Bangladesh’s 41st Independence Celebrations: A Marred Anniversary

41 years after the declaration of independence, Bangladesh is still failing to seek justice


Last Monday, 26th March 2012, marked the 41st anniversary of the Bangladesh’s declaration of independence from Pakistan in 1971. The country’s Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina of the ruling Awami League (AL), publicly celebrated the nation’s most anticipated anniversary in Dhaka with much fanfare. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world in Washington DC, the prestigious National Press Club invited Dr Mohammad Nakibur Rahman, the son of the incarcerated Bangladeshi opposition leader, Matiur Rahman Nizami, and International Criminal Lawyer representing the opposition, Toby Cadman, to discuss one of the less savoury manifestations of the war memory today—the controversial International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) of Bangladesh.

On the pretext of war crimes allegations, the AL government in Bangladesh has rounded up the leadership of the most significant opposition parties, detaining them in a manner that has been characterized by the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Dententions as arbitrary and in breach of international law. These opposition leaders face the death penalty if found guilty by the ICT. Between growing criticism from proponents at the shortfalls and incompetence of the prosecution to ever increasing opposition from the international community at the questionable legal framework of the ICT and political opposition at the partisan bias it displays, the tribunal has come under mounting pressure. The way the Bangladeshi government has been conducting itself and the ICT over the past two years since its establishment has caused concern from all sides that justice will not be done.

Opposition leader’s son speaks out

The Washington press conference Dr Rahman expressed his grave concern that his father’s life was in danger as consequence of the persecution he is being subject to and the tribunal’s seeking the death penalty for those accused. He then proceeded to describe his father, as he has known him, as singularly humble, of gentle temperament and kind-hearted, stating that he had seen his father spend “sleepless nights worrying about other peoples’ welfare.”

Rahman noted that before 2008, there had never been any charge of illegal activity against his father, and that his exemplary public record had been impeccable. This changed with the ascent of the AL to government in 2008. The opposition leader suddenly began to be accused by the government of blasphemy, sedition, and finally, war crimes, all for reasons of “government vengeance”. Eventually, his 70 year old father was arrested, detained indefinitely, and subjected to torture. Rahman’s family have not been spared persecution either—he states that his mother and sister are routinely harassed when visiting his father, forced to wait long hours, and at times denied visitation altogether. His youngest brother, a 22 year old studying abroad, was denied the renewal of his Bangladeshi passport to return home by the regime and remains “stateless,” stranded abroad for several months. Rahman closed his remarks by asking people to seek out the truth about 1971 based on facts beyond the hearsay based propaganda currently in vogue.

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