2013 Shapla Square protests

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2013 Shapla Square protests
Part of 2013 Bangladesh political violence
Date May 5, 2013 – May 6, 2013;
(1 day)
Location Dhaka
Caused by 2013 Bangladesh political violence
Methods Sit-in, occupation of public square
Resulted in
Parties to the civil conflict
Lead figures
Death(s) 50-61[2][3]

The Shapla Square protests or the Motijheel massacre,[4][5] (also called Operation Shapla or Operation Flash Out by security forces)[2] refers to the protests and shootings of 5 and 6 May 2013, at Shapla Square, of the Motijheel district, the main financial area of Dhaka, Bangladesh.[6] The protests were organized by the Islamist pressure group, Hefazat-e Islam, demanding a blasphemy law.[6][7][8] The government cracked down on the protesters by using a combined force drawn from police, the Rapid Action Battalion and the paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh to drive the protesters away from Shapla Square.[9][10][11][12]

Following the events at Motijheel, there were protests in other parts of the country that morning, which resulted in 27 deaths.[13][14][15] Different sources provide different figure about the casualties in this operation. Depending upon sources, reported deaths ranged from 20 to 61.[13][14][15][16][17][18] The opposition party BNP initially claimed thousands of Hefazat activists were killed during the operation, which was disputed by the government.[19][20] Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations put the total death toll at above 50.[19] However, rights groups have termed the events as a massacre.[3][5] Any initial attempts to dispute the term of events were dismissed by the government by closing two television channels - Diganta Television and Islamic TV, which were live telecasting the operation.[4][21]


13 point demand[edit]

The Hefajat-e Islam emerged as a pressure group of madrassah teachers and students in early in 2013.[22] Shah Ahmad Shafi, rector of Hathazari Madrasah became its leader.[6] In 2013, Hefajat-e-Islam was reactivated after the allegation that some of the protesters in the Shahbag protests, were involved in publishing of content offensive to Muslims on blogs,[23] including the depiction of Muhammad as a pornographic character.[2] On April 6, 2013, its supporters made a long-march to promote their 13-point charters, which included:[6][24]

  • Restoration the phrase "Complete faith and trust in the Almighty Allah" in the constitution
  • Enact a blasphemy law;[5][12]
  • Taking measures for punishment of "atheist bloggers," who led the Shahbagh movement, and anti-Islam activists who made "derogatory remarks" against the Muhammad.[25]
  • Stopping "infiltration of all 'alien-culture', in the name of individual’s freedom of expression, including free mixing of male and female" and candle lighting. Stopping harassment of women, open fornication and adultery, sexual harassment, all forms of violence against women and an end to the tradition of dowry;
  • Make Islamic education mandatory from primary to higher secondary levels canceling the women policy and anti-religion education policy.
  • Declaration of Ahmadiyyas as non-Muslim.[3][5]
  • Stopping setting up sculptures at intersections, schools, colleges and universities across the country.[citation needed]
  • Lifting restrictions on prayers for ulema in all mosques across the country, including Baitul Mokarram National Mosque;[citation needed]
  • Stopping Islamophobic content in media;[5]
  • Stopping anti-Islam activities by NGOs in the Chittagong Hill Tracts; Hefazat fears a "foreign conspiracy" to make a separate Christian state in the Hill Tracts;[26]
  • Stop the extrajudicial killing of ulema;[3]
  • Stopping harassment of teachers and students of Qawmi madrassas and ulema;[3]
  • Release of all arrested ulema and madrassa students and withdrawal of all cases filed against them, compensation for the victims, and bringing the assailants to justice.

The government responded by saying that it had "already met" many of the group's demands. This included the arrest of four bloggers for making derogatory comments against the Muhammad.[12]

Human Rights Watch warning[edit]

On 3 May 2013, Human Rights Watch warned the security forces in committing excesses during planned protests planned in the coming days.[4] It also instructed the government to appoint an independent commission to investigate the killing of civilians since February, and, prosecute anyone responsible for unlawful killings and use of force.[4] Diplomatic missions had learnt that the government had planned a major crackdown on unarmed Hefajat protesters to silence them.[4]


May 5[edit]

Hefazat-e-Islam organized a protest on May 5 against demanding a trial of "atheist bloggers"[27] and demanding new legislation to provide punishment for blasphemy.[6][7][8] On 4 May 2013, Hefazat activists gathered at all six entrance routes to Dhaka; creating a blockade, from dawn on 5 May 2013.[2] At noon, with the permission of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP), activists entered Dhaka and started moving towards Baitul Mukarram Mosque in order to attend a prayer service.[2] However activists of Hefazat-e- Islam were attacked by the ruling Awami League activists at various places using lethal arms such as pistols and guns who were using the Gulistan Road to reach Shapla Square.[2][3] In return, in order to protect themselves, Hefazat activists threw bricks at them.[2] During the clashes, two television journalists were injured, apparently by Hefazat protesters.[2][28] At about 3:00 pm while Hefazat leaders were delivering speeches, the Secretary General of Awami League, Sayed Ashraful Islam, at a press conference, threatened them to leave Dhaka.[19] On the other hand, the opposition party Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) asserted that Hefazat members had a democratic right to assemble and articulate their cause.[2] Hefazat protesters allegedly attacked the offices of the Communist Party of Bangladesh's at Motijheel.[29][30] Hefazat claimed that their workers were unarmed under police firing and attacks from Bangladesh Chhatra League activists at Gulistan, Purana Paltan and Baitul Mukarram and in fronot of the offices of the Communist Party.[4] Hefazat supporters reportedly vandalized at least 50 vehicles and several buildings during their rally.[31] They violently attacked others in front of the ruling party Awami League's headquarter at Paltan, Dhaka. Protesters allegedly set fire to book stores near the Baitul Mukarram mosque.[32] However, reports of this event are disputed,[33] and Hefazat denied burning any books.[34] According to BNP leader MK Anwar, the Qurans were burned by Debashih, leader of the ruling party Awami League's wing, the Swechchhasebak League.[1]

May 6[edit]

By nightfall, many of the demonstrators had left the city, but about 50,000- 70,000 had remained in Shapla Square.[17] There they held prayers and were addressed by their leaders.[3] At around 2.15 am on May 6, security forces cut power supply to the area.[22] At 2:30 a.m. about 5000 members of security forces launched an operation varyingly called "Operation Shapla" or "Operation Flash Out",[2] to remove them.[17] They included members of police, RAB, and BGB.[2] At first they first used megaphones, asking the protesters to leave the area peacefully. Then, moving in from three directions, namely, Dainik Bangla route, Fakirapool and Bangladesh Bank intersection, security forces used tear gas, rubber bullets, and sound grenades to disperse the demonstrators.[2] Most fled the area, but others hid in side streets and buildings, where they were shot down by security forces.[3] Hefazat alleges that the bodies were then picked up in garbage trucks and dumped them outside the city.[3] Ahmad Shafi was escorted away from a madrassa in Dhaka, and was flown to Chittagong.[6] Police insisted he was not arrested but was leaving of his own volition.[6]

May 6, morning[edit]

On the following morning, on May 6, the protests spread across the country. In Narayanganj, students and teachers of a local madrasa held protests and blockaded the Dhaka-Chittagong highway. In return, police fired several hundred gunshots, killing 27 people.[13] In Hathazari Upazila, six people were shot dead by police . In Bagerhat, one Hefazat member died in a clash between protesters and police.[13]


According to government estimates, the number of casualties in this operation was 11, including a few law enforcement members,[19] while the Daily Star reported 5 deaths.[4] Opposition parties initially claimed that 2000- 3000 of protesters were killed,[3] and Hefazat claimed about 1000 deaths.[4] Human Rights Watch disagreed with Hefazat's claims,[19] but agrees that a massacre took place.[5]

“(the security forces) shot live ammunition and rubber bullets into unarmed crowds, conducted sweeping arrests, and used other forms of excessive force during and after protests that began in February and continue... opened fire on crowds, often without warning..."[3][5]

Some of the victims were bystanders, including shopkeepers near the Baitul Mukarram while most were Hefazat supporters, including children, killed by blow to the head or gunshot wounds.[3] Doctors at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital confirmed that many of those dead had been shot in the head.[17] One policeman was also attacked in reprisal.[35] According Human Rights Watch, eyewitnesses saw 25-30 bodies that were confirmed dead.[3] This included British journalist David Bergman, who saw 24 bodies.[33][36] The Guardian reported 22 confirmed deaths.[17] Aljazeera's investigations later found out that 14 bodies of "bearded men" with gunshot wounds, were buried after the protests at Dhaka's state-run cemetery.[37] Human rights group Odhikar reported 61 deaths, but refused reveal the names of the victims out od security concerns for their families.[2] The UK Home Office estimates a total of no fewer than total of 50 deaths.[20] Many were individuals, including orphan children, were found missing, which may have attributed to the discrepancies in casualties.[2]

Because of the differing views, Human Rights Watch called for an independent body to investigate the protest deaths.[35][36][38] Amnesty International demanded that Bangladesh government set up an independent and impartial investigation immediately to look into police excesses.[1]


Diganta TV and Islamic TV channel were broadcasting live footage of the raid on Motijheel when they were forced off-air at the dawn of May 6.[21] Diganta Television’s chief reporter M. Kamruzzaman said that around 25 plain-clothed policemen and an official from the broadcast commission had entered their studios without warning.[6] According to the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC), the channels' reporting on raid on Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh contained "exaggerated things, (had) given misinformation and called for breaking the law and attacking the law enforcers."[39][40] Critics have alleged this an instance of the Sheikh Hasina government of using the Islamist issue to silence dissidents.[39]




In response to the allegations for massacre, police claimed the operation a “zero casualty” while 14 party leaders claimed it to be "bloodless."[1] Bangladeshi foreign minister, Dipu Moni, downplayed reports of inaccuracy in government figures and added that "most of the people in the country doesn't even think that there was any controversy with the matter."[37] 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.[41]

She also blamed the attack on her arc rival Khaleda Zia, saying: “She (Khaleda) is the instigator, she is the issuer of order.”[1] Awami League politician blamed Qamrul Islam BNP, Jamaat and ISI of backing the prostests.[1] Hefazat was also criticized for bringing minors to the protests.[42][43] Many of these children were attacked by the law enforcement agencies in the operation.[44][45][not in citation given] The government and the media has been accused of dehumanising the protesters.[5][33]


The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party compared the attacks to the Pakistani crackdown on 25 March and Jalianwala Bagh massacres.[4] BNP leader MK Anwar called it a "disastrous killing."[1] In response, Detective Branch police raided the houses of city BNP convener Sadeque Hossain Khoka and Bangladesh Jatiya Party chairman Andaleeve Rahman Partha.[1]


While some Hefzat activists vowed "revenge" after the killings,[4] Hefazat amir Shah Ahmad Shafi appealed for calm[34] and called a general strike all over Bangladesh on 12 May 2013.[1]


On 10 June 2013, human rights group Odhikar, published a fact finding report claiming 61 deaths,[2] but refused to provide any names of the victims report, citing security concerns for the families of the victims.[16][46] The Ain O Shalish Kendro demanded impartial investigation "to deal with them (Hefazat-e-Islam) more strategically and responsibly."[47]


UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon voiced concern over the killing of unarmed protesters in Bangladesh and requested the government to sit with religious and political leaders.[4] US amassador, Dan Mozena, has cautioned that all groups and individuals have rights to protest; insinuating that the use of brute force against unarmed protesters constitutes violations of domestic and international laws.[4]


The government filed 12 cases Hefazat-e Islam leaders for murder, vandalism, arson and destruction of properties and other charges.[48] Hefazat denies the charges.[34]

On 27 June, Martin F. McMahon & Associates, a US law firm, representing two US-based organisations, Human Rights and Development for Bangladesh and Bangladeshi-Americans in Greater Washington DC[49] 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.”.[50] 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,[51] 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"[52]

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 the list of 61 deaths and released it to the media.[53] In a press statement, the US Department of State expressed deep concern over the arrest and demanded his immediate release.[54]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Amnesty wants neutral probe into Motijheel crackdown" (1). Weekly Holiday. Weekly Holiday. May 10, 2013. Retrieved 17 January 2017. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p "Assembly of Hefazate Islam Bangladesh and Human Rights Violations". Odhikar. June 10, 2013. Retrieved 7 August 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Blood on the Streets: The Use of Excessive Force During Bangladesh Protests". Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 26 December 2016. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Motijheel massacre spawns unintended consequences" (1). Weekly Holiday. Weekly Holiday. 10 May 2013. Retrieved 17 January 2017. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h "The Dhaka Massacre of 6 May 2013: A Briefing" (PDF). Desh Rights. 1: 1. July 2013. Retrieved 26 December 2016. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h "At least 32 dead as Bangladesh Islamists demand blasphemy law". DAWN. Agence France-Presse. May 6, 2013. Retrieved 19 May 2013. 
  7. ^ a b "Press note on Motijheel reflects party views instead of govt: Dudu". Weekend Independent. May 12, 2013. Archived from the original on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 19 May 2013. 
  8. ^ a b Rahman, Anisur (May 5, 2013). "Radical Islamists lay siege to Dhaka". Gulf News. Retrieved 19 May 2013. 
  9. ^ Ashraf, Shamim (May 6, 2013). "Hefajat men flee Motijheel". The Daily Star. Retrieved 28 May 2014. 
  10. ^ "Govt trashes loss of thousands of lives rumour". The Daily Star. UNB. May 10, 2013. Retrieved 28 May 2014. 
  11. ^ "Bangladesh clashes rage over blasphemy law". Al Jazeera. May 6, 2013. 
  12. ^ a b c "Riot police battle Islamists in Dhaka Bangladesh". BBC News. Retrieved 21 May 2013. 
  13. ^ a b c d "27 more killed". The Daily Star. May 7, 2013. Retrieved 7 May 2013. 
  14. ^ a b Paul, Ruma. "At least 20 dead in Islamist protests in Bangladesh". Yahoo News. Reuters. Archived from the original on 6 May 2013. Retrieved 7 May 2013. 
  15. ^ a b "BNS bears Hefajat brunt". The Daily Star. May 7, 2013. 
  16. ^ a b "Odhikar's Hefajat list under wraps". The Daily Star. August 18, 2013. Retrieved 21 May 2014. 
  17. ^ a b c d e Al-Mahmood, Syed Zain (6 May 2013). "Bangladesh protest violence leaves more than 30 people dead". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 May 2013. 
  18. ^ "Clashes over Islam blasphemy law kill 27 in Bangladesh". MSN. Archived from the original on 10 June 2013. Retrieved 20 May 2013. 
  19. ^ a b c d e "HRW rebuts genocide claim". bdnews24.com. May 11, 2013. Retrieved 26 October 2013. 
  20. ^ a b "Country Information and Guidance Bangladesh: Opposition to the government" (PDF). UK Home Office: 11. February 2015. Retrieved 11 January 2017. 
  21. ^ a b "Diganta, Islamic TV taken off air". bdnews24.com. May 6, 2013. 
  22. ^ a b "Civil & Political Rights In Bangladesh" (PDF). Asian Center for Human Rights. 1: 37. 16 March 2015. 
  23. ^ "Hefazat-e-Islam explains the 13 points demands". Bangladesh Independent News Network. Bangladesh Independent News Network. Archived from the original on 19 August 2014. Retrieved 12 March 2015. 
  24. ^ "Ganajagaran vows to resist Hefazat hartal". The Independent. Dhaka. April 7, 2013. Retrieved 26 October 2013. 
  25. ^ Hefajat-E-Islam Bangladesh. "Allama Shafi hopes to end all confusion Hefazat-e-Islam explains the 13 points demands". Hefajat e Islam Bangladesh. Hefajat-E-Islam Bangladesh. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 12 March 2015. 
  26. ^ "Unknown Islamist group flexes its muscles in Ctg". The Daily Star (Bangladesh). 25 February 2010. Retrieved 12 January 2017. 
  27. ^ "Bangladesh Islamists rally against bloggers". BBC News. April 6, 2013. 
  28. ^ "2 scribes beaten up by Hifazat". bdnews24.com. May 5, 2013. 
  29. ^ "Hifazat men burn CPB office". bdnews24.com. May 5, 2013. Retrieved 5 May 2013. 
  30. ^ "How could they do it?". The Daily Star. May 7, 2013. 
  31. ^ "Hifazat sets vehicles on fire". bdnews24.com. May 5, 2013. 
  32. ^ "Hifazat burns Quran, Hadith in blind rage". bdnews24.com. May 6, 2013. 
  33. ^ a b c "'Who said this would be investigated?' Bangladesh and the May 2013 Massacre". Ceasefire Magazine. 5 May 2014. Retrieved 26 December 2016. 
  34. ^ a b c "Hefazat denies burning Quran allegations". Ittefaq. Ittefaq. 10 May 2013. Retrieved 26 December 2016. 
  35. ^ a b "Bangladesh: Independent Body Should Investigate Protest Deaths". Human Rights Watch. New York. May 11, 2013. Retrieved 25 August 2013. 
  36. ^ a b Bergman, David; Nelson, Dean (6 May 2013). "36 killed in Dhaka as Islamic militants clash with police". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 21 May 2013. 
  37. ^ a b "Video suggests higher Bangladesh protest toll". Aljazeera. Aljazeera. 14 May 2013. Retrieved 26 December 2016. 
  38. ^ "Clashes over Bangladesh protest leave 27 dead". BBC News. Retrieved 21 May 2013. 
  39. ^ a b Salam, Maria; Karim, Mohosinul; Islam, Muhammad Zahidul (6 May 2013). "Govt closes 2 TV networks". Dhaka Tribune. Retrieved 12 December 2015. 
  40. ^ "Diganta, Islamic TV off air". The Daily Star. 7 May 2013. Retrieved 12 December 2015. 
  41. ^ Parliamentary speech of Sheikh Hasina 19 June 2013 "https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uoucAYQlQIc"
  42. ^ Raju, Mohammed Norul Alam (December 1, 2013). "Keep the children out of it". Dhaka Tribune. Retrieved 29 May 2014. 
  43. ^ Islam, Zyma (January 11, 2014). "Child Act-2013: A milestone not without shortcomings". Promoting Child Rights. The Daily Star. Archived from the original on 14 April 2014. Retrieved 29 May 2014. 
  44. ^ Chowdhury, Kamran Reza (May 23, 2013). "Lawmakers allergic to word 'Hefazat'". Dhaka Tribune. Retrieved 29 May 2014. 
  45. ^ "Noted personalities express concern". The Daily Sun. Dhaka. Archived from the original on 29 May 2014. Retrieved 29 May 2014. 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. 
  46. ^ "Odhikar Report on Hefajat Deaths: Questions aplenty". Priyo News. September 1, 2013. Retrieved 21 May 2014. 
  47. ^ "ASK Concern of Ongoing Political clashes and Violence Observed on 5 May 2013". Ain O Shalish Kendro. Retrieved 26 December 2016. 
  48. ^ "12 cases against Hifazat leaders". bdnews24.com. May 6, 2013. 
  49. ^ "Case filed against Sheikh Hasina, 25 others in ICC". Real-time News Network. Archived from the original on 1 July 2013. Retrieved 23 June 2015. 
  50. ^ "Complaint filed at ICC against PM, 24 others". The Daily Star. 30 June 2013. Retrieved 19 July 2013. 
  51. ^ "The trial of the birth of a nation". The Economist. December 15, 2012. Retrieved 10 April 2013. 
  52. ^ "Complaint lodged at ICC accusing Hasina, 24 others". Dhaka Tribune. June 29, 2013. Retrieved 24 May 2014. 
  53. ^ "A list riddled with holes". The Daily Star. September 1, 2013. 
  54. ^ Marie Harf (August 12, 2013). "Detention of Bangladeshi Human Rights Activist Adilur Rahman Khan". US Department of State. Retrieved 22 August 2013. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 23°43′35″N 90°25′18″E / 23.7265°N 90.4217°E / 23.7265; 90.4217