DHAKA - Bangladesh has been rocked by weeks of turmoil over trials of leaders of the country's largest Islamic party, on charges of alleged war crimes during the 1971 independence war.
Opponents see the trial as an attempt by the government of the ruling Awami League to silence the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami party and the opposition.
OnIslam.net approached Hamidur Rahman Azad M.P., a member of Jamaat-e-Islamic central executive committee, for this exclusive interview from a hidden place.
Q: Bangladesh is in a state of instability and volatility. What has led the country to this situation?
HR Azad : After the liberation of Bangladesh, founder president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared general amnesty for war criminals but her daughter Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government has started the trials again, which was a settled issue. For that matter, Bangladesh has become a volatile, unstable and failing state. The political upheavals and disasters have affected the country's economic development.
Another issue has got importance for this crisis. The country's power transition was a settled issue, which is the election under Neutral Caretaker Government. This was accepted by all people of Bangladesh even today. But the Government is denying this issue and they want to hold election under their partisan Government, which will not be accepted by the people of Bangladesh.
Q: How do you think Bangladesh can overcome this situation?
HR Azad : To overcome the crisis, two steps could be taken:
1: The election should be held under a neutral authority. The Election Commission is also a partisan institution. So any election under the present Election Commission would not be fair. The election should be held under Neutral Caretaker Government or any neutral authority.
2: The War Crime Tribunal has become a controversial institution, whose verdicts are not accepted by any quarter, whether they are affected or they are from Government supporters. So the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) along with other influential countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt and other Muslim countries should come forward to stop this trial, rather they could insist for international standard trial.
Q: In 1974, founder president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared general amnesty for war criminals but her daughter Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government started again the trials. Do you think this step was wrong?
HR Azad : Yes, this is a wrong step. After election, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said in Bangabandhu Conference Hall that people have already given their verdict by electing only 2 Jamaat-e-Islami parliamentary seats out of 300. Again Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on a telephone talk to the then Secretary of State of the USA Mrs. Hillary Clinton that she (Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina) has started war criminal trials on the insistence of the Indian Government. This news was published in Bangladesh in the newspaper named Amar Desh, which was written by Mr. Shafique Rehman, Advisor of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) which is the main opposition party in Bangladesh.
Q: But the Bangladeshi government says that the war crimes court is an international tribunal?
HR Azad : The International Crimes Tribunal established in Dhaka is not at all an international standard court. There are no international judges, no prosecutor, no lawyers, etc. According to the report of the Economist, the Bangladesh government has interfered in the court's deliberations. Public discussion of the proceedings has been restricted. The number of defense witnesses was curtailed. One was even kidnapped on the steps of the court. In one case, the presiding judge resigned and the death sentence was handed down by three men who had not heard all the witnesses.
Q: A dozen of Jamaat-e-Islamic leaders have been arrested by the government to be put on trials for war crimes. Are they really war criminals?
HR Azad : They were never war criminals. They are public leaders for about forty years and no single case was filed against any of them. Some of them were important and renowned ministers, MPs, famous journalists and holding important posts in government and private sectors. Even there was no news about their involvement in any sort of crimes. They are the best people of this country.
Q: There are already two Jamaat leaders have been convicted by the war crimes tribunal. What would you do to free them?
HR Azad : Our leaders and activists would fight against this verdict legally and politically. We will not allow this government to implement their unlawful verdicts. Even we are ready to sacrifice our lives for our innocent and noble leaders. Already there are around 200 people, who have sacrificed their lives for this noble cause. We want to see the real brotherhood among Muslims in the true sense of the term.
Q: The Jamaat-e-Islami party is already campaigning now against the government?
HR Azad : The government itself is killing the empty-handed innocent people by employing the state security forces along with the party cadres. So there is no other alternative but to fight against the present government to free our innocent leaders and to re-establish the neutral caretaker government system.
Q: A large number of Jamaat leaders and workers are now in jail. What are their charges?
HR Azad : The leaders and workers of Jamaat are taken into jail without any offences. They just exercise their legal political rights, which are allowed by our Constitution. The main cause for the arrest of the leaders and workers of Jamaat is nothing but to ban the preaching of Islam and its political and social activities.
Q: The government is seen championing efforts to establish a secular state in Bangladesh. As an Islamic leader, what would you do to stop the government's campaign to establish secularism in the world's third largest Muslim country?
HR Azad : Jamaat-e-Islami is the third largest party in our country. The people of this country have discarded this secularism in 1975. Again this secularism will be withered away by the people of this country very soon.
Q: Now Bangladesh has been detached from the Muslim world, Europe and America. In your opinion, what is the reason behind this?
HR Azad : The present government has initially preached that if Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh remains in power with any alliance then Bangladesh would be a terrorist state. But now this theory of the present government has become out of date. People still think Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh as a moderate Islamic and democratic party.
Q: Which are the main goals of Jamaat-e-Islami is seeking to achieve?
HR Azad : The main goal of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh is to establish Islam in its true sense of the term, where there would be no injustice, no crime, and no torture. There would be social security of the poor and distressed people. People would hail Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh as a savior of the people of Bangladesh if it could come to power.
Q: Do you have any message for the Muslim world about the current situation in Bangladesh?
HR Azad : The people of Bangladesh expect that the world Muslim Ummah would try to know how much atrocities are being done by the state security forces. The OIC should immediately come forward to save the pious Muslims of Bangladesh and a party like Brotherhood of Egypt and AK Party of Turkey.