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[liberationtech] Online organising offline movement for a secular society: an example from Bangladesh

Buddhadeb Halder bhalder134 at
Tue Feb 19 08:35:27 PST 2013

Dear All,
Let me share an interesting story of the 'power of Social Media'. It is an
example from Bangladesh.

It has been fifteen days today! Millions of youths and common folks are
protesting continuously on the street to demand ‘justice’ for the victim of
war crime and genocide that happened in 1971 during the Independence
Movement of Bangladesh. *One thing I should mention in the very beginning
that I am not trying to advocate for ‘death penalty’ here but trying to
analyse the power of social media.*

On 5th February 2013, the International Crimes Tribunal-2 pronounced the
verdict of Abdul Kader Molla, a notorious war criminal and widely known as
‘the butcher of Mirpur’. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes
against humanity in Liberation War 1971. This man allegedly gunned down 344
people and raped a young girl including some other crimes during the war.

So, disappointed by the judgement what they described as an ‘unduly lenient
punishment’ for someone who deserves capital punishment, immediately some
youth online activist and bloggers under the banner of Bloggers and Online
Activists' Network called for a ground mobilisation on the same afternoon
at Shahbag crossing to demand capital punishment of this criminal who also
holds the position of Assistant Secretary General of Bangladesh
Jamaat-e-Islami party. Unexpectedly thousands of online activists and many
more common people gathered within first couple of hours on the same day.
They stayed at the Shahbag intersection, now widely known as ‘Shahbag
Chottor’ or 'Projonmo Chottor' for the whole night and demanded ‘justice’
for the victims of crimes against humanity. The demonstrators vowed to
continue the protest until their demands were met.  It is important to
mention that the organisers have no prominent political affiliation. The
non-partisan nature of this historic movement just increased the respect
from the common mass. However they have raised political issues from this
platform but for a better society.

More and more people joined on the second day. The protestors started
signing a petition demanding ‘justice’, drawing cartoons and hanging
effigies of war crime suspects.

The third day of the sit-in protest started with the demonstrators singing
the national anthem of Bangladesh and a lot more people gathered carrying
banners, posters, and placards in Shahbag Chottor with the same demand as
the news of the protest spread through the social media platforms.
Protesters set up a temporary base at the Shahbag Chottor to provide live
updates of the movement via Twitter, Facebook and Blogs. They have started
using #Shahbag and #Shahbagh for twitter. Diaspora Bangladeshi community
from all over the world also showed their solidarity support. This diaspora
community also organised several solidarity protests in India, UK, USA,
Finland, Australia, France, Sweden, Canada, New Zealand and other

A mass rally was called on 08th February 2013 afternoon at the same place.
It is estimated that over 2.5 million common people mobilized during the
rally. At the rally the protestors placed 6-point demand including death
penalty for war criminals, amendment of the International Crimes
(Tribunals) Act, 1973 to try political parties and organisations that
helped the war criminals, ban Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing Islami
Chhatra Shibir. Earlier, the western media showed very little interest to
cover the protest, but gradually they have started covering up the protest.

On 10th February Shahbagh protesters have submitted a memorandum to the
honourable Speaker of the Bangladesh Parliament. Protestors called for a
countrywide 3-minute silence on 12 February. A 3-minute silence from 4:00pm
to 4:03pm was observed at Shahbag and whole Bangladesh as well. ‘In Dhaka,
the traffic was stopped, and thousands of people flocked to the streets,
formed human chains and stood in silence. The ongoing Bangladesh Premier
League (BPL) game at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium halted for three
minutes as the players and the supporters observed silence. The
parliamentarians and the police force also joined the protest and it became
a part of history.’

The most unfortunate and pathetic incident happened when one of the Shahbag
protest organisers, an anti-Islamist blogger Rajib Haidar stabbed to death
on 15th February allegedly by extremist groups. Rajib had actively
participated in the protest from the beginning and had written several
blogs against Jamaat-e-Islami activities. However this death triggered more

On 17th February 2013, the Bangladesh Parliament amended the 1973
International Crimes Tribunal Act to try political parties and
organisations that helped the war criminals during 1971 and also arms the
government with the right, equal to defendants, to appeal against verdicts
by the tribunals for 'crimes against humanity' during the Independence
Movement of Bangladesh.

It is needless to mention that the amendment came in the wake of an online
organising popular mobilisation that continued for more than two weeks so
far. Stimulated by social networking platforms, this huge grassroots
uprising for one of the most important universal values of our society:
fighting against fundamentalism is really inspiring and example for others.

Now, it is with the hands of the Bangladesh Government, with the common
mass, youths who want to live in a secular society without any fear, with
the women and girls who were bound to wear hijab or borqa and now dreaming
an equal society and obviously with the online activists to keep Bangladesh
safe from all evil initiatives to make Bangladesh a really progressive
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