Majority support war crimes trials but oppose Shahbagh protestsDavid Bergman
Most voters want the 1971 war crimes trials ‘to proceed’ even though a majority also consider the trials to be ‘unfair’ or ‘very unfair,’ according to an opinion poll conducted in April 2013.
The poll, which was amongst a series of surveys conducted by the pollster AC Nielson also found that nearly twice as many people were against, rather than in favour, of the Shahbagh movement.
When 2510 randomly selected people throughout Bangladesh were asked in April whether they knew about the war crimes trials, 92 percent said that they did with 86 per cent of these voters stating that they personally wanted the trials to proceed, with only 12 per cent against.*
However, when asked about the fairness of the process, 63 per cent (of those that knew about the trials) thought that the trials were unfair or very unfair (with 41 percent stating that they were unfair and 22 per cent stating that the trials were ‘very’ unfair) and only 31 per cent considered that the trials were fair or 'very' fair (with 22 percent stating that they were fair and 9 per cent thinking that they were ‘very’ fair).
Those voters who thought that the trials were ‘unfair/very unfair’ included supporters of all the main parties: 84 per cent of the BNP and Jamaat supporters, 80 per cent of Jatiya party voters, and even 32 per cent of Awami Leaguers.
Voters were not asked about the reason for their views on the fairness of the tribunal but the process was subject in November and December 2012 to particular controversy with the publication of Skype conversations and e-mails involving the former chairman of one of the tribunals and allegations about the state abduction of a defence witness.
Voters were also asked about their view on the relationship between the BNP and the war crimes trials.
Fifty-four per cent agreed with the statement that the BNP ‘was not supporting war criminals, they are only demanding fair trials’ whilst 25 per cent agreed with the statement that the BNP ‘secretly support war criminals.’ Twenty-one per cent did not know which statement was correct.
This result would suggest that the attempt by Awami League politicians to taint the BNP through alleging its support for ‘war criminals’ has only been partially successful.
Questions were also asked about the Shahbagh protests which were triggered in February 2013 by the decision of the International Crimes Tribunal to sentence Abdul Quader Mollah, following his conviction for crimes against humanity during the 1971 independence war, to life imprisonment, rather than to a death sentence.
The poll found that 66 per cent of those questioned knew about the Shahbagh protests and out of this number, 69 per cent thought that the ‘reason’ why the protesters were at Shahbagh were to ‘demand justice/capital punishment,’ with only 19 per cent thinking that the object was ‘anti-Islamist.’
However, when those voters who knew about the protests were asked about the extent to which ‘most of your friends and family’ supported or were against the movement, the poll found that only 31 per cent supported/highly supported it (of which 13 per cent ‘highly’ supported it) and that 51 per cent thought that their friends and family were against/highly against it (21 per cent being ‘highly’ against).
The poll found that most Awami League supporters (60 per cent) supported the Shahbagh protests, with most BNP supporters (71 per cent) opposing them.
The poll also sought views on the nature of the protest. When asked, ‘Do you think the movement was a pure movement by the youth or is it a movement created by a certain party?’ the majority of voters, 51 per cent, stated that it was ‘orchestrated,’ with other 25 per cent believing it to be a ‘pure movement.’ Fifteen per cent of voters, however, thought that it started off as a pure movement and was ‘later supported by a political party.’
Most voters in the poll (61 per cent) did not think that the Shahbagh movement would have impact on the next general elections although 24 per cent considered that it would help the Awami League and 7 per cent that it would assist the BNP.
The April 2013 opinion poll is part of the Democratic Participation and Reform programme, which is funded by the US and UK government aid bodies, USAID and UKAID and implemented by the international non-governmental organisation Democracy International.
* Correction: This and the following paragraph have been ammended to clarify that the questions about the level of support for proceedings and about the fairness of the trial process, were asked of those respondents who 'knew' about the war crimes trial, which was 92 percent of the total respondents.
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