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    Posted February 12, 2013 by
    Arlington, Texas

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    We're with you, Shahbag


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     RafiulAlam told me, ' though the main goal of this gathering was to put up a demonstration to show support to the cause at the on-going Shahbag movement at Bangladesh, however, at the end it turned out to be a mere showcase that yes, we support the cause and with equal fury, and demand the highest penalty of the war criminals for their crimes committed against humanity in 1971 Bangladesh War of Independence.' Background here.
    - hhanks, CNN iReport producer

    Dateline February the 5th, 2013. Midday, Dhaka, Bangladesh — the ICT, International Crimes Tribunal is about to declare the verdict of known and convicted war criminal of 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh, Quader Mollah, against his five separate court cases on about 344 counts of murder, coupled with rape, torture and slaughter. Now the Tribunal already had given their verdict against one Abul Kalam Azad - another convicted war criminal, and they awarded him death penalty even with lesser accusations then those from this Mollah: so it’s obvious what this guy is going to have. I bet people weren’t even thinking about it at that point.


    But then there comes the twist in the story. Quader Mollah is not given the death penalty, rather he is quite sort of “released” with a life-time in prison. And according to current laws there, this life-time would end up shrinking to as low as only 23 years - and given his political affluence and networks, maybe he’d get out in what - 5 years?


    344 murders. Aiding in rape and torture. Beheading the whole family of a revolutionary poet, and then leaving the heads hanging with a ceiling fan. And yet enjoying all the freedom, and worse - political power - in a free and independent Bangladesh for 42 years! And when people thought that finally this injustice and dishonor were about to come to an end, this butcher gets to have some kind of a second chance?


    People got stunned. Surprised? Maybe not - they’ve seen such treachery in the name of justice since forever. It has like, sadly, become a trend in Bangladeshi social strata. But this time something went wrong. The frustration seemed to have a new platform, a new voice. A bunch of bloggers also felt what thousands felt all around the country: anger, frustration - a sense being cheated. And it got worse when some people even had the dare to take to the streets, and protest for Mollah, and asking to set this convict free! There is a limit to be frustrated enough. Maybe this was the boiling point. These bloggers started writing in their blogs to express their anger. Then they took it to Facebook and Twitter; the same tools which some elders described as the reason the youth of the nation has gone soft and silent became the platform of true expression. Some started to suggest - what if they also took their frustration to the street; what if they stood in a peaceful stand at the same place where the supporters of these convicts torched buses and cars, and mauled cops? What if.


    Dateline February the 6th, 2013. Afternoon, Arlington, Texas — the news is now all over Facebook: hundreds of ordinary people, mostly youth, have gathered by a popular square over at downtown Dhaka - halfway across the world. University of Texas at Arlington has one of the largest Bangladeshi communities of students in North America, and everyone has friends back at home. And today, whenever they logged on to Facebook all they could see were people showing how angry they are about the news of the lenient verdict, that how they feared this would happen, that even this time the dirty politics would ruin this least chance to redeem the honor of the Liberation War! And this frustration was not caged by any border, rather was connected through the hearts of every Bangladeshi. Some felt it while they were taking their Management notes, while some others while checking their phones during the lunch break. Some while doing grocery for the week, while others while playing FIFA ’13 at their home! And then, suddenly someone takes a stand, and posts a Facebook Event. Just like that - no plan, no organizing - just a sudden call online, on the very same day.


    9:45 PM. In front of the Central Library at UTA. Someone created a Facebook event just a couple of hours ago to ask people to gather whoever wanted to share support for what has started to emerge at the Shahbag Square.


    About 65 of us gathered that night - we didn’t count. No one were asked personally. No one knew what was happening at that moment, no one cared whose fault is what - or what would happen if a bunch of us would just stand in front of a library with candles in hand. Even the placards were total pieces of joke!


    But still people came - and someone framed this little mass in a photo. And posted it to Facebook. And that was enough. More than enough.


    Dateline February 12, 2013. Dhaka, Bangladesh — people are still gathered in Shahbag Square with the same demands for a week now. Not in hundreds, but in tens of thousands now. And then of course, thousands others also showed solidarity to the cause of Shahbag protests all around the country. And even better - all across the world - from every continents!


    On February 6th 2013, a bunch of frustrated and angry Bangladeshi students gathered in front of the school library at the University of Texas at Arlington to show solidarity with the equally angry mass halfway across the world. Two other schools did the same that night - North Carolina State University, and an IT Institute in South Korea. Within a week, the motivation spread so deep that by the 12th, students from more than 80 universities all over the world showed that they support the cause of Shahbag: around 45 of them here in the United States. And there are communities in cities not restricted to just any schools who took it to the streets too. All with one demand - get rid of the war criminals, get rid of the shame we have been holding on for so long.


    We couldn’t be at Shahbag that night, and we were really sad about it, but today when we feel that we’ve inspired so many to take a stand, we can at least say to the people of Shahbag - “we are with you, Bangladesh, we’re with you indeed.”


    Learn more about the on-going Shahbag protest: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013_Shahbag_Protest

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