Is Bangladesh’s Shahbag the Next Tahrir Square?

Source: The World Policy Blog

By Nayma Qayum

During the past week, thousands of Bangladeshis have gathered at Shahbag, a neighborhood in Dhaka, demanding justice for the war crimes of 1971. The protests emerged after an international tribunal sentenced Abdul Qader Mollah, assistant secretary general of the political party Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), to life in prison.


Shahbag initially demanded the death sentence for Mollah. Its slogans, posters, and banners said “rajakarder fashi chai” (we demand the hanging of war criminals). Bangladeshis’ demands for the death penalty can only be understood in the context surrounding the trials. These trials followed a long, 42-year struggle for justice. The crowd burnt effigies of Mollah, and wore T-shirts with pictures of a noose around his head. But they also held candlelight vigils for the estimated three million lives lost during the war. More importantly, the protests sought the death penalty given the ineffectiveness of the justice system. In Bangladesh, politically affiliated criminals often serve a mere fraction of their sentences, and re-enter politics upon their release from jail. While serving their sentences, they typically received all the perks of a high-end hotel.

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1 reply

  1. A very thorough and well reasoned assessment of the Shahbag movement. A must read for anyone interested in getting a quick synopsis of how it started and why it matters for other nascent democracies.

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