Driven up the wall by mass protests over its war crimes, Jamaat-e-Islami sets its eyes on Friday's Jumma prayers to turn the tide by tweaking religious sentiment of Muslims against the Shahbagh youths.
According to law enforcement agencies, Jamaat, under the banner of a few radical Islamist groups both in and outside the BNP-led 18-party alliance, has planned to bring out demonstrations from around four lakh mosques, including Baitul Mukarram, and madrasas all over the country.
It has set the stage for anarchy across the country tomorrow by carrying out a smear campaign in a few like-minded newspapers, and branding the organisers of the youth movement as atheists, anti-Islamic and anti-social elements for the last few days.
Jamaat also got a big shot in the arm from its main ally BNP, which denounced the Shahbagh youths for their “anti-Islamic” activities yesterday, just a few days after hailing them for their patriotism.
The government is learnt to be on top of these developments, and it has taken steps to crush any plot to destabilise the country and thwart war crimes trial. The information minister yesterday threatened to sue “some newspapers” for running motivated stories.
Wishing not to be named, a top police official said, “The intelligence and law enforcers have tracked down and arrested several masterminds of Jamaat's propaganda wing.”
He also claimed that they have choked Jamaat's financial channel but didn't elaborate.
Sources in the home ministry say the government is considering restriction on movement of more than three persons in certain areas on the day.
The government through different channels is having dialogues with a dozen small Islamist political parties -- a few of which are members of the BNP-led 18-party alliance.
The government is trying to convince them not to side with Jamaat, as the Shahbagh movement and the government's actions were not against Islamic political parties, but against the crimes committed by some Jamaat leaders during the 1971 Liberation War.
It has told these parties that if Jamaat is banned in the future, it would not be because of its Islamic political ideology, but for the party's anti-liberation role in 1971.
The government has sent them a message that it would remain firm against the war criminals, and would not spare whoever speaks ill of Islam either at the Shahbagh gathering or elsewhere.
The intelligence agencies are yet to have any clear idea about how the Jamaat top leaders, who are in hiding now, have been maintaining contacts with their activists.
“We gather that they are not using their phones, internet or other usual forms of communication. But they are somehow maintaining communication to continue their smear campaign against the Shahbagh movement,” said an intelligence official.
All ministers, parliamentarians and leaders of the ruling coalition remain alert following the publication of an objectionable advertisement with anti-Islamic contents to provoke controversy over the Shahbagh movement.
Meanwhile, several policymakers and leaders of the ruling Awami League yesterday gave warnings to the smear campaigners, who are spreading hatred using Islam. They also asked the media not to publish any contents that undermine Islam or hurt religious sentiments.
“Stop publishing false contents or the government will be compelled to take tough action,” Prime Minister's Special Assistant Mahbubul Alam Hanif said at a discussion at Osmani Memorial Auditorium, referring to the publication of objectionable advertisements.
Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury said, “They killed Rajib and then hacked into his blog to post anti-Islamic contents to hurt religious sentiments. Those who are doing all these are akin to beasts. We cannot allow them to be involved in politics.”
LGRD Minister Syed Ashraful Islam, Jute Minister Latif Siddiqui and Presidium Member Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim also gave similar statements.
Jamaat has employed a tactic of not using its name in the smear campaign against the Shahbagh activists. Instead, the party with its sympathisers in the last few days formed several new platforms such as Islami Dal comprised of six Islamist parties led by Islami Oikya Jote, a component of the 18-party alliance, to carry out the campaign.
Nejame Islami and Khelafat Majlish -- both members of the 18-party alliance -- are backing this campaign.
Abdul Latif Nejami, chairman of Islami Oikya Jote, told The Daily Star yesterday, “We are planning to gather at least one and a half lakh to two lakh madrasa students from Dhaka and its outskirts. We shall give the government an ultimatum: either the atheists at Shahbagh are punished or else we will call hartal.”
Requesting anonymity, a Khelafat Andolan leader told The Daily Star that Jamaat is wholeheartedly helping them shape up the smear campaign with funds and manpower.
He said Jamaat was also trying to rope in little known Islamist parties to strengthen the campaign.
“Jamaat wants to have a gathering on Friday [tomorrow] to counter the Shahbagh demonstrations. But we are not sure whether it would be possible,” he said.
In the capital, Islami Andolan Bangladesh and Islami Oikya Jote yesterday brought out processions, demanding capital punishment to the bloggers, who “insulted Prophet Muhammad [SM] and Islam in their posts on the internet.”
They threatened to go for a tougher movement unless the government moves to pass a law in the current parliament session to stop “such blogging.” They also announced holding rallies at the north gate of Baitul Mukarram mosque after the Jumma prayers on Friday.
Islami Andolan Bangladesh staged a demonstration at around 3:00pm yesterday at Baitul Mukarram's north gate.
Islami Oikya Jote held a rally at Purana Paltan at about 5:00pm. Its Secretary General Moulana Abdul Latif Nezami said if the government fails to give exemplary punishment to the alleged bloggers, they will consider the government a supporter of “the atheists”.
Meanwhile, Hefazat-e-Islam, a radical Islamist organisation based in Chittagong, yesterday termed the Shahbagh movement a conspiracy against Islam.
The organisation earlier got published a half-page advertisement in three newspapers with anti-Islamic contents, claiming those were posted on the internet by different bloggers.
Its leader Moulana Junaid Babunagari at a press conference yesterday said they would alert people about the anti-Islamic activities in Shahbagh through sermons tomorrow in four lakh mosques and bring out processions demanding trial of “the atheist bloggers”.
Banaj Kumar Majumder, additional commissioner of Chittagong Metropolitan Police, told The Daily Star that they were yet to get any instructions to counter Hefazat-e-Islam's programmes on Friday.
“But we will remain alert,” he said.
Law enforcers in Sylhet and Khulna have taken measures to avert any untoward incidents.
“We are staying alert and collecting more information from different sources about the future programmes of Islamist groups, “said Nibash Chandra Majhi, commissioner of Sylhet Metropolitan Police.
Rashid Begum, additional deputy commissioner of Khulna Metropolitan Police, told The Daily Star that a special mobile team along with the regular police force will patrol the whole city this Friday.
Ziauddin Ahmed, assistant police commissioner in Khulna, said at least five check posts will be set up and 500 policemen will be deployed near mosques before the Jumma prayers in the city.
In Jessore, police yesterday arrested 28 Jamaat-Shibir men from a procession brought out under the banner of Olama Mashayekh Parishad.