The Motijheel Massacre: Many Die After Police Fire At Protesters

  • policefire6mayBangladesh security forces shoot and kill protesters in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital city, after a rally numbering up to a million people

  • Numbers of death unclear, ranging from several dozen, hundreds and even thousands

  • Bangladesh Government initiate media blackout, suggesting cover-up

On Sunday 5th/Monday 6th May 2013, a
massacre took place in Motijheel, the commercial district of Dhaka, Bangladesh. This is the second such atrocity, the first being Operation Searchlight in which the Pakistani Army brutally massacred Bangladeshi nationalists, precipitating the birth of the nation.


Numbers differ wildly as to the extent of the massacre, but there is no doubt that at around 245 am on Monday, Dhaka time, police and paramilitaries fired indiscriminately into crowds of protesters who were sleeping and praying in their makeshift camp in Motijheel.

An estimated million plus protesters demonstrated in Dhaka on Sunday, ending up with clashes with the authorities earlier. Thousands subsequently made Motijheel their temporary base camp for that night. It was during this time, it is alleged, that authorities cut off lighting and electricity in the area.  Following this, police authorities, members of the Rapid Action Battalion and the Bangladesh Border Guards surrounded the area and fired on protesters in an attempt to clear the area. In terms of ammunition used, eye-witness reports range from suggestions that rubber bullets were used at point-blank range to the deployment of live weapons — lethal force. To cover up the deed, it is alleged, the government shutdown mobile phone signals and prevented media from broadcasting from Motijheel.

The gravity of the event is encapsulated by Bangladeshi human rights organisation Odhikar:

“This is the first incident of large-scale indiscriminate killing in Dhaka city, after 42 years of independence of Bangladesh in 1971, by the State agents.”

The Economist has said: ”What happened in Dhaka and beyond in the early hours of May 6th looks like a massacre.”

As the the media blackout of events in Bangladesh continues to cloud detail and culpability pertaining to the massacre of religious protesters early last Monday morning, hundreds if not thousands of families live in uncertainty and mourning.

Evidence Thus Far

The government maintains ‘there was no killing’ during the operation and that ‘the whole Motijheel episode was aired live by TV channels.’ Just this afternoon (Wednesday 8th) Dhaka’s Metropolitan Police Commissioner Benazir Ahmed said that only 11 people had died. This of course is untrue and is being disputed.

Over the past 48 hours pictures, video and audio resources have come to light. We present our exclusive footage here.

There is an emerging body of eye-witness accounts. For example, a taxi driver secretly filmed a conversation with a policeman passenger who estimated a minimum of 400 to have been killed. Shawn Ahmed of the Uncultured Project, a young North American development worker who went outside his safety zone to see and report on the bodies of the dead and dying in Dhaka Medical College, previously would not have given much time of day to ‘Muslim Extremists’. Even government-muzzled media outlets such as the New Age are raising questions about the events of Sunday night/Monday morning.

In the absence of more widespread responsible and courageous investigative journalism, the burden of accountability falls on concerned citizens and what remains of the political oppositions, nationalist, Islamist and increasingly, of the Left.

Desh Rights believes that we must control our anger at this outrage and channel efforts into careful evidence building, because the government has made this difficult and dangerous.

The Victims

The victims of this tragedy, the activists of Hefazat-e-Islam, a conservative Islamic movement based mainly in rural parts of Bangladesh, have staged protests demanding, in their words, an end to ‘atheist-led’ government and upholding of religious rights for Muslims and other faiths. These demands, however illiberal, have been seized upon by detractors to dehumanise Hefazat’s supporters, dismiss the killings that have taken place and cast doubt on the extent of the massacre.

The international community and international civil society cannot hide behind this charge to gloss over the atrocity before us.

In the aftermath of this atrocity, the regime’s defenders have blamed Hefazot, the victims, for violence, using young students as human shields and even accusing Quranic scholars of burning the Qur’an. Independent and opposition activist eye-witness accounts suggest that the regime’s own political activists, epitomised by Sohel Rana (the owner of the infamous Rana Plaza comlpex), are responsible for destruction to property and shooting of protesters as auxiliaries to government forces.

Greater scrutiny of events is required, unfortunately the conditions for expression and dialogue are absent in Bangladesh at present.

A Government Acting With Impunity

Such state violence was no random occurrence. Having secured a 1 billion dollar loan from Russia earlier this year, for military-technical cooperation, the present Government of Bangladesh has taken a series of increasingly bold steps in recent months to ensure its ability to act with impunity, whether against organised labour, its main opposition or sworn enemy Jamaat-e-Islami. This is compounded by the imprisonment of opposition media leaders under various guises, from Diganta Media’s Mir Quasem to Amar Desh’s Mahmudur Rahman just last month. This has served to discipline any media organisation contesting the government’s official transcript.

We call on people who love truth and justice to support efforts to bring those responsible for this brutal event to book, so that it, and its like, can never happen again. So that the Bangladeshi people can live in harmony, diversity and dignity. We challenge those, at home and abroad, who dehumanise any social group, and learn lessons of previous calls for justice that went astray because of intellectual and political corruption, and a narrow view of what justice means.