Hefazat-e-Islam, a Quami Madrassa-based organisation, had organised an intimidating program to ‘Seize Dhaka’ on May 5, 2013, at Shaplachattar in the capital’s Motijhel, in the guise of demanding punishment to the leaders and activists of Ganajagaran Mancha, that advocated the trials of the accused of Crimes Against Humanity committed during the War of Liberation in 1971 in Bangladesh. Hefazat-e-Islam leaders had compelled thousands of innocent Quami madrassa students to participate in the gathering. Despite Hefazat-e-Islam is not a political platform at all, it had placed a 13-point demand violating constitutional practices of Bangladesh. It also threatened to destabilise the ‘secular’ administrative system. On that day, Hefazat-e-Islam not only had put blockades at all the entry points of Dhaka, its unruly activists also set shops on fire and went into rampages through of vehicles surrounding Baitul Mukarram Market, Jatiiya Press Club and Matijheel areas. BNP and Jamaat extended their full support to intensify the violent acts alongside spreading speculation against the government. Khaleda Zia, the then-opposition leader, had instructed BNP leaders and activists so that the mayhem could be intensified.
The law enforcement agencies manifested their utmost patience and tolerance in dealing bid of creating anarchy by the Hefazat-e-Islam over the night. The government agencies repeatedly requested Hefazat-e-Islam to conclude the programme within stipulated time and return home peacefully. In the afternoon, the then Awami League General Secretary Syed Ashraful Islam had given an ultimatum to Hefazet-e-Islam of leaving the place at the end of the program.
He had said, "Don't think of our simplicity as a weakness. You have to return home by night." Soon after Syed Ashraf's speech ends, Hefazat-e-Islam laid seize the Shaplachattar and started issuing of provocative threats of ousting the government.
The Hefazat-e-Islam disregarded the law enforcement agencies' peaceful appeals repeatedly. In the circimstance, they had no choice but to dismantle them from Shaplachattar. The government had waited till midnight and then the law enforcement agencies took position at three side of the area keeping one side so that the Hefazat-e-Islam could have left the area easily. The law-enforcers lobbed up sound grenades and tear gas to disperse the Hefazat-e-Islam activists instead of casualties. At one state, Hefazat activists left Shapla Chattar with no resistance.
But, later on Hefazat Islam started to claim that 2500 of its leaders and activists were killed at that night. It also spread rumours that hundreds of bodies were taken away by trucks in the dark of the night. In order to make the allegations credible, pictures of the victims of various accidents took place earlier at different places and even in different countries were circulated in the social media. Photographs depicting the victims of the Haitian accidents were unethically used portraying the victims of a law enforcement operation. BNP leaders and activists, along with Jamaat members, collaborated in this endeavour. The primary goal of this campaign was to tarnish the reputation of law enforcement agencies and the government as well. Besides they tried to provoke communal unrest within the country.
Adilur Rahman who served as Deputy Attorney General during the BNP-led four-party alliance government stepped into the fray when the custody campaign fizzled out due to a lack of evidence.
'Odhikar' a non-government organiaation run by Adilur Rahman became familiar to some embassies and human rights organiaations through the publication of rumerous reports on missing homicides. On June 10, 2013, the Odhikar in its website published a so-called ‘Fact Findings Report’ titled "Assembly of Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh and Human Rights Violation". This report stated that approximately 2,500 individuals went missing. After the report was published, national and international media outlets, including Al Jazeera, CNN, and the BBC, published a number of articles on the basis of false and fabricated report which significantly tarnished the image of Bangladesh.
Quite normally, later the government took the initiative to verify Odhikar’s claim of 61 deaths. The Information Ministry asked Odhikar to provide the list and details of the deceased persons as per the law under the ‘Rights to Information Act on July 10, 2013. But Odhikar denied to provide the list and continued disinformation campaign. As a result, law enforcement agencies had to take action as per the law. On August 10, 2013, Ashraful Islam, Inspector of DB in Gulshan Branch, filed a General Diary (GD). The police conducted a raid at the Odhikar Office upon that GD, arrested Adilur Rahman and seized three laptops and two computers, which had been used to manufacture such false report. Forensic analysis of those devices revealed the list of alleged deaths. Police started investigating the list and found that four of the enlisted persons are still alive, and seven others died in another incident unrelated to Hefajat’s movement. The list also mentioned the names of five persons twice, and 11 other names were completely made up. There was also incorrect information on seven individuals.
The most surprising matter was that Odhikar was ‘yet to confirm’ the status of 27 individuals on that list; still, the organisation proceeded to consider them dead and added them to the list.
Such irregularities prove that Odhikar secretary Adilur Rahman and its director Nasiruddin Elan published this fabricated report by their own and circulated it at home and abroad. Their aim was to malign the image of the country and destabilise law and order situation in the country. The investigation officer submitted his report to Dhaka CMM Court on September 4, 2013, and on September 11, 2013, the GD turned into a case (Case 01/2013) in the Cyber Tribunal Court.
After the lawsuit, Adilur Rahman and Nasiruddin Elan enjoyed the most legal benefits, and their lawyers left no stone unturned to prolong the trial. The High Court and Supreme Court were instructed to put the lawsuit on hold for 8 and a half years upon Adilur Rahman’s application. Moreover, Adilur Rahman was granted bail within only two months of his arrest by the high court, and Nasiruddin Elan was granted advance bail even though there were specific charges against them. After completing all the legal procedures, the trial began on October 5, 2021, in the Cyber Tribunal. After two years of hearings, the prosecution produced 22 witnesses against a total of 28 witnesses. Four witnesses died, and Adilur’s wife and his staff did not provide testimony.
Finally, on September 14, 2023, after a long ten years of filing the case, the Cyber Tribunal Court announced the verdict. In the summary judgment of the case, the judge clearly stated that the prosecution has been able to prove their case beyond reasonable doubt. Under the ICT Act, the maximum penalty for the said offense is imprisonment for a maximum of ten years and a fine of one crore taka. Despite the fact that the charges brought against Adilur Rahman and Nasir Uddin Elan were proven beyond doubt, the honorable judge sentenced them to only two years of imprisonment each and a fine of ten thousand taka. Arguably, it is called 'venial punishment for a severe offense’.
Still, this can be called a landmark judgment because, with this judgment, a long-standing falsehood has been vanquished. It has been proven that the news of 2,500 dead claimed by Hefazat-e-Islami is far from true; the news of 61 dead reported by Odhikar is completely false and purposefully fabricated. If Adilur Rahman could have given the list of 61 victims to the court, then he would not have to face any punishment. Neither he nor his lawyers could give it to the court even in ten years. Adilur Rahman tried to put the burden of false stigma on the neck of the state. The initial step in removing that stigma was completed by the court verdict.
Throughout the case and following the verdict, numerous foreign organizations and embassies of Western countries in Bangladesh issued statements demanding the cancellation of the verdict and the release of Adilur Rahman and Nasir Uddin Elan. The list includes organizations such as the United Nations Human Rights Commission, the European Union, and Amnesty International. In addition, reports and news about it have also been published in all of the world’s leading media outlets. This position shows little regard for the wrongdoings of a human rights activist while damaging Bangladesh’s reputation. It should be remembered that the national interest always takes precedence over private interests. In this instance, the court punished a liar who participated in a disgusting effort to damage the country’s communal unity by willingly disseminating false information. For malicious political purposes, Adilur Rahman and Nasir Uddin Elan functioned as catalysts for annihilating the country’s image in the international arena. This judgment will be a milestone in the administration of justice, as the case has overcome all obstacles.
Writer Mamun Or Rashid is a Freelance Journalist