- Posted February 7, 2013 by
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The Spirit of '71 Rises at Shahbag Square in Dhaka
- sarahbrowngb, CNN iReport producer
The protest against the verdict of war criminal in Dhaka has crawled into its third consecutive day with thousands of people's participation.
Bloggers and Online Activists' Network first gathered at Shahbag square demanding capital punishment of Jamaat-e-Islami Assistant Secretary General Abdul Quader Mollah shortly after the International Tribunal-2 sentenced him to lifetime imprisonment for crimes against humanity in Liberation War 1971. The activists, along with many more people from blogs and social networking sites, have rejected the verdict and started protesting it since Tuesday afternoon at one of the city's busiest intersection, Shahbag square.
As the news of this sit-in spread through social media, thousands of more people have joined the protest demanding death sentence for Abdul Quader Mollah and every war
The third day of the sit-in protest started with the demonstrators singing national anthem at 8 in the morning. As more and more people were gathering Shahbag square with the same demand, there were slogans, placards and banners at the hands of the protesters.
"For four decades, we have remained quiet with the hope that one day these war criminals will be sentenced to death. We cannot accept their lifetime imprisonment," said Shoaib, a student of Dhaka University, who has been there since the first day of this protest. “We will not leave until Quader Mollah is sentenced to death.”
Shahbag square is full of people from all classes, gender, religion and profession. There are students from schools, colleges, universities and medical colleges; teachers from different institutes as well as general people of all age and profession. They have gathered at Shahbag square for one single demand, “Hang the war criminals until death.” Rumana Ahmed, a medical college student at her final years said, “I'm not at all interested in politics. But I know what happened in Bangladesh back in 1971. I know what the war criminals did to us. We can't just let them live. Be it in prison or wherever. They have to die.”
“If a murder's verdict is death sentence, then how can a person involved in over 300 murders can be sentenced to lifetime imprisonment instead of death sentence,” asks another student pointint at Quader Mollah.
Cricketers, musicians, performers and many other people with no involvement in politics have also appeared at Shahbag protest and expressed their concern. Bangladesh National Cricket Team is reported to join the protest at Shahbag on Saturday, according to an announcer at the main stage of Shahbag.
In addition to demanding capital punishment for Quader Mollah and every war criminal, people are also demanding a permanent ban on religious politics in Bangladesh specifying Jamaat-e-Islami, of which many leaders are accused to be war criminals.
The party, however, have rejected the verdict demanding that Quader Mollah be freed from all accusations. Earlier, the party had called countrywide dawn-to-dusk general strike on the day verdict was delivered. Because the verdict went against their leader, they called for a second consecutive general strike on Wednesday. But that didn't stop thousands of people from gathering at Shahbag square.
Even rickshaw pullers from surrounding areas showed their support for this protest as they carried many passengers from nearby areas to Shahbagh for free. Online news agency banglanews24 reported that many rickshaw pullers declined to take any money from passengers who came to protest the verdict. “This shows that a simple rickshaw puller has patriotism and hate for war criminals in his heart,” commented many people who had to insist the rickshaw pullers to take money.
Some organizations have arranged for a mass signature on white paper. Many people were seen writing down their messages and demands along with their signatures in a really long white paper.
Journalists and cameramen from different medias have also set up temporary newsroom and cameras to provide live coverage from time-to-time. Media journalists were also seen dressed with the national flag-themed dress-up.
Many people on the Internet has began naming the area as “Projanmo Chottor” which means generation square in English. The reason behind that is the demonstration has been started by youths and since then is being throttling forward by mostly the youths. Freedom fighters who appeared at Shahbag square said that they had the same spirit in 1971 when they were youths. “It's all possible if youths come forward. And today, they have.”
A public WiFi has also been set up at Shahbag square with SSID "Projanmo Chottor" giving people access to high speed Internet for providing live coverage of the event on the Internet.
SUPPORT FROM AUTHORITIES
The government officials have said that they will file an appeal to this verdict within the 30-day deadline, but have remained quiet about the ongoing protest at Shahbag square. Many believe that the government silently supports this protest as some politicians from the ruling party Awami League have appeared and showed their support to this protest.
Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu told a local news agency bdnews24, “I am a freedom fighter. Quader Mollah was sentenced to death in the mock trials in te Jahanara Imam-led Gonoadalot (Court of the People) only 500 yard from here.” He was referring to Shahbag square protest as being the court of the people.
Hundreds of law enforcers have been deployed to secure the area. The Dhaka City Corporation has arranged mobile toilets and water tanks with drinking water for public service. Traffic has been rerouted to other areas to keep the traffic running as smooth as possible.
The organizers of the protest has announced this evening that a grand rally will be held on Friday at 3 pm. They invited people from all profession of all age to participate in the grand rally and make it a success. They, however, have asked not to bring any political banners.
The protest has been spread across the country with many more sit-in demonstrations at different cities in Bangladesh. But Shahbag's protest is the one that was initiated by bloggers and online activists and since then has grown to be a huge human sea attracting people from all levels. It is still not sure when they are going to clear the area as all of them seem vowed not to move an inch until Quader Mollah is sentenced to death.
ANOTHER TAHRIR SQUARE?
Some bloggers have been commenting that this can be another Tahrir Square although the people gathered at Tahrir Square were against the government but the people here have gone against the verdict and are demanding nothing but death for war criminals. “Tahrir Square is an inspiration. A proof that it is possible if all people want. The cause for the protest is not necessarily the same. But we can inspire the nation that we can do this,” wrote a blogger on Somewhere..in Blog.
However, not everyone agrees with this. “This isn't a Tahrir Square. This is the Dhaka Medical College premises from 1952's language movement,” said Blogger Alam Chowdhury. “We don't need to draw examples from other countries. We have our own.”
Local news agencies have reported that the government, in addition to preparing to appeal the verdict, is looking at laws to see if there is any possible way to ban religion-based politics. Meanwhile, as the day is coming to an end, the number of people at “Generation Square” is growing at a surprising rate as the demonstration is crawling into its fourth day amid youth with the spirit of 1971's Liberation War.