Asian Centre for Human Rights

Dedicated to promotion and protection of human rights in Asia

[The weekly commentary and analysis of the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) on human rights and governance issues]

Embargoed for 23 November 2005
Review: 100/05

In its extraordinary meeting on 21 November 2005, the Bangladesh Judicial Service Association (BJSA) decided that no judge would work as a vacation judge to another district during the vacations in December 2005 for security reasons. It also decided that unless the government exempts the judges from paying taxes on their private vehicles and firearms, they would stay absent from the courts for an indefinite period and take leave en masse from 1 January 2006. The decisions were taken following the killing of two judges by Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) in Jhalakathi on 14 November 2005.

Terrorism Jamati style: blast at a Bangla New Year's Fair in Dhaka in 2001

Since the August 17th bombing, the judges have come under serious attacks from the Jihadis. Between 17 August and 20 November 2005, four persons including two senior assistant judges Sohel Ahmed of Sadar Upazila Court and judge Jagannath Parey of Nalchhiti Upazila Court were killed in the direct attacks on the judges; six other judges and lawyers - Joint Assistant Judge Abu Sufian, Laxmipur, First Sub-Judge Dipen Dewan, Chandpur, Advocate Kazi Mozammel Hossain, Chandpur, Second Joint District Session Judge Dilzer Hossain, Chittagong, Metropolitan Magistrate MM Akram Hossain, Chittagong and Sylhet divisional speedy trial tribunal judge, Biplob Goswami were attacked; and 10 judges including Abdus Samad, judge of the Khulna divisional speedy trial tribunal, First Joint District Judge Shamsul Islam, Chittagong, Senior Assistant Judge Kazi Abdul Hannan, Chittagong, Judge Mafizul Islam of the Money Loan Court, Pabna, District and sessions judge in Gopalganj, Iktedar Ahmed, a judge in southeastern Cox’s Bazar district, Judge Kuddus Zaman in Barisal district, Abu Sufian, Joint District Judge of Laxmipur, senior Assistant Judge of Jhalakathi MA Awal and Senior Assistant Judge Umme Kulsum of Chittagong received death threats.

In the post Taleban period in Afghanistan, no other country has been affected by the Taleban inspired Jihadi movement more than Bangladesh. There has been an alarming rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the country since then President Zia-Ur Rahman allowed the return of Pakistani collaborator and leader of the Jammat-e-Islam, Golam Azam in 1978. When Bangladesh National Party formed electoral alliance with Jamaat-e-Islami and Islami Oikya Jote in October 2001 general elections, the return of the Jamaats in the mainstream politics took the full circle. The Islamic fundamentalist groups who were hitherto identified as “Rajakars” or Pakistani collaborators have since become the rulers of the country.

Since the Bangladesh National Party (BNP)-Jamaat-e-Islami and Islami Oikya Jote came to power in 2001, there have been systematic attacks on opposition leaders, progressive intellectuals, NGOs and journalists by the Jihadis. The murderous attack on one of Bangladesh's most liberal writers, Professor Humayun Azad in front of the Bangla Academy in Ramna, Dhaka on 27 February 2004, the bomb attack on British High Commissioner to Bangladesh Anwar Choudhury on 21 May 2004 at Hazrat Shahjalal Shrine in Sylhet, the bombing of the BRAC office at Porsha upazila of Naogaon district on 15 February 2005 are testimonies to the systematic attacks by the Jihadis. Yet, the attacks on the Hindu minorities following the October 2001 elections, the attack on Sheikh Hasina, leader of the opposition at a rally on 21 August 2004 and the assassination of former Finance Minister AMS Kirbia on 27 January 2005 have been dismissed as political attacks or worst, handiwork of neighbouring countries.

After a series of coordinated blasts of at least 459 time bombs in 63 of total 64 districts across the country on 17 August 2005 that killed 2 persons and injured more than 100, it was no longer possible for Bangladesh to brush aside Islamic fundamentalism in the country.

The key Jihadi groups are Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami (HuJI), Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB) and Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).  The cadres are drawn from about 64,000 Madrasas, Islamic Chatra Shibir and over 100,000 Rohingyaa refugees, many of whom live on the lands forcibly appropriated from indigenous Jumma peoples. However, the links of these Jihadi groups with the over ground Islamic fundamentalist organisations, Jamaat-e-Islami and Islami Oikya Jote and some charitable organisations from Middle East have been an open secret. Investigations in the August 17th bombings have revealed the role of the Jammats beyond any reasonable doubt. A number of arrested members of the Jihadi groups reportedly confessed to having close ties with Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh.

Yet, it is unlikely that any action would be taken against the Jammat-e-Islami and other fundamentalist groups who remain indispensable in Bangladeshi electoral politics. During the last parliamentary elections in 2001, BNP received 40.97 per cent of the votes against 40.13 per cent received by the Awami League. But, the BNP’s landslide victory was ensured because of the alliance with the fundamentalists.

Because of the indispensability of the Jamaats, the response of the BNP-led government of Bangladesh has been to address growing international criticisms rather than confronting the fundamentalists. Not surprisingly, the fear of the judges despite the government taking some visible security measures is palpable. Judges in Bangladesh have no other option but to live under the shadow of the Jihadis because of the alliance between the BNP and the Jamaats.

The recent attacks on the judges in Bangladesh are symptoms of the level of penetration made by offshoots of the Taleban. Given the power the fundamentalists share in the present administration, extreme poverty and flourishing Madrasas with direct State support, Bangladesh will never be a secular country that the country’s first constitution envisaged. However the conflict between the moderate Muslims and the Jihadis will bleed the country.

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