2013 Operation at Motijheel Shapla Chattar
The 2013 Operation at Motijheel Shapla Chattar or officially Operation Secure Shapla is the term given to events on 5 and 6 May 2013, in the capital city of Dhaka, Bangladesh, encompassing a rally and protest by Hefajat-e Islam and the government's use of a combined specialized force drawn from police, the elite Rapid Action Battalion and paramilitary force Border Guard Bangladesh to drive the protesters from Shapla Chattar. Objectives of this protest were demanding a blasphemy law, execution of "atheist bloggers" who were accused of insulting Muhammad, and ban on the mixing of men and women in public.
In the early hours of 6 May, the government stopped transmissions of two leaning TV channels - Diganta Television and Islamic TV - without citing any reasons, which were live telecasting the operation. Following the event in Motijheel, there were protests in other parts of the country namely Narayanganj, Hathazari and Bagerhat on Monday morning against the deaths of Hefajat members, hours after the Hefajat men were driven out of the capital’s Motijheel area. Different sources provide different figure about the casualties in this operation. Several sources reported that more than 30 were dead. Hefazat claimed thousands of their men died on this operation which has not been supported by the free press, Human Rights Watch, Odhikar's June report, or the government. The government and law enforcement agencies were severely criticized by several human rights organizations for their role in the operation.
The events on May 5–6 were related to continuing unrest and protests by Hefazat-e-Islam. They oppose changes in the country that relate to women's education and loosening restrictions against genders appearing in mixed situations in public.
A February 22, 2013 protest developed into violence. On April 6, 2013, its supporters made a long-march to promote their 13-point charter of demands, which promote a conservative view of society.
Protest and events
Hefazat-e-Islam organized a protest on May 5 against what they called "atheist bloggers," and demanded new legislation to provide punishment for blasphemy. They had a 13-point list of demands that included the following:
- execution of "atheist bloggers" who were accused of insulting Muhammad;
- introduction of a blasphemy law;
- ban on the mixing of men and women in public;
- end to "shameless behavior and dresses"; and
- rule that the Ahmadiyya sect as non-Muslim.
The Hefajat protesters assaulted two on-duty television journalists before the rally. In the major part of the violence, the protesters began by attacking and burning the Communist Party of Bangladesh's office at Motijheel. Hefajat supporters vandalized and torched at least 50 vehicles and several buildings during their rally. They violently attacked others in front of the ruling party Awami League's headquarter at Paltan, Dhaka. Hefajat supporters set fire to book stores near the National Mosque Baitul Mukarram. Hefazat also brought some madrasa students, aged below 20, to stage this protest without telling them about its purpose. Many of these children were attacked by the law enforcement agencies in the operation.
The operation and casualties
According to government estimates, the number of casualties in this operation was 11, including a few law enforcement members. Hefazat-e-Islam claims that thousands of their members were killed; Human Rights Watch rebutted that claim. According to different free media, the death toll rose to 22, including some law enforcement forces.
The government has filed 12 cases against top leaders of the Hefajat-e Islam for murder, vandalism, arson and destruction of properties and other charges.
On the day following the operation, protests spread across the country against the deaths of Hefajat members. In Narayanganj, students and teachers of a local Madrassa held protests after hearing the news of the operation in Shapla Chattar. To disperse the protesters, Police fired several hundred gunshots, rubber bullets and teargas shells, resulting in the death of twenty people. In Hathazari, six people were left dead when police fired teargas shells and rubber bullets on students, who were also members of Hefajot, dispersing a protest against the arrest of Shah Ahmed Shafi, the chief of Hefajat. In Bagerhat, one Hefajat member died in a clash between protesters and police.
On 10 June, Odhikar, a human rights organization, published a fact-finding report on human rights violations, including contributions from the bereaved, injured protesters, the security establishment and municipal cleaning staff and claimed to find "the names of 61 people who were killed", but denied to provide any list of casualties in this report. On 19 June, Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh rejected that, stating in Parliament that
"..and that day's event was fully televised, you have seen how they have rubbed red dye onto their bodies and when police came and called them they got up and ran away... we saw that dead bodies made a run for it! This kind of drama has been made there."
On 27 June, a US law firm, representing two US-based human rights organisations, filed cases in the International Criminal Court against 25 Bangladeshi ministers and security officials, including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for alleged “torture, forced disappearance, extrajudicial executions and mass killings.”. While a Brussels based Bangladeshi lawyer named Ahmed Ziauddin, who was also accused of influencing the proceedings of Bangladesh's International Crimes Tribunal at the instruction of Bangladesh government, said- "I am not sure about the objective of it and I am sure those Washington-based organisations have some political motives. They may have been trying to create political hype since filing a complaint in the ICC does not mean proceedings of a case will start immediately"
On August 10, Police raided the office of Odhikar and arrested its general secretary Adilur Rahman Khan. In a press briefing Police said they found a fake list of 61 deaths and released it to the media. Odhikar, however, denied to have prepared the list. In a press statement, the US Department of State expressed deep concern over the arrest and demanded his immediate release.
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May 5 Shapla Chattar grand rally of Hefazat-e-Islam. In TV footages and video clips posted on different social media showed, Hefazat brought a large number of Quami Madrasah students who mostly are below 18 years to the grand rally and siege programmes at six entry points of the capital. After crackdown by the joint forces of BGB, RAB and Police, many panic-stricken children were seen coming out from the pandemonium of the Motijheel Shapla Chattar. Later some participant children told media that they have ever come to the capital and joined the Hefazat programmes on direction of their teachers without knowing details about the programmes.
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