2013 Shapla Square protests

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2013 Operation at Motijheel Shapla Chattar
Part of 2013 Bangladesh political violence
Date5 May 2013 – 6 May 2013;
(1 day)
Caused by2013 Bangladesh political violence
MethodsSit-in, occupation of public square
Resulted in
Parties to the civil conflict
Lead figures
* Sheikh Hasina * Ahmad Shafi

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

Following the events at Motijheel, protests in other parts of the country also broke out, during which 27 people died,[13][14][15] although different sources report casualty numbers ranging 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, but this was disputed by the government.[19][20] Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations put the total death toll at above 50,[19] but rights groups have termed the events as a massacre.[3][5] Initial attempts to dispute the chain of events were thwarted due to the government closure of two television channels, Diganta Television and Islamic TV, which were live telecasting the operation.[4][21]


13 point demand[edit]

In early 2013, Hefajat-e Islam emerged as a pressure group composed of madrassah teachers and students,[22] led by Shah Ahmad Shafi, rector of Hathazari Madrasah.[6] The group became particularly active after allegations surfaced that some protesters in the Shahbag protests were involved in the publishing of content offensive to Muslims on blogs,[23] including the depiction of Muhammad as a pornographic character.[2] On 6 April 2013, its supporters made a long-march to promote their 13-point charter, 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, cancelling the women's, and anti-religion, education policy.
  • Declaration of Ahmadiyyas as non-Muslim.[3][5]
  • Stopping the setting up of 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 that area;[26]
  • Stop the extrajudicial killing of ulema;[3]
  • Stopping the harassment of teachers and students of Qawmi madrassas and ulema;[3]
  • Release of all ulema, and madrassa students, that had been arrested and the 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 issued warnings, based on information obtained from diplomatic missions regarding an imminent government crackdown, to security forces against committing excesses in the planned upcoming protests.[4] It also urged the government to appoint an independent commission to investigate the killing of civilians since February, and prosecute those responsible for unlawful killings and use of force.[4]


5 May[edit]

Hefazat-e-Islam organized a protest on 5 May demanding a trial of "atheist bloggers",[27] and new legislation for the punishment for blasphemy.[6][7][8] On 5 May 2013, Hefazat activists blockaded all six entrance routes to Dhaka from dawn.[2] At noon, with the permission of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP), activists entered Dhaka and started moving towards Baitul Mukarram Mosque to attend a prayer service.[2] However, activists of Hefazat-e- Islam were attacked en route by armed Awami League activists, who were using the Gulistan Road to reach Shapla Square.[2][3] In self defense, Hefazat activists counterattacked with bricks.[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 the Awami League, Sayed Ashraful Islam, demanded, via press conference, that they leave Dhaka.[19] The opposition party Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) countered by asserting that Hefazat members had a democratic right to assemble and articulate their cause.[2] During the unrest, Hefazat protesters allegedly attacked the offices of the Communist Party of Bangladesh's at Motijheel.[29][30] Hefazat claimed that their workers were unarmed and had come under attack by police and Bangladesh Chhatra League activists at Gulistan, Purana Paltan and Baitul Mukarram, and in front of the Communist Party offices.[4] Hefazat supporters reportedly vandalized at least 50 vehicles and several buildings during their rally.[31] They violently attacked others in front of the Awami League headquarter at Paltan, Dhaka, and allegedly set fire to a number of 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]

6 May[edit]

By nightfall, many of the demonstrators had left the city, but about 50,000- 70,000 still remained in Shapla Square.[17] There, they held prayers and were addressed by their leaders.[3] At around 2.15 am on 6 May, security forces cut power to the area.[22] At 2:30 a.m. about 5000 members of the security forces launched "Operation Shapla", or "Operation Flash Out",[2] to remove them.[17] The forces included members of the Bangladesh 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 via Dainik Bangla, 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 by garbage trucks and dumped outside the city.[3] Ahmad Shafi was escorted away from a madrassa in Dhaka and flown to Chittagong.[6] Police insisted he was not arrested but was leaving voluntarily.[6]

On the following morning, 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 on the protesters, killing 27.[13] In Hathazari Upazila, six people were shot dead by police, while in Bagerhat, a 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 had been killed,[3] while 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 victims were bystanders, including a number of shopkeepers near the Baitul Mukarram, while most were Hefazat supporters, including children, who were killed by a 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 to Human Rights Watch, eyewitnesses saw 25-30 bodies that were confirmed dead.[3] This included British activist and journalist David Bergman, who saw 24 bodies.[33][36] The Guardian reported 22 confirmed deaths,[17] while an investigation conducted by Aljazeera revealed 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 to reveal the names of the victims out of security concerns for their families.[2] The UK Home Office estimates a total of no fewer than total of 50 deaths.[20] Many individuals, including orphan children, were missing, which may have contributed 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 on the dawn of 6 May.[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 accused the Sheikh Hasina government of using the Islamist issue to silence dissidents.[39]




In response to the massacre allegations, police claimed the operation resulted in “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, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina rejected the allegations, stating in Parliament

... 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 arch rival Khaleda Zia, claiming: “She (Khaleda) is the instigator, she is the issuer of order.”[1] Awami League politicians blamed Qamrul Islam BNP, Jamaat and ISI of backing the protests.[1] Hefazat was also criticized for bringing minors, who were also attacked by law enforcement agencies during the operation,[42][43] to the protests.[44][45] The government, and the media, were 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 ambassador, Dan Mozena, has cautioned that all groups and individuals have rights to protest.[4]


The government filed 12 cases against 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] Ahmed Ziauddin, a Brussels based Bangladeshi lawyer who was accused of influencing the proceedings of Bangladesh's International Crimes Tribunal at the instruction of Bangladesh government,[51] stated- "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 10 August, 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. 10 May 2013. Archived from the original on 18 January 2017. 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. 10 June 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 "Motijheel massacre spawns unintended consequences" (1). Weekly Holiday. Weekly Holiday. 10 May 2013. Archived from the original on 18 January 2017. 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. 6 May 2013. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
  7. ^ a b "Press note on Motijheel reflects party views instead of govt: Dudu". Weekend Independent. 12 May 2013. Archived from the original on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
  8. ^ a b Rahman, Anisur (5 May 2013). "Radical Islamists lay siege to Dhaka". Gulf News. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
  9. ^ Ashraf, Shamim (6 May 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. 10 May 2013. Retrieved 28 May 2014.
  11. ^ "Bangladesh clashes rage over blasphemy law". Al Jazeera. 6 May 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. 7 May 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. 7 May 2013.
  16. ^ a b "Odhikar's Hefajat list under wraps". The Daily Star. 18 August 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. 11 May 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. 6 May 2013.
  22. ^ a b "Civil & Political Rights In Bangladesh" (PDF). Asian Center for Human Rights. 1: 37. 16 March 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 March 2016. Retrieved 8 January 2017.
  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. 7 April 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. 6 April 2013.
  28. ^ "2 scribes beaten up by Hifazat". bdnews24.com. 5 May 2013.
  29. ^ "Hifazat men burn CPB office". bdnews24.com. 5 May 2013. Retrieved 5 May 2013.
  30. ^ "How could they do it?". The Daily Star. 7 May 2013.
  31. ^ "Hifazat sets vehicles on fire". bdnews24.com. 5 May 2013.
  32. ^ "Hifazat burns Quran, Hadith in blind rage". bdnews24.com. 6 May 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. 11 May 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.
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  39. ^ a b Salam, Maria; Karim, Mohosinul; Islam, Muhammad Zahidul (6 May 2013). "Govt closes 2 TV networks". Dhaka Tribune. Retrieved 12 December 2015.
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  41. ^ Parliamentary speech of Sheikh Hasina 19 June 2013 "https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uoucAYQlQIc"
  42. ^ Chowdhury, Kamran Reza (23 May 2013). "Lawmakers allergic to word 'Hefazat'". Dhaka Tribune. Retrieved 29 May 2014.
  43. ^ "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.
  44. ^ Raju, Mohammed Norul Alam (1 December 2013). "Keep the children out of it". Dhaka Tribune. Retrieved 29 May 2014.
  45. ^ Islam, Zyma (11 January 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.
  46. ^ "Odhikar Report on Hefajat Deaths: Questions aplenty". Priyo News. 1 September 2013. Archived from the original on 21 May 2014. 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. 6 May 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. 15 December 2012. Retrieved 10 April 2013.
  52. ^ "Complaint lodged at ICC accusing Hasina, 24 others". Dhaka Tribune. 29 June 2013. Retrieved 24 May 2014.
  53. ^ "A list riddled with holes". The Daily Star. 1 September 2013.
  54. ^ Marie Harf (12 August 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