Image by Rezwan

Overcrowded passenger ferry capsized in the Padma River in Munshiganj, Bangladesh

The World Cup Goal-E Project

This street in Bangladesh has a colorful world cup celebration

New Chum Hill Ruins

Remnants of Kiandra gold mine at New Chum Hill, #nsw #australia

February 08, 2013

Bangladesh: Protesters Demand Capital Punishment for 1971 War Criminals

Forty-two years. That's how long Bangladeshis have awaited justice for the horrific crimes committed against them during their fight for liberation from Pakistan. And on February 5, 2013, Abdul Quader Mollah, the secretary general of Bangladesh's Islamist party Jamaat-e Islami was sentenced to life in prison for murder, rape, torture and other crimes committed during the 1971 liberation war.

But tens of thousands feel that justice has not been served. They want him hanged. And they are occupying capital city Dhaka's Shahbagh intersection to show their resolve. Protests are spreading like wild fire across the country.

Jamaat-e Islami rejected Mollah's verdict and enforced a dawn-to-dusk strike on Tuesday and Wednesday disrupting life in the country. (The full verdict by the International Crimes Tribunal can be found here.)

Screenshot of the Facebook Event
Screenshot of the Facebook event that generated much response

Bloggers played a vital role in building pressure to try Mollah and other accused war criminals, many of whom are politicians with the Islamist party, and expedite a process that has been on hold for 42 years. So its no surprise that bloggers are central to organizing the ongoing protests. The Bloggers and Online Activists Network (BOAN) created a Facebook event to invite people to occupy Shahbagh square, protest against the strike and demand the death penalty for Mollah. About 70,000 people have been invited to event and more than 7000 people have confirmed they are joining.

People holds a placard that demand death sentence of Jamaat leader Abdul Qader Mollah. people from all walks of life are continuing their sit-in at Shahbagh intersection in the capital for the second consecutive day.
People from all walks of life are continuing their sit-in at Shahbagh intersection in the capital for the second consecutive day. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (6/2/2013).

Shahbagh, the Tahrir Sqaure of Bangladesh:

The last few days were full of protests and rallies at Shahbagh. Processions from all over the city joined the crowd of about 15,000-20,000 people, bringing the scenes of Tahrir square during 2011 Egyptian revolution to Dhaka. People are singing protest songs, reciting poems, and screening films and documentaries on Bangladesh's liberation war. Pavel Mohitul Alam updates his Facebook status from Shahbagh:
Shahbagh is full of processions, slogans and singing. Thousands of people from all walks of life are joining in protests using candle lights and are carrying torches. A band will start playing live soon. Please join us.
Many have shared pictures from Shahbagh via Facebook, like ICSF and Kazi Sudipto. Journalist and writer Imtiar Shamim writes at Muktangon blog [bn]:
...This Shahbagh will soon be extended to other cities- It will beat the fear of civil war by fringe elements who envisage colonial intervention, who will clinch victory by confirming justice for the war criminals.
Besides Dhaka, there has been news of similar protests in cities like Chittagong, Rajshahi, Sylhet, Khulna, Comilla, Mymensingh and Rangpur. People are gathering in large numbers raising their voices for the highest punishment for the war criminals. Rayhan Rashid writes on Facebook about spreading the protests across the country:
The fire has spread from city to city. I just want to be one of those hundreds of thousands of people....
Protesters on a candlelight protest organized by 'Bloggers and Online Activist Network' demanding death penalty of war criminal Abdul Quader Mollah. Dhaka, 6 February, 2013
Protesters on a candlelight protest organized by'Bloggers and Online Activist Network' demanding death penalty of war criminal Abdul Quader Mollah. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (6/2/2013)

Delayed Justice:

During the 1971 liberation war an estimated 3 million people were killed by the Pakistani army and approximately 250,000 women were raped. Local political and religious militia groups like Razakar, Al Badr and Al-Shams, many of whom were also members of Jamaat-e-Islami, aided Pakistani soldiers in killing, particularly targeting Hindus. Abdul Quader Mollah, also known as 'Butcher' to the Bengalis in Mirpur area, was a senior leader of the Razakar force. He lead many mass murders in Mirpur area.

The International Crimes Tribunal was formed after 42 years of the independence to try the perpetrators of the crimes against humanity during the liberation war of Bangladesh. The first verdict of the ICT was against Abul Kalam Azad alias 'Bachchu Razakar'', who was sentenced to death for his involvement in crimes against humanity during 1971.  

Outrage at the Verdict:

When Quader Mollah was sentenced to life imprisonment (peoples' anticipation was death penalty), many expressed their outrage on Facebook, Twitter and blogs. Elora Leelith demands a "Razakar and war criminal free" Bangladesh:
My first child will be born on 7 of February. I wish its generation will see a Razakar and war criminal free Bangladesh. I want capital punishment for Quader Mollah and gang.
Hazrat Binoy Bhodroe asks the Tribunal on Twitter:
@hazratb9bhodroe Honorable Tribunal, how many deaths have to be proven to get a death sentence?
Allegations against Abdul Quader Mollah:

There were six indictments against Abdul Quader Mollah. The trial has proven his association in three of these and direct involvement in two killings. He was acquitted on one charge. The indictments are related to the following incidents:
  1. April 5, 1971, on Mollah's instructions, one of his aides named Akhter killed Pallab, a student of Bangla College.
  2. March 27, 1971, Mollah and his aides murdered pro-liberation poet Meherun Nesa, her mother and two brothers at their home at Mirpur of Dhaka.
  3. March 29, 1971, Mollah, accompanied by Al-Badr, Razakars and non-Bangla speaking Bihari men, apprehended journalist Khondoker Abu Taleb and brought him to a place known as Mirpur Jallad Khana Pump House and slit his throat.
  4. November 25, 1971, an organised attack and indiscriminate shooting by Mollah and his cohorts killed hundreds of unarmed people of Khanbari and Ghatar Char villages in Keraniganj.
  5. April 24, 1971, Mollah led Pakistan army men and around 50 non-Bangla speaking Biharis into an attack on unarmed people of Alubdi village in Mirpur that left 344 people killed.
  6. March 26, 1971 he and his associates went the home of Hazrat Ali Laskar and killed his wife, two daughters and two year old son. One of his minor daughters was raped before she died.
Appeal against this verdict:

It is not clear whether there can be an appeal against the verdict. But blogger Omi Rahman Pial pleads:
The appeal against the acquittal of Quader Mollah against the Keraniganj killing is the key. This protests should pressurize the government prosecution team to appeal against that acquittal. 344 people were killed and he was known as the 'butcher'. Such cruelty should beget more than just life imprisonment.
According to the latest updates, the prosecution team of the ICT has taken a policy decision to appeal against the verdict to enhance Mollah's sentence. Bangladesh is one of 58 countries that still actively practices capital punishment.

First Published in Global Voices

February 04, 2013

Chobi Mela VII: Photographs Connecting People of The World

The 7th Chobi Mela (Photo Fair), an international festival of photography, is taking place in Bangladesh capital Dhaka. Organized by Drik Picture Library Ltd. and Pathshala (The South Asian Institute of Photography) it is the largest festival of photography held in Asia.

The event was founded in 1999 and is held every two years in Bangladesh. According to DRIK blog:
The festival examines the dramatic shifts of image production, ownership and distribution brought on by new developments in the media landscape.
James Estrin at the Lens Blog says:
What sets apart the Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography in Dhaka, Bangladesh, is that it is not only truly international, but is also perhaps the world’s most demographically inclusive festival.
Theme of Chobi Mela VII - Fragility
Theme of Chobi Mela VII - Fragility
This year's theme of the festival is Fragility, exploring the quieter, more subdued and delicate moments in life, which the shutter of the camera usually misses or ignores. 34 artists from 23 countries featuring Eugene Richards, Graciela Iturbide, Walter Astrada et al. are exhibiting their work at different venues in Dhaka city during 25 January -7 February 2013. Here is a list of events and venues of the festival.

Chobi Mela blog introduced the big names in World Photography Max Pam, Pablo Bartholomew, Ruth Eichhorn, Jody Haines, NayanTara Gurung Kakshapati, Ilaria Di Biagio, B. S. Shivaraju (Cop Shiva), Hossein Fatemi, Maika Elan, Nii Obodai, Chris Rainier and Chris Riley et al. who are attending the festival.

Renowned photographer Shahidul Alam, director of Chobi Mela, shares an amazing story how British photographer Rupert Grey brought his 1936 Rolls Royce to Dhaka to attend the rally of the festival.
The antique Rolls had travelled through the Rajasthan deserts and gone along the foothills of the Himalayas and followed the Brahmaputra to Bangladesh, but was stopped at the Tamabil border, when bureaucracy kicked in.
Rupert could eventually bring in the vehicle with a little help from friends. Shahidul Alam also posts a preview of this years event in his blog (also watch an intro here):
Here is an interview of Shahidul Alam taken by Munem Wasif.

Award winning Indian Photojournalist Pablo Bartholomew says about Chobi Mela:
So what makes me come back to Chobi Mela, this pioneering festival for photography in Asia? It is the question that I ask myself, now that I am here in Dhaka setting up both my father’s and my exhibitions. Obviously it is the opportunity to show the works and be part of discussions that may provide and lead up to good dialogues and debates. [..]
On January 25, 2013, the opening day, a rally started at 3:30PM in front of the Bangladesh National Museum and ended in Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, the venue of the opening ceremony. Photoblogger Monirul Alam joined the rally and posted picture in his blog. The roundup of the first week in pictures can be found here.
Chobi Mela Inauguration at Shilpokola Auditorium. Instagram Image by author
Chobi Mela VII Inauguration in Dhaka. Instagram Image by author
  American Photographer Chris Riley shares the learning from Chobi Mela:
We live in an age within which visual literacy may very well transcend literacy of the word. There is no need to translate a photograph. Photographs contain both an inherent narrative and the ability to interpret. This makes the medium a medium of dialog, unlike film and television with their tightly controlled narrative forms. I watch a documentary and there is no room for me. I study a series of photographs and my head spins with questions and thinking. We have seen images from African, Chinese, Nepalese and Bangladeshi photographers, each telling a story that opens the photographic dialog.
You can follow the festival on Facebook and Twitter (@chobimela).

Chobi Mela VII Theme Photo by Sandra Vitaljić. Thumbnail Image courtesy of Chobi Mela. Also published in Global Voices