Prosecution witnesses in the war crimes case against Jamaat leader Delawar Hossain Sayedee are passing their days amid insecurity and have demanded that the government take long-term measures to ensure their safety.
Most of the 28 witnesses who testified against the Nayeb-e-Ameer of Jamaat-e-Islami are from Zianagar upazila of Pirojpur.
On February 28, International Crimes Tribunal-1 sentenced Sayedee to death and the Supreme Court is currently hearing on his appeal petition filed on March 28.
Fear of attacks has gripped the witnesses following the killing of one witness and an attack on another in the upazila.
"We don't feel ourselves safe. We are afraid of attacks on our lives," said Manik Pasari, a key witness from Parerhat of Zianagar, who first filed a case against Sayedee accusing him of committing crimes against humanity during the Liberation War.
“Though police are guarding us now, short-term security measures won't work. Sayedee's supporters won't spare us so easily," said a visibly worried Manik.
Modhusudan Gharami, another witness from Parerhat, said, “I have been given police protection for now but they cannot protect me for the rest of my life."
Earlier on December 8, prosecution witness Mostafa Hawlader was hacked in Zianagar and succumbed to his injuries at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital two days later.
On October 28, alleged Jamaat-Shibir men attacked the house of another prosecution witness, Mahabubul Alam Howlader, in the same upazila. He, however, managed to escape unhurt as he had hidden himself in the attic.
Though justice seekers and campaigners of war crimes trial have been demanding a law for the protection of witnesses and victims, no such step has yet been taken by the government.
International rights watchdog Human Rights Watch on Tuesday urged Bangladeshi authorities to urgently set up an effective mechanism to protect witnesses in the war crimes trials.
The body suggested Bangladesh to establish a neutral office, under the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) registrar, tasked specifically with protection and support services to witnesses during pretrial, trial, and post-trial stages.
When contacted, SM Aktaruzzaman, superintend of police (SP) of Pirojpur, said that they already had taken steps to protect people of Zianagar, including the witnesses.
"Whereas a police station is usually manned by just 26 police personnel, we have deployed 124 personnel in Zianagar,” he told The Daily Star.
In addition to the police station in Zianagar, four police camps had been set up and patrols, raids and search operations were being carried out regularly by Rapid Action Battalion and Border Guard Bangladesh personnel to apprehend listed miscreants, said the SP.
Around one hundred suspected criminals including about 70 Jamaat-Shibir activists have so far been arrested in connection with violence committed in the protests against Sayedee's trial and verdict, he added.
Alleged Jamaat-BNP men have perpetrated at least half a dozen murders, hacking and arson in Balipara, Sayeedkhali and Chandipur of Zianagar since Sayedee's trial began.