed

Thousands of activists and supporters of Hefajat-e Islam gather near Buriganga Bridge-1 Sunday morning to block the entry point as part of its Dhaka siege programme. Photo: Firoz Ahmed

The capital city has been virtually cut off from the rest of the country as the leaders and activists of Hefajat-e Islam took position in all the entry points of Dhaka since Sunday morning to press home its 13-point demand.

Thousands of leaders and activists of Hefajat, the Qawmi madrasa-based Islamist group, took to the streets at Amin Bazar, Abdullahpur, Demra, Jatrabari, Kanchpur, Postogola and Babubazar bridges braving rain and brandishing sticks to make their Dhaka siege programme a success.

The organisation has recently been campaigning to realise its 13-point demand that includes stern punishment to “atheist leaders” of the Shahbagh movement.

Meanwhile, Mufti Fayezullah, joint secretary general of Hefajat, told The Daily Star over phone that they will hold a rally in front of the north gate of Baitul Mukarram National Mosque in the capital in the afternoon.

The decision on whether they will continue the siege programme will be taken from the rally, said several Hefajat leaders and activists from the siege venues.

At all the entry points of the capital, the Hefajat men took part in the demonstration after Fazr prayers wielding national flags, reported our correspondents covering the event.

They are also seen chanting slogans demanding capital punishment to the “atheist bloggers” holding different types of banners and festoons in support of their demands.

On queries, Mehedi Hasan, a teacher of Talora Qawmi Madrasa in Dupchachiya of Bogra told our correspondent that they brought the national flags to dismiss common people’s belief that they have a liaison with anti-liberation forces.

Law enforcers put up barricades in all the entry points to resist them from entering the city. They were also seen asking Hefajat supporters to stay off them through loudspeakers.

At several points in the city, the Hefajat activists were seen to divert vehicles to materialise their siege programme.

Our correspondents also reported that the Hefajat leaders were using trucks as their podiums and supporters had flocked around them to raise slogans.

AMIN BAZAR

Hundreds of Hefajat leaders and activists took position on 1-kilometer area stretching from Hemayetpur to Amin Bazar after Fazr prayers.

Their numbers swelled to a few thousand as the day progressed.

They continued their demonstration even when rain deluged the city in the morning.

Divided into several groups, the Hefajat men were seen holding rallies and chanting slogans in support of their siege programme.

POSTAGOLA

In Babu Bazar bridge, several thousand Hefajat men throng around 6:00am.

Later, the spill over stretched on nearly 1-km area.

Law enforcers put barbed wires in the Dhaka edge of the bridge to resist the activists from entering the capital.

KERANIGANJ

Several thousand Hefajat activists also took position on Buriganga bridge no. 2 stretching on nearly 1-km area from Kadamtali to Nayabazar in Dhaka.

At first a procession from the Lalbagh Shahi Mosque in Dhaka reached the venue, then the bridge and its adjacent areas turned into a human sea with the presence of the Hefajat men.

They were seen chanting slogans -Ekta Kora Nastik Dhar, Jobai Kor, Jobai Kor (catch atheists one after another and slaughter them).

o o o

4.

The Times of India

Three dead in Dhaka as Bangladeshi Islamists protest for blasphemy law

AFP | May 5, 2013, 08.52 PM IST

DHAKA: Hundreds of thousands of hardline Islamists demanding a new blasphemy law blocked highways and fought running battles with police, leaving three people dead in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka on Sunday, police said.

Chanting "Allahu Akbar!" ("God is greatest!") and "One point, One demand: Atheists must be hanged", activists from Hefajat-e-Islam marched along at least six highways, blocking transport between Dhaka and other cities and towns.

Police officials told AFP, that about 200,000 people had marched to central Dhaka, where fierce clashes erupted between thousands of rock-throwing protesters and security officials.

"At least 100,000 protesters" blocked the road at Tongi town, which connects Dhaka with the northern region, local police chief Ismail Hossain told AFP.

Witnesses said rioting broke out after police tried to intercept stick-wielding protesters, most travelling from remote villages, in front of the country’s largest mosque. Trouble then spread to central districts of Dhaka.

"This government does not have faith in Allah. This is an atheist government; we will not allow them to live in Bangladesh. Muslims are brothers, we must protect Islam," one protester, filmed by AFP, was seen chanting.

Live television footage showed police firing from armoured vehicles at protesters, who in retaliation went on the rampage, torching vehicles and shops, attacking government offices and beating policemen with sticks.

Dozens of small bombs exploded, leaving smoke hanging in the air around the mosque.

"At least three were killed, including one who was shot," police inspector Mozammel Haq told AFP, adding that almost 100 more had been injured.

A senior police officer who declined to be named told AFP that, between "150,000 and 200,000 demonstrators" marched to Motijheel, Dhaka’s main commercial district, where they rallied until 7pm (1300 GMT).

Deputy commissioner of Dhaka police, Sheikh Nazmul Alam, said police fired rubber bullets to disperse unruly demonstrators.

The protest has been staged while the country is still recovering from its worst industrial disaster, which saw at least 620 people killed, when a factory building collapsed just outside the capital on April 24.

Hefajat, a newly created radical Islamist group, is demanding the death penalty for all those who defame Islam.

It said it staged the mass protest to push a 13-point list of demands, which also include a ban on men and women mixing freely together and the restoration of pledges to Allah in the constitution.

Hefajat leaders have threatened to launch a campaign to oust the government unless their demands are met.

Marchers blocked highways at Jatrabari and Demra, cutting the city off from the northeast and southeast, including from the main port of Chittagong.

They also blocked roads and bridges in Kadamtali and Hasnabad, severing Dhaka’s road links with the south.

The rally was the latest in a series of mass actions by Hefajat, unusual in Bangladesh because of the large numbers of people taking part.

Last month, activists organised a general strike as well as a gathering of hundreds of thousands of activists demanding a blasphemy law, in what experts said was the country’s largest political rally in decades.

Critics have branded Hefajat’s demands a charter for turning Bangladesh into a country like the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

Women workers including female garment labourers have vented their anger at the group’s call to segregate the sexes.

Hefajat also wants Islamic education to be made mandatory in primary and secondary schools, and restrictions on Christian missionaries.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who has been leading a secular government in the Muslim-majority country since 2009, has rejected the demand for a blasphemy law.

Hasina’s ruling Awami League party has accused Hefajat, which draws support from the country’s tens of thousands of Islamic seminaries, of being a pawn of the opposition, which lent moral support to Sunday’s blockade.

Hardline Islamist groups accuse Hasina’s government of trying to intimidate the opposition through a series of trials for war crimes allegedly committed during the 1971 war of independence.

Three Islamists have so far been convicted and two of them were sentenced to death. At least 96 people have been killed during protests over the trials since January this year.

o o o

5.

The Daily Star, May 05, 2013

3 killed as Paltan turns battlefield
Police open fire to control situation; 80 hurt, journalists assaulted; 13 vehicles torched and vandalised

Star Online Report

Three Hefajat-e Islami supporters try to save themselves from violence as they and two other children take refuge in the gap of a hawker shop on a footpath. Violence erupted during a clash between Islamists and law enforcers killing 3 people in Paltan area in the capital on Sunday. Photo: STAR

Three people were killed and 80 injured as activists of Hefajat-e Islam and Islami Chhatra Shibir clashed with police at the city’s Paltan on Sunday.

The clash, which started shortly before the beginning of Hefajat’s rally in Motijheel, was continuing when the report was filed around 5:00pm.

A traffic constable sustained severe burn injuries when Hefajat men set fire to a police box in Bijoynagar. The activists also beat up a constable mercilessly getting him alone at a lane near Paltan intersection.

The Hefajat men also assaulted photojournalists during the clash.

One of the deceased was identified as Victim Siddiqur Rahman, 28, a helper of Hanif Paribahan. The identity of the rest was not available instantly.

The entire Paltan, Baitul Mukarram, Bijoynagar, Dainik Bangla intersection, Bangabandhu Avenue and its adjacent areas turned into a battle ground as the leaders and activists of Hefajat fought pitched battles with law enforcers since Sunday morning.

During the clash, the activists of Hefajat and Shibir, student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, blasted several hundred homemade cocktails.

The sounds of a number of gunshots were heard during the clash that was continuing when this report was filed around 4:30pm.

The death was the sequel to a clash that erupted around 11:30am immediately after a crude bomb was exploded in Paltan.

The clash spread to Bangabandhu Avenue around 2:30pm when several thousand activists of Hefajat along with Shibir men swooped on the roadside shops in front of the ruling Awami League’s central office.

As the Awami League men and police tried to resist the marauding activists, they attacked the party office.

At one stage, police fired bullets from shotguns and Siddiqur sustained severe bullet injuries.

Critically injured Siddiqur was rushed to Dhaka Medical College and Hospital (DMCH) where duty doctors declared him dead.

Police later in the evening recovered two bodies at Dainik Bangla and GPO intersections. Police said one of them was bullet-hit while the other was beaten to death.

At least 45 people, most of them hit by rubber bullet, were admitted to the DMCH.

The Hefajat men also assaulted several lens men including Mohammad Nasir Uddin of Mohana Television, when they were taking photos of their vandalism.

More than 2,000 rounds of teargas canisters and rubber bullets were fired during the clashes.

The marauding Hefajat men torched six vehicles including a police vehicle in Dainik Bangla intersection and Baitul Mukarram National Mosque premises.

They also set fire to the deputy commissioner’s (Traffic) office in Shantinagar.

Seven to eight buses were also vandalised near High Court building and Bangabazar area.

The activists also vandalised several roadside shops in the battling areas and set fire on roads collecting the stuff of the shops.

The clash ensued when several hundred Hefajat men were trying to go towards Gonojagoron Mancha in the capital’s Shahbagh intersection defying police barbed wires at Dainik Bangla intersection and Baitul Mukarram area, said Sheikh Maruf Hasan, deputy commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (Ramna Division).

Facing police resistance, the Hefajat men engaged in scuffle with law enforcers.

In the meantime, a homemade bomb was exploded near Paltan intersection, prompting the clash, the deputy commissioner said.

Later, several thousand Hefajat men along with Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir joined the clashing men, the police official said.

As soon as the Jamaat-Shibir men joined the marauding Hefajat men, Paltan, Baitul Mukarram, Dainik Bangla intersection, Bangabandhu Avenue and stadium areas turned into a battle ground, he added.

During the clashes, police fired more than 2,000 gunshots and rubber bullets and lobbed a number of teargas canisters to disperse the agitating activists.

In retaliation, the leaders and activists hurled brick chips on law enforcers.

The agitating activists dispersed the scene immediately after the police action.

Later, divided into several groups they scattered at different adjacent parts of the city and clashed with police.

The lens men were injured when the Hefajat men attacked them while they were taking the snapshots of Hefajat men who were vandalising barbed wires of the road divider near the Baitul Mukarram mosque.

Meanwhile, at least 10 people were injured when the activists of Hefajat and the ruling Awami League clashed at the south entrance of the national mosque.

o o o

6.

Hifazat men burn CPB office
Staff Correspondent, bdnews24.com | Published: 2013-05-05
http://bdnews24.com/bangladesh/2013/05/05/hifazat-men-burn-cpb-office

o o o

7.

Dhaka Tribune - 6 May 2013

Women fear to leave their homes

by Udisa Islam

Maliha was on the way to her office in Baridhara on her scooter yesterday, as on any other day. In front of the IDB Bhaban in Agargaon, a rally of about 30 Hefazat-e-Islam supporters waylaid her, and asked her why she was riding a scooter, Maliha told the Dhaka Tribune.

“Women should not do what Islam does not allow,” they said, before attacking her and her vehicle. Some local youths came to her rescue, but the Hefazat men damaged her scooter.

At noon yesterday, scores of Hefazat-e-Islam supporters, shouting slogans in support of their 13-point demand, were seen going to Motijheel to attend the rally. At the same time, three college girls were on their way to a coaching centre. But when they saw the Islamists, they got scared and hid themselves in an underpass near Monipur.

During Hefazat’s Dhaka-siege programme yesterday, many women chose to stay at home out of fear, while those who had to go out for work faced harassment, witnesses said.

At a previous rally on April 6, Hefazat supporters not only prevented women from entering the meeting area, they also assaulted several women journalists who went to cover the event.

Women’s rights groups, meanwhile, have called for a grand rally on Thursday to protest against Hefazat-e-Islam’s position on women. Hefazat’s demands include prohibiting the free mixing of men and women in society.

Some senior women activists told the Dhaka Tribune that Hefazat-e-Islamintends to push women back to the Middle Ages.

“Women always work hard and they have made equal efforts to move Bangladesh forward. What Hefazat-e-Islam does is offensive and unacceptable. We are in the field. If they think we are afraid of their threat, they are wrong,” Ayesha Khanom, president of Bangladesh Mohila Porishad said.

Activist Shipra Bosh did not believe that women were scared at all.

“Everybody is watching what is going on. Millions of women are working in the garment industry. Girls are doing better than boys in schools. If the demands of Hefazat-e-Islam are to be met, it will stall the development of half the nation,” Shipra said.

Rahela, a garment worker, could not go to work yesterday because of a Hefazat rally at Shewrapara. It cost her a day’s wage.

“If we stay at home, who will feed our families? Five members of my family are dependent on my job. They (Hefazat) have to know, the people of Bangladesh are sincere about Islam, like politics,” Rahela said.

o o o

8.

AlJazeera - 6 May 2013

Behind the rise of Bangladesh’s Hifazat
Group that triggered deadly protests has surprised many with its rise to prominence.

by Toufique Imrose Khalidi

Last Modified: 06 May 2013 17:00

Hifazat-e-Islam activists demand an anti-blasphemy law punishing people who insult Islam [AP]

Dhaka, Bangladesh - Founded only a few years ago, Bangladesh’s Hifazat-e Islam ["Protectorate of Islam"] has recently been thrust onto the centre-stage of national politics by an extraordinary set of circumstances.

Unlike other outfits that operate here in the capital, Dhaka, the Hifazat group is headquartered in the port city of Chittagong, where hundreds of madrassahs draw tens of thousands of young Muslims for schooling. Many of these madrassahs teach only Islam, using Arabic as the medium of instruction.

The Hifazat’s leaders and activists, who take strict views on religion, are almost wholly drawn from these schools. Ahmad Shafi, the 93-year-old supreme leader of the Hifazat, is also the chairman of the Bangladesh Qaumi Madrassah Education Board that oversees all such schools across the country.

Born in Rangunia in Chittagong district, Shafi was educated in two madrassahs before he went to Deoband in India for higher Islamic studies. He returned to teach at the Hat-hazari madrassah, where he had once studied, and later became its rector. He describes the Hifazat as not political, saying that its goals are "purely religious".
Tensions in Bangladesh go beyond religion

Shafi appears averse to public speeches. He was present at a party rally in Dhaka on April 6 that drew nearly 200,000 people, but did not speak himself. Instead, his statement was read out by one of the younger leaders. On May 5, he skipped another Hifazat rally in Dhaka completely.

List of demands

Shafi’s goal is clear: he wants a Bangladesh run totally on Islamist precepts, and an end to the secularism that has long been one of the declared principles of the country.

The birth of Hifazat was triggered by the 2009 Women Development Policy draft, which gave women equal rights by inheritance. In the face of fierce protests by groups such as Hifazat, the parliament later passed a watered-down draft just giving greater rights to women on acquired property.

Among the 13 demands put forth by the Hifazat is a ban on the public mixing of the sexes.

"A ban on the public mixing of sexes and such other demands would put women back behind the veil," says Kazi Shahrin Huq, a journalist working in Dhaka. Many of her female colleagues were attacked during Hifazat’s April 6 rally. Leading women’s rights groups have condemned the Hifazat as "anti-women", and plan to organise a rally on May 9.

Hifazat’s resurgence in recent months is, at least in part, a backlash against a campaign launched by youth activists and bloggers who are demanding capital punishment for alleged war criminals involved in Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence against Pakistan. Tribunals set up to try alleged war criminals began in 2010 and are ongoing.

As part of the bloggers’ campaign, tens of thousands of Bangladeshi men and women began congregating at Dhaka’s Shahbagh square , calling for a more secular society, and the death penalty for religious leaders and others allegedly involved in widespread killing and rape during the war.

Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh’s largest religious-political outfit, has been in a tight spot since the war crimes trials began. One verdict handed down by the tribunal said the organisation itself, and not just its leaders, was party to the crimes against humanity committed during the 1971 war. Meanwhile, the party controls only two seats in Bangladesh’s 300-member parliament. With a ban on the party a real possibility, some suspect Hifazat’s rise came about because Jamaat-e-Islami needed another outlet to do its bidding.

"The Jamaat was on the defensive, its leaders in docks for war crimes and for supporting Pakistan," says a spokesperson for the Shahbagh Square movement. "A new Islamist force was needed and up came the Hifazat."
Bangladesh police raid Hifazat office

The Shahbagh activists have alleged that Hifazat has been financed by Jamaat-e-Islami. "They are out there to save the Jamaat-e-Islami, to thwart the war crimes trials, to push the same fundamentalist agenda," says the spokesperson.

Meanwhile, the country’s information minister, Hasanul Haq Inu, describes Hifazat as a "shadow" of Jamaat-e-Islami. Last week, the left-wing minister, who was also a guerrilla leader during the war, was scathing in his description of Hifazat: "It is a fundamentalist force, it is anti-democratic, it is anti-women, it is against everything Bangladesh stands for."

Baffling tie-up

Shafi belongs to a band of Islamists that did not always toe the Jamaat line during Bangladesh’s liberation war. Many in the Deobandi school of thought backed a united India and rejected the partition that created Pakistan in 1947. Their fraternity with Jamaat therefore baffles many historians.

But Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and opposition leader Khaleda Zia both appear to be cosying up to Shafi and trying to cultivate the Hifazat. Hasina, who allowed a team of pro-Hifazat officials to see her at her home ahead of the group’s April 6 rally, says her government has already met some of the Hifazat’s 13 demands.

Police arrested four bloggers whom the Hifazat described as "atheists", and there is now a home ministry committee that scans remarks considered to be anti-Islamic. The prime minister, accordingly, has drawn a lot of flak from secular groups.

Zia and the 18-party alliance she heads supported the Hifazat’s Dhaka blockade on Sunday, which led to considerable violence in the capital and the town of Narayanganj. Two policemen and a border guard were among the 14 people so far acknowledged as having died during the violence.

Shafi’s son-in-law is head of Islami Okyo Jote (IOJ), which is part of the Zia’s opposition alliance. Shafi himself uses the IOJ headquarters in Old Dhaka.

In his latest public speech, in the northern city of Bogra on April 29, Shafi sought to deliver a no-nonsense message: "Anyone wishing to retain or regain power must meet the 13 demands." And to Sheikh Hasina, he was even more specific: "You must leave the company of the atheists."

Critics of the Hifazat, such as Dhaka University Vice Chancellor AASM Arefin Siddique, say Hifazat is anti-democratic.

"Hifazat-e Islam campaigning against democratic forces in the name of religion is acceptable in no way," Siddique said. "They’re trying to impose their own opinion on others."

Toufique Imrose Khalidi is the editor-in-chief of Bdnews24.com .

o o o

9.

bdnews24.com

Old wine in new bottle

Moinul Hoque Chowdhury, Senior Correspondent

Published: 2013-05-06 04:25:07.0 Updated: 2013-05-06 06:30:17.0

Hifazat-e Islam’s Dhaka blockade is a demonstration of the muscle power of religion-driven politics, but under a non-political banner in a year when parliament elections are due, political analysts say.

The radical Islamist organisation enforced the Dhaka blockade within a month of its successful ’Long March’.

Political analysts say several small religious parties, which had earlier failed to draw public attention, have now come together under the Hifazat’s banner .

The Chittagong-based Hifazat, an organisation of madrasa teachers and students, held a huge rally in Dhaka on Apr 6, from where its leaders raised a 13-point charter of demands.

Political scientist Harun-or-Rashid, told bdnews24.com: “Hifazat is in no way devoid of politics. Check the background of its leaders and you will find they were involved in politics.”

“Now they (the parties) are trying to draw the people by playing up bringing religious passions through madrasa and mosque-based campaign,” Rashid said.

Professor Harun, now the Vice Chancellor of the National University, described Hifazat’s apparent new non-political look ‘a disguise’.

“There is no doubt that Hifazat is a communal force now displaying their muscle power in politics by questioning the foundation of the secular state. They have emerged alongside the Jamaat-Shibir and other older likeminded forces but with a new look.”

He believes Hifazat will emerge as the ‘new version’ of Jamaat-e Islami and its student affiliate Chhatra Shibir if the Jamaat-Shibir combine is banned.

Prof Harun said: “Leaders and activists of several organisations like Islami Oikya Jote, Khelafat Majlish, Jamiat-e Ulemae Islam and Nejame Islam joined Hifazat in disguise. Their fund sources are the same. Their 13-point charter of demands doesn’t include trial of the war criminals. It exposes their intention.”

“Hifazat’s tendency to create chaos and use violence indicates the organisation will try to emerge politically in future.”

Hifazat claims it has no political agenda and or any link with Jamaat and Shibir.

But senior BNP leaders were present at Hifazat’s Apr 6 rally and Chairperson Khaleda Zia supported their Dhaka blockade. Jatiya Party, a component of the Awami League-led ruling Grand Alliance, also expressed solidarity with the Hifazat at the rally.

Senior journalist Mozammel Hossain Manju says electoral players, specially the BNP-led 18-Party alliance, are trying to ’take advantage of the Hifazat rise.”

Dhaka University Vice Chancellor AASM Arefin Siddique said: “Hifazat-e Islam campaign against the democratic forces in the name of religion is acceptable in no way. They’re trying to impose their own opinion on others.”

He said Hifazat has not emerged suddenly this year. “The organisation has links with many likeminded political parties. Their main target is to obstruct the trials of the war criminals. They have links with Jamaat-Shibir has been evident.”

With the Jamaat routed in the last elections and now with its top leadership implicated in the war crimes trials, there might be a void for religion-driven politics, a void that the Hifazat is trying to fill .

o o o

[Updates from 7 May 2013]

10.

Dhaka Tribune - 6 May 2013 at 17:26

Let calm heads prevail
Tribune Editorial
Hefazat has done itself no favours with its violence and incendiary rhetoric against the government

Initially, the government’s handling of Hefazat-e-Islam’s Dhaka siege had been admirably restrained. The police had been given instructions to not lose their heads, and even the Chhatra League only entered the fray after the AL party office had come under attack by Hefazat protesters.

It could be argued that it would have been wiser for the government to have given permission for Hefazat’s rally in the capital earlier, and thus been able to plan for it better. But, all things considered, the way in which they addressed Hefazat’s stated goal to blockade Dhaka and cut it off from the rest of the country was a model of restraint and prudence.

Indeed, many have argued that the government should have taken a firmer stand and should have come down on Hefazat with an iron fist. We are however cognizant of the pressures that they have been under and are appreciative of the wisdom inherent in trying to defuse the situation with careful and cautious handling.

However, it now seems as though that initial caution is likely to be abandoned. Hefazat has done itself no favours with its violence and incendiary rhetoric against the government and announcement that it will not be moved from the streets until its 13-point charter of demands is accepted. This was an open provocation to the government, and it seems clear that Hefazat is bent on provoking a confrontation.

While it is important for the government to project strength and to not be cowed by Hefazat, and ultimately to do everything in its power to both protect the general public and to not give in to political blackmail, we only urge that it continue to exercise caution and restraint.

It is a tough balance to keep and we do not envy the government its responsibility. We only caution that, as it does its job of maintaining law and order, that it keep in mind that precipitous or disproportionate action will only throw further fuel on the fire.

o o o

11.

The Daily Star, 7 May 2013

Editorial
Hefajat’s barbarity
Shocking and condemnable

THE wanton violence and destruction perpetrated by Hefajat-e-Islam on Sunday and Monday defies logic and description. We wonder what measure of madness can overcome a group of people who, in the name of ventilating their demands, can go berserk and indulge in senseless destruction of public and private property. They behaved as if they were in an enemy territory. We condemn this in the strongest possible terms.

Nearly a hundred government and private vehicles were put on fire, and hundreds of shops in an around the Shapla Chattar area suffered the same fate at their hands. Whose property were they burning? Whose livelihood were they destroying? By creating mayhem, by destroying public and private assets, by turning a part of the capital into a battle-zone, Hefajat has blatantly violated its democratic right, and for which, we feel, it owes an apology to the nation.

We respect Hefajat’s right to hold its own views on different socio-political-religious issues, with which we of course do not agree, but that does not give it the right to resort to setting public and private property on fire or to resort to criminal activities as a means to have their demands met by the government.

No political party or socio-political group has the right to hold the people to ransom to coerce an elected government to meet its demand. We have seen their demands ventilated on 5 April of this year and we see no reason why that programme should have been replicated a month later, and that too topped up in violence. If it is the 13 point demands that Hefajat wants the government to implement than the PM has articulated the government’s point of view in this regard. And if there are any disagreements on that, the only civilised norm would have been to engage the government without threatening to bring it down or giving ultimatums for dire consequences.

We are constrained to say that instead of showing respect to Islam and upholding its image, which the group claims is its intention, its gratuitous exploitation of the religion has not only denigrated it but have also cast the group as one that adheres to violence rather than peace which is the they very fundamental of Islam.

o o o

12.

The New Age - 7 May 2013

EDITORIAL

Hefajat mayhem points to govt’s politicking gone awry

THE operation early Monday by several thousand armed-to-the-teeth members of the police, the Rapid Action Battalion and the paramilitary Border Guards Bangladesh, to disperse tens of thousands of largely stick-wielding Hefajat-ul-Islam activists, who had dug themselves in at Motijheel for a rally at Shapla Chattar, as part of their ‘siege Dhaka’ programme, to press home their 13-point demand, on Sunday, has given rise to a number of disquieting questions. Indeed, the ground for a stringent law enforcement operation was created by a section of the agitators, who had run a pitched battle with the police and also activists of the ruling Awami League and its front organisations, and vandalised public property, which resulted in the death of at least four persons and injury to scores of people, in the process touching off widespread panic. Indeed, the Hefajat leaders and activists exceeded the time limit set by the Dhaka Metropolitan Police when sanction permission for their rally. Indeed, the presence of so many agitators at the heart of the city posed the threat of a further breakdown in law and order. Yet, the employment of force by the Awami League-led government seems to have been disproportionate. It was, as if, the incumbents had waged a war on mostly unarmed citizens.
Moreover, the timing of the operation was questionable, to say the least. Given that the operation was successful, at least insofar as dispersion of the Hefajat agitators was concerned, there are legitimate reasons to ask the government why it had not ordered adequate mobilisation of law enforcement and security forces earlier; after all, had it done so, it could have pre-empted the loss of life and limb, and the damage to public property. Besides, came as it did at the dead of the night, amidst relatively less intense attention of the media, the operation was bound to trigger suspicion that the law enforcers might have been willing, if not ordered, to carry out a carnage. Notably, speculations run rife across society that the number of people killed during the operation may have been in the hundreds, not 10 as has been reported thus far. Worse still, without citing any specific reason, the government forced two private television channels—one tied to the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, and the other to its principal ally Jamaat-e-Islami—off the air from early Monday, thereby intensifying speculation that something may have gone terribly amiss during the operation. Overall, the operation and the subsequent government action could indicate that the tyrannical tendencies of the incumbents have gone into an overdrive.
Here, it is pertinent to note that the emergence of Hefajat-ul-Islam as a formidable force has largely been the government’s own making. While their demands are antithetic to the core principles of democracy and have been rejected as such by the rights-conscious and democratically-oriented sections of society and the media, the incumbents have largely given indulgence to the religion-based organisation, with key functionaries of the government, including none other than the prime minister herself, having publicly termed most of its demands reasonable. Such indulgence may have been part of their strategy to pitch Hefajat against Jamaat as a countervailing factor in the electoral equation and, at the same time, deflect public attention from the movement waged by the BNP-led opposition for constitutional restoration of an election-time caretaker government. The developments on Sunday and early Monday seem to suggest that such a strategy may have not only deepened the prevailing political uncertainty but also added a fearsome ingredient to the political cauldron.
The incumbents need to realise that such cheap politicking could push the country to the brink, obviating any possibility of a peaceful and negotiated resolution to the political impasse. Hence, they need to try in earnest to bring the opposition across the table for a dialogue and arrive at a consensus on the nature and composition of the election-time government.

P.S.

all the above materials from The Daily Star, The Times of India, news24.com, Aljazeera, bdnews24.com, The New Age and Dhaka Tribune are are reproduced here for educational and non commercial use