The capital's Shahbagh took a different look yesterday. The surrounding buildings, billboards, lampposts, trees on central reservations and even the tarmac became the canvas for expressing people's demands.
“Rights to appeal. Why victims' right is denied?” a group of youths wrote on the street in white paint and flowers. The simple two sentences were to share their agony with the mass.
Banners, placards, graffiti and paintings demonstrated other popular demands that were also chanted by tens of thousands of protesters at the intersection for the last four days.
Their grievances were against the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973, which kept very little scope for the victims to appeal against a verdict of the tribunal as well as against the government. It was not amended to ensure the victims' right to appeal if they were unhappy with a verdict.
As per section 21 (1) of the act, “A person convicted of any crime specified in section 3 and sentenced by a tribunal shall have the right of appeal to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh against such conviction and sentence.”
But section 21 (2) of the act says, “The government [which represents the victims in the war crimes trial] shall have the right of appeal to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh against an order of acquittal.”
Hasib Nomanee, an independent filmmaker and a member of a group, said, “It's unfair and injustice.”
The victim should have equal rights to appeal against any verdict of the tribunal, said Nomanee and demanded that the government amends the act to give equal rights by incorporating the words “or inadequacy of sentence” in section 21 (2) in the ongoing session.
"We were the victims in 1971 as our fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters were killed. Now we are again becoming victims… of inadequate laws," he said.
Vice-Chancellor Prof Anwar Hossain of Jahangirnagar University at the rally said the parliament needed to pass a law that ensures the right of the victims of atrocities committed in 1971 to appeal. He said it seemed to him that the suspects were enjoying the rights the victims did not have.
The demand for amending the law came against the backdrop of mass outrage over Tuesday's verdict on Quader Mollah's case.
The International Crimes Tribunal-2 sentenced Mollah to life in prison on two charges and 15 years imprisonment on each of the three other charges. It acquitted Mollah from another charge.
A state counsels said they could appeal against the verdict of acquittal in one charge. Some government lawyers said they would appeal with the Supreme Court and fight for the death sentence in that charge.
But some legal experts told The Daily Star that if the government appealed only against the acquittal in one charge, the verdicts in other charges would go unchallenged at the Supreme Court even though the victims and people believe that Mollah deserved death sentence in at least two of those charges.
The legal experts wishing not to be named said the government or state or victims should have the right to appeal against the verdict of the tribunal even if they think that tribunal delivered a lenient sentence.
A six-year-old girl at the rally had a placard hung from her neck which read, “I don't want to grow up in a society with Razakars.”
A group of youths were carrying a coffin and chanting, “The coffin is ready… [we] want the body. Hang the Razakars.”
A festoon at the rally read, “We don't want tax-payers' money spent on keeping razakars in jail.”
A festoon hanging from a tree on the central reservation was demanding the legal rights to try the party Jamaat-e-Islami at the tribunal, as it was involved in crimes against humanity and genocide.
“Trial of Jamaat to be held as an organisation involved in crimes against humanity -- Jamaat is the Nazi of Bangla,” a poster read.
Currently, there is no provision under the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973, to try any organisation or party at the tribunal.
Sentencing Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Mollah to life imprisonment on Tuesday, the tribunal said, "The act of 1973 remains silent as regards responsibility of any 'organisation' for the atrocities committed in the territory of Bangladesh in 1971 war of liberation.”
Hafiz Asad Ankon, a freelance photographer, said Jamaat as an organisation must be tried for committing war crimes during the Liberation War.
“The government should amend the law, if necessary, to bring Jamaat under trial as a party,” he added.
According to documents, at the historic Nuremberg Tribunal in Germany, which was formed for trying Nazi war criminals of World War II, trials of seven Nazi organisations were held alongside 21 individuals.
A festoon at the rally demanded ban on Jamaat-e-Islami after trying the party at the tribunal.