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In a mysterious stance, the Bangladesh Awami League (BAL)-led ruling alliance continues to forget its repeated promise to impose an “immediate” ban on Jamaat-e-Islami although the top brass of ruling BAL on different occasions had publicly threatened to do so.
Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), which has been on the receiving end of the war crimes tribunal. The tribunal has sentenced some of the party’s top leaders for crimes committed during the nation’s liberation war in 1971. The war crimes tribunal verdicts have also described Jamaat as a ‘criminal party’, prompting demands for putting the party on trial for war crimes and its banning.
Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, yet the most controversial political party of the country, is now in the throes of an existential crisis. It has been disqualified from contesting in elections by the country’s Supreme Court in August 2013, and its registration has been declared illegal, some of its top leaders have been sentenced to death and the rest of its leaders have gone into hiding to avoid arrest. All of these seem to have inflicted sever blow to this political party like before.
Under such a circumstance, it is not a big problem for the government to ban the Jamaat as the Election Commission (EC) has already cancelled its registration following a High Court order. What is important is to see whether the government is sincere to act accordingly.
So far, the government seems not be honestly and practically sincere to put any ban on the Jamaat right now due to shadowy reasons unknown to the countrymen as it could ban the Jamaat politics any time through an executive order or by enacting a law after the High Court (HC) had declared the Jamaat’s registration illegal. But, it seems that the ruling BAL is keeping Jamaat alive as a part of its political game.
More interestingly, a fresh amendment to the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act 1973 has reportedly been finalised by the law ministry but it is yet to be tabled in the cabinet meeting for getting its final nod even after four years elapsed.
However, Law Minister Anisul Huq on January 01, 2015 informed the parliament that the draft of International Crimes Tribunal Act Amendment has been submitted to the Cabinet Division in a bid to ban the Jamaat and its associate bodies. “The bill will be placed in the parliament upon the approval of the cabinet whenever the government decides,” Anisul added.
Later on, Minister for Liberation War Affairs AKM Mozammel Haque had said that a bill imposing a ban on the politics of Jamaat-e-Islami would be placed in the coming budget session of the Jatiya Sangsad (Parliament) that began on June 1, 2016.
But, the trial process of Jamaat is yet to be started till date as the draft of International Crimes Tribunal Act could not be amendment, it is learnt.
Jamaat top brass hanged
Six opposition leaders have now been executed for war crimes since the Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, set up a war crimes tribunal in 2010. Five were top leaders of the Jamaat party. The International Crimes Tribunal have so far sentenced around 25 people to death and more than 18 to jail for varying terms on charge of genocide and crimes against humanity. In 2013, the convictions of Jamaat officials for war crimes triggered the country’s deadliest violence in decades. About 500 people were killed, mainly in clashes between Islamists and police, and thousands were arrested.
Motiur Rahman Nizami, the leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, was hanged at a prison in the capital, Dhaka, in May, 2016 Just days after the nation’s highest court dismissed his final appeal to overturn the death sentence for atrocities committed during the country’s 1971 war of independence with Pakistan.
Lastly, Mir Quasem Ali, a leader and financial backer of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, was sentenced to death in 2014 for offences including murder and torture during the war with Pakistan. The tycoon, 63, was hanged in September 2016 at a high-security prison outside Dhaka. He declined to seek a presidential pardon, which would have required an admission of guilt. At his trial, Mir Quasem Ali was accused of involvement in a “reign of terror” in the city of Chittagong. He was found guilty of eight of the 14 charges he faced.
These execution raised fears of a fresh wave of violence in the majority Sunni Muslim country, which is reeling after a string of killings of secular and liberal activists and religious minorities by suspected Islamist militants. In 2013, the convictions of Jamaat officials for war crimes triggered the country’s deadliest violence in decades. About 500 people were killed, mainly in clashes between Islamists and police, and thousands were arrested.
War Crimes Investigators seek Jamaat ban
War crimes investigators have also recommended banning the Jamaat-e-Islami and six organisations that were associated with it back in 1971, as they have found the involvement of these anti-liberation bodies in grievous crimes committed during the Liberation War.
Officials of the war crimes probe agency also recommended confiscating the assets of these organisations.
The six organisations were Islami Chhatra Sangha (ICS), Jamaat’s then student wing, Shanti Committee, Razakar Bahini, Al-Badr Bahini, Al-Shams Bahini and the Jamaat’s mouthpiece daily Sangram.
Of the six, Shanti (Peace) Committee, Razakar, Al-Badr and Al-Shams are inoperative now. The ICS was renamed as Islami Chhatra Shibir in 1977, while Sangram continues to be a Jamaat mouthpiece, documents say.
Law to ban Jamaat-e-Islami
Bangladesh’s Parliament on February 18, 2013 also amended a law to allow the prosecution of the country’s largest Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami for war crimes, in a move that could pave the way to it being banned.
News of the move was greeted by loud cheers from thousands of protesters in central Dhaka who have been demanding a ban on Jamaat, whose leaders are on trial for war crimes allegedly committed in the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.
The then Law minister Shafique Ahmed told AFP that under the new law “any organisation including Jamaat can be prosecuted” by a special court for war crimes and if found guilty “it can be banned” from politics. Previously only individuals could be prosecuted for war crimes.
“It’s one step towards banning Jamaat,” the then deputy law minister Qamrul Islam told AFP.
The move comes after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had earlier indicated that she would back a ban on Jamaat, whose members are suspected in the murder of an anti-Islamist blogger, as it had “no right to be in politics in free Bangladesh”.
‘Law ministry has nothing to do with Jamaat ban’
“Noting that the case for banning Jamaat is now pending with the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, Law,” Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Anisul Huq on June 2, 2015 told parliament that his ministry has nothing do with it.
Replying to a supplementary question from Tarikat Federation chairman Syed Nazibul Bashar Maizvandary MP, the minister suggested him to move the Appellate Division for the quick hearing in the case filed by Tarikat Federation.
Tariqat Federation secretary general Rezaul Haque Chandpuri and 24 others filed the writ petition on January 25, 2009 seeking that Jamaat be disqualified as a political party because its charter, which acknowledges the absolute power of Allah, violates the constitution.
Is Jamaat still a card in the game of politics?
Although the government could ban the Jamaat politics any time through an executive order or by enacting a law, the ruling BAL has long been using Jamaat as a card in its game of politics.
According to political analysts, the government is not at all sincere in its efforts to ban politics of the Jamaat-e-Islami as it seems that the Awami League-led coalition uses the Jamaat-e-Islami as a ploy instead of banning it to keep the major opposition Bangladesh Nationalist party (BNP) under pressure just for having its strategic political as well as electoral ties with the Jamaat.
Jamaat is a part of the BNP-led 20-party Alliance, the government is always locked in a blame game. Every now and then they hold the BNP and the Jamaat responsible.
Referring to the High Court ruling on Jamaat, a BNP leader said the party was barred from fielding candidates. “I ask the government, why are you hesitating now?” he asked.
Some political analysts feel that the ban on Jamaat will consolidate the hardliners’ vote behind the BNP, thereby helping the Opposition grab power in Dhaka. But the point is not who stands to gain in the poll. The larger issue is Bangladesh’s continuous battle to preserve its democratic and secular spirit, the founding principle upon which the country broke away from Pakistan in 1971. Through its political practices Jamaat has tried to radicalize a largely secular country with moral and material help from patrons in Pakistan and other Islamic countries. The party is at odds with the country’s history. Still, the question remains: Can a democracy stamp out an ideology by banning it, rather than engaging it politically and testing its strength in the electoral arena?
(Shakhawat Hossain is Dhaka-based freelance Journalist and political commentator)