PRIME Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajid must ask herself what exactly will be achieved by the war crimes trials, whose fairness has been questioned by Bangladesh opposition leaders and human rights’ activists. On Wednesday, a court sentenced a Jamaat-i-Islami leader to death two days after a life sentence was given to a former JI head for a slew of crimes that ranged from the torture of intellectuals to what was termed as genocide. At least five people have been killed in the latest wave of violence as Islamist activists protested against the conviction of former JI head Ghulam Azam. As the trials proceed, it has become impossible to avoid the impression that the judicial proceedings have acquired a partisan character. Those on trial also include leaders of the opposition Bangladesh National Party led by Khaleda Zia. The former prime minister has called the trials a “farce” because she believes that the ruling Awami League is using the courts to persecute the opposition.

The AL included the trials in its 2010 campaign, and there is no doubt this must have partly helped it win the polls. But reopening old wounds at a time when the country is already in the grip of severe political violence that has left scores dead doesn’t make political sense. Polarisation between the Islamists and their opponents can quickly degenerate into utter lawlessness as exemplified by the Shahbag protests that are too recent to be forgotten. The 1971 civil war and the brutalities that took place were no doubt traumatic happenings, but the AL government should try to heal the wounds and achieve internal reconciliation instead of exploiting that tragedy through a bizarre mixture of politics and law. A continuation of the trials could push Bangladesh into anarchy.


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