Police have arrested several top leaders of Hefazat-e-Islam in last one month
Law enforcers have failed to complete the probe in most of the 53 cases filed in Dhaka in connection with the 2013 Hefazat-e-Islam mayhem at Shapla Chattar.
In the last eight years, police submitted charge sheets in only four cases, while many of the accused including Hefazat chief Junaid Babunagari, held after the May 5 violence in 2013, were released on bail.
Only after recent incidents centring Hefazat-led violent protests against the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the government started arresting activists of the ultra-right Islamist group and revived the old cases.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said police would file charge sheets in the cases soon after completing investigation.
“Then we will be able to know who were behind these incidents,” he told Dhaka Tribune on Tuesday.
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The government has always blamed the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami for patronizing Hefazat and instigating the attacks in Motijheel and nearby areas on that day, and claims that they all wanted to topple the government ahead of the general elections in January 2014.
Hefazat-e-Islam, a Qawmi madrasa-based radical Islamist group that emerged in 2010, organized the blockade program to press home its 13-point demand, including ensuring capital punishment for what it described as atheists and declaring the Ahmadiyyas non-Muslims. To take part in the agitation, Hefazat supporters converged on Dhaka from across the country.
During the violent demonstrations in and around Motijheel, Hefazat resorted to vandalism and arson attacks on law enforcers and police outposts, vehicles, offices and shops, and clashed with the police and Awami League supporters.
They also demonstrated in Chittagong, Bagerhat, Satkhira, Narayanganj, Laxmipur and Cox’s Bazar.
BNP chief Khaleda Zia, Jatiya Party chief HM Ershad and leaders of other opposition parties asked their supporters to join the blockade program, with Diganta TV and Islamic TV airing the speeches of Hefazat leaders live from Motijheel.
Hefazat placed the demands at a time when hundreds and thousands of people had joined the historic Shahbagh Movement, which had emerged to demand the death penalty for identified war criminals who were linked to the Jamaat-e-Islami.
The law enforcers launched a sweeping drive around 2am on May 6 when the Hefazat leadership refused to end the sit-in program for which they said they had secured permission. The mayhem led to the death of around two dozen people and several law enforcers.
Hefazat initially alleged that over 1,000 of its activists had been killed during the drive but later mentioned 79 names. Odhikar, a human rights organization, in its fact-finding report, claimed that 61 people had been killed in police action. However, journalists and police later found many of those dead people alive during investigations.
Apart from 53 cases filed in Dhaka, 30 other cases were lodged in six districts against the leaders of Hefazat, BNP and Jamaat. Nearly 3,500 named and more than 84 thousand unknown people were made accused in the cases.
Many of the accused were arrested immediately after the incident, including then Hefazat secretary general Junaid Babunagari. But they later obtained bail.
Police have so far completed investigations in four cases in Dhaka.
Meanwhile, a Bagerhat court has acquitted all the accused in a case filed over violence.
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Nearly eight years after the mayhem of 2013, the police recently started arresting the top leaders of Hefazat and Jamaat who were made accused in the cases, and got them on remand to what they say get the names of the financiers and instigators behind the agitation.
The cases were revived after Hefazat’s violent protests against the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi marking the celebrations of the golden jubilee of the country’s independence. Earlier, Hefazat staged demonstrations demanding a stop to the making of sculptures of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, saying it was anti-Islamic.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal has said that Hefazat carried out violence in March as a repeat of its violence in 2013.
A senior officer at Police Headquarters, seeking anonymity, said that the police administration had asked its units to complete investigations and submit charge sheets in the May 5 cases.
The charges in the cases include illegal assembly and attacking police and people with firearms and explosives to kill them, attacking police stations with arms and bombs to loot firearms, attacking government offices, banks and setting those on fire, setting fire to holy Quran and Hadith and other Islamic books inside Baitul Mukarram.
Babunagari, the main accused in the sub-inspector Shahjahan murder case during the 2013 mayhem, was arrested on May 6, 2013. In his confessional statement before a magistrate, the Hefazat leader said that the activists of Hefazat, Jamaat and BNP and their front organisations had been involved in the anarchy.
A member of the Detective Branch (DB) of Police involved in the interrogation of the Hefazat leaders, wishing anonymity, said: “We have found connections between Hefazat-e-Islam and BNP, Jamaat, Harkatul Jihad [banned militant outfit Huji-B, recently renamed as Manhaj] and some foreign militant groups.”
The official added that Hefazat used to receive funds from Dubai, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arab, London and even from India. “We are collecting details of their bank statements to find more connections,” he told Dhaka Tribune.
Police have also made a list of around 500 phone numbers that contacted Hefazat leaders in the lead-up to the mayhem on May 5, 2013, and ahead of Modi’s visit in late March this year.