NEW DELHI — Across towns and cities in Bangladesh, businesses closed shutters, schools were shut, and highways and streets were mostly deserted Monday amid a strike called by the Jamaat-e-Islami. Security was tightened as life was crippled for the second day in the mainly Muslim country.
The government banned rallies and gatherings in several towns after days of angry skirmishes between Jamaat activists and police killed scores of people.
Violent clashes have erupted since a death sentence was handed down Thursday to Delwar Hossain Sayedee for war crimes committed during the country’s struggle for independence from Pakistan in 1971.
He is the third top leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami to be sentenced by a domestic war crimes tribunal established in 2010. The convictions have outraged Islamists.
Ataur Rahman, a political analyst at Dhaka University says Delwar Hossain Sayedee is not just a top leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, but is also a popular religious leader in the country. He says the verdict has angered many Muslims.
“The followers of these Islamic groups they actually did not perceive this as justice, but a kind of pressurized justice delivered by war crimes tribunal. Now the anger is he should be free,” said Rahman.
The trials, which began two years ago, have deepened the tensions between the country’s bitterly divided political parties. Opposition parties accuse the ruling Awami League of political vendetta in conducting the trials. The government denies it.
The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party has called for a strike Tuesday. Two of its members are also due to be tried by the tribunal.
Rahman says the government is politically isolated.
“More worrying is the centrist political parties like BNP, who were nationalist parties in Bangladesh, and who were trying to follow a middle course between secularists and Islamists, now they are on the side of the Islamists as well," he added. "That created more problem for ruling party, they are now alone.”
Tensions have also deepened as a popular movement that is demanding tough sentences against the Islamists gains strength. The movement, based in Dhaka, is led by hundreds of middle class young people, and wants a ban on fundamentalist parties.
Political analysts say Bangladesh could witness more turmoil in the coming months as more opposition leaders stand trial. Human rights groups say the war crimes tribunal does not meet international standards, and have voiced concerns about procedural flaws.