Tahseen Ali: The western media and several otherwise well-intentioned nongovernmental organizations routinely criticize Bangladesh for taking actions against leaders of the country's main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, or BNP. They assume that accusing opposition party members with crimes is automatically undemocratic and undermines the rule of law.
In fact, the opposite is the case, and a top court in Canada recently provided proof.
Earlier this year, Judge Henry S. Brown in the Federal Court of Canada, acting in an immigration case, concluded that the BNP willfully engages in terrorism and violence to further its aims in Bangladesh.
He wrote in January that “BNP is or was a terrorist organization,” upholding a decision by an immigration officer denying permanent residency to a BNP member.
For the Bangladeshis who have suffered through BNP-backed violence in recent years — ranging from overturning railway cars to firebombing buses full of civilians — the ruling must have come as obvious news, like a court declaring that the sky is blue. Still, it is notable that the BNP’s status as a terrorist organization was set in legal language by a major world power.
The case was heard because two Bangladeshi BNP members — Mohammad Jewel Hossain Gazi and Naseem Al Janna Chowdhury — were granted asylum by Canada in 2014 and 2015. They applied for permanent residence status, but were denied by an immigration officer, because the officer determined — partly on Mr. Gazi’s own testimony — that the BNP is a terrorist organization. They appealed the officer’s decision to the federal court, which upheld the decision denying them permanent residence status.
The rulings of the Federal Court shed international light on a sustained campaign of bombings and terrorism — particularly against religious minorities — by the BNP and its allies dating back to 2001. In the aftermath of its election victory that year, the BNP unleashed violence against Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and supporters of the Awami League, which is currently the governing party of Bangladesh.
In the lead-up to the 2014 general elections, both the BNP and its principal ally, Jamaat-e-Islami, ratcheted up their terrorism across Bangladesh. Attacks on religious houses of worship and power stations as well as the use of gasoline bombs and targeted assaults on commuter buses were all too common. Thousands of people were burned in these attacks, many disfigured for life. Others — including teenagers — were killed. At least 20 members of local law enforcement agencies gave their lives trying to defend the innocent victims of these crimes.
During Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s successful 2008 run for office, she promised to establish an International War Crimes Tribunal to bring justice to the perpetrators of atrocities during Bangladesh’s 1971 War of Independence from Pakistan. This position helped propel her to the prime minister’s seat.
But it put the BNP on the defensive because of its alliance with Jamaat-e-Islami. Jamaat had opposed Bangladesh’s independence and its members collaborated with the Pakistani army, taking part in horrific crimes against humanity, including a genocide that killed 3 million Bangladeshis.
When the tribunal was launched, BNP and Jamaat wanted to stop the war crimes trials and launched wave after wave of violence and economy-stopping nationwide strikes in 2013 and 2014. The European Parliament condemned the violence and urged the BNP “to unequivocally distance itself from Jamaat-e-Islami,” but to no effect. In the end, Bangladesh’s tribunal convicted several war criminals, some of whom were high-ranking Jamaat officials.
In 2014, the BNP boycotted Bangladesh’s elections despite Prime Minister Hasina’s invitation to the BNP to join an all-party coalition to oversee the elections. After the elections, which resulted in the BNP losing its seats in Parliament, the BNP and Jamaat escalated their terrorist activities. More than 200 lives were lost and more than 1,100 others were injured. Thousands of cars were burned and roads destroyed. Schools were targeted. These are the acts of a terrorist organization, not an opposition party.
Bangladesh is scheduled to hold its next general elections at the end of next year or in early 2019. The BNP has a choice: It can abandon Jamaat and its terrorist tactics and rejoin Bangladesh’s democracy. Or it can remain, as the Canadian court found, “a terrorist organization.”
• Tahseen Ali has a doctorate in history, specializing in modern South Asia.
The writing was first published at Washingtontimes