Gono commission paper: ACC to review allegations

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The Gono Commission has recently been facing a backlash from religion-based organisations over submission of a "white paper" that named 116 religious leaders and Islamic speakers for their "involvement in laundering money, funding militancy and spreading communal hatred".

The Anti-Corruption Commission has said it will review the allegations brought by the platform, People's Inquiry Commission on Fundamentalist and Communal Violence, widely known as Gono Commission.

The ACC said it will launch a probe if it finds any substance to the allegations.

Headed by Justice Shamsuddin Chowdhury Manik, a retired judge of the Supreme Court, the platform on May 12 submitted the report to the ACC in a ceremony attended by Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan.

The 30-member commission was formed in February last year with members of the Parliamentary Caucus on Indigenous and Minorities and the Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee.

It prepared the 2,200-page white paper titled "2,000 Days of Fundamentalist and Communal Violence in Bangladesh" based on the research on militancy and communal attacks carried out in the country from July 2016 (the Holey Artisan Bakery incident) to December 2021. The Nirmul Committee has made the white paper public.

The report named 116 Islamic leaders and orators allegedly involved in laundering money, funding militancy and spreading communal hatred. The Gono Commission called upon the ACC to take actions against them.

Asked on what basis they worked on this issue, Barrister Tureen Afroz, member secretary of the Commission, said the Nirmul Committee have so far published 12 white papers on various issues, including the country's education system and Hefajat-e-Islam.

"There are many instances of publishing white papers by civil society members in different countries. Publication of such white papers has a social and political basis," she told The Daily Star.

Speaking at the May 12 event, Gono Commission Chairman Justice Manik said names of those who do business in the name of religion were mentioned in the white paper. Among them is former Hefajat-e Islam joint secretary general Mamunul Haque.

Home Minister Asaduzzaman said the white paper opened their eyes to the allegations. He insisted that he would inform Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina about the committee's recommendations after examining the report.

ACC Chairman Moinuddin Abdullah said he would also examine the white paper.

Immediately after the release of the report, different religious organisations came down hard on the Gono Commission and the white paper, saying that its information was not correct.

They said an identified anti-Islam group prepared the report to malign religious leaders. They also warned that this might lead to an unstable situation in the country.

Following the protest, the home minister on May 20 apparently changed his stance and said there was no legal basis for the commission and its report.

"I don't know what the Gono Commission has written in its report. We didn't see those named in it are responsible for terrorism or corruption. Therefore, we cannot say anything about it," Asaduzzaman said.

Sayeed Mahbub Khan, director general of ACC, said an investigation would be launched if they found any substance to the allegations after reviewing the white paper.

"The Gono Commission has provided some data and the white paper is quite long. The ACC will investigate the matter if it finds that a crime has been committed, which falls under the scope of the ACC law," he said.

The Public Inquiry Commission, however, rejected the allegations, saying that the white paper was not published to undermine Islam or religious leaders.

Tureen Afroz, member secretary of the commission, said it was proved that many religious leaders collected money in the name of holding Waz Mahfil, but they did not pay taxes.

"This is the main reason why the people on the list are angry. But we have said this after finding evidence. We visited many madrasas and held several public hearings," she told this newspaper.

Rejecting the white paper, Hefajat Ameer Muhibullah Babunagari said, "Calling us "dhormo babosayee" [those who use religion to make money] is insulting to us."

Farid Uddin Masood, chief of Bangladesh Jamiatul Ulama, said, "We think that the Gono Commission's move is a bad attempt to confront Islamist scholars and the government by destroying the present stable situation in the country."

Farid Uddin is also known as a pro-government religious leader.

Abul Kasem Kasimi, senior nayeb-e-amir of Bangladesh Khelafat Andolan, denied the allegation of collecting money.

"Why should we take money? If we do anything against the law, then the law enforcement agencies are there to look into it. Any individual or a group of people cannot assassin the characters of Islamic scholars in this way," said Kasimi, also a Hefajat leader.

Tureen Afroz said they did not mention any name of Islamic scholars in the report; rather they named those against whom there were specific allegations.

"We didn't talk about all madrasas, but gave some information about 1,000 and the government should look into the activities of those."

Shahriar Kabir, president of Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee, said though the Gono Commission has no legal basis, its report certainly has social and political basis.

"We want to help the government curb militancy and religious fundamentalism."

About the methodology of their work, Tureen Afroz said they held mass hearings in different areas for about nine months, took interviews of victims of communal attacks, local people, law enforcement officials, talked to stakeholders and collected "secondary data" from various sources, including newspapers.