The Chittagong-based group’s Secretary General Junayed Babu Nogri made the call from a rally in Motijheel on Saturday organised to press for their demands, including action against ‘atheists’.
The Hifazat, said to be backed by the Jamaat-e-Islami, has branded the demonstrators at Shahbagh ‘atheists’ and demanded punishment for them.
Apart from the shutdown call, the group also called for rallies in all the divisional cities -- Chittagong, Rajshahi, Khulna, Sylhet, and Barisal -- and in Faridpur, Bogra, Brahmanbaria, and Mymensingh from April 11 to 30.
One of their key demands is to detain the organisers of the Ganajagaran Mancha and pass anti-atheism laws with provisions for maximum penalty.
The little-known Chittagong-based group shot to limelight last month after they thwarted a rally of the Ganajagaran Mancha.
Protesters at the Ganajagaran Mancha have been demonstrating for nearly two months now demanding maximum penalty for convicted war criminals and banning the Jamaat, a party which opposed the nation’s struggle for independence in 1971.
Although organisers claimed the rally was ‘apolitical’, several leaders of the opposition alliance were seen addressing the gathering. Leaders of the BNP and the Jatiya Party had also come and expressed solidarity with the Hifazat.
The rally kicked off at around 10am and ended nearly seven hours later, but women were not seen at the rally. In fact, one of the Hifazat’s demand is also slap a ban on the public appearance of women with men.
Ahmed Shafi, the chief guest of the gathering, did not address the rally. His son Anas Madani read out a written statement.
He demanded detaining the atheists and passing acts with provisions for capital punishment for defaming Islam.
The radical group’s chief demanded the government to accede to their demands and alleged that it was siding with atheists. He urged his followers to be ready to sacrifice their lives, if necessary.
“The Prime Minister is siding with the atheists. [The government] has formed a Supreme Judicial Council against a Supreme Court judge but is not taking steps against the defamers of Islam,” he said.
Zunaid Babu Nogri said they would hold rallies in Sylhet on Apr 11, Brahmanbaria on Apr 12, Mymensingh on Apr 13, Barisal on Apr 18, Faridpur on Apr 19, Khulna on Apr 20, Chittagong on Apr 26, Rajshahi on Apr 29 and Bogra Apr 30.
They have also threatened to lay siege to Dhaka on May 5 unless the government met their demands.
Organisers of the rally claimed the Hifazat was not a political party.
Islami Oikya Jote Secretary General and Hifazat’s Joint Secretary General Faizullah read out their 13-point charter of demands.
The second phase of the programme began after Zuhr prayers with the announcement that they would bring the country to a standstill if the bloggers were not punished.
Hifazat’s Secretary General Zunaed Al Habib said they would announce tougher agitation programmes. “We’ll have to call for continuous general strikes from tomorrow considering the current situation,” he said.
As the announcement was made, thousands of supporters were seen throwing water bottles in the air in an apparent gesture of support to the statement.
The leaders speaking at the rally said the Ganajagaran Mancha chanted ‘Joy Bangla’ slogan. “It proves they (the Mancha) want a Bengal of gold (Sonar Bangla) talked about by Rabindranath Tagore,” Abdur Rob Yousufi said.
Its Joint Secretary General Moinuddin Ruhi said the ‘atheists’ must be driven away from the country and their graves dug here.
Another leader Mohammad Wakkas alleged the government was following a ‘dual policy’. “It (the government) is patronising the atheists and ensured their safety. This government is not on the side of Islam.”
He said the Hifazat would not ‘sit idle’ if their demands were not met.
Earlier in the day, the group’s supporters had ‘attacked’ a rally of the Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee at Mohakhali from a procession, hurled water bottles at DMP Commissioner Benazir Ahmed, attacked media persons injuring four journalists including a reporter of bdnews24.com. One Awami League leader was also killed in their attacks in Fairdpur and 50 others were injured.
Other demands of the group included a ban on installing statues in educational institutions and at roundabouts across the country.
The Hifazat, believed to be close to Jamaat-e-Islami, alleged a large number of their supporters could not attend the rally due to the non-cooperation of the transport owners.
They alleged the government had sided with ‘atheism’ and demanded the ‘atheists’ be thrown out of the cabinet.
They also demanded detention of Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee acting President Shahriar Kabir, Sammilita Sangskritik Jote President Nasir Uddin Yusuf Bachchu and Ganajagaran Mancha spokesman Imran H Sarker, whom they described as ‘atheists’.
Speakers at the rally also threatened to continue with their movement until the ‘atheists’ were tried.
Hifazat leader Mamunul Haq asked Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to remove Bangladesh Workers Party chief Rashed Khan Menon, Information Minister Hasanul Haque Inu and Planning Minister AK Khandker from the Cabinet. “Otherwise, your ‘boat’ will scuttle,” he warned.
Boat is the electoral symbol of the ruling Awami League.
Speaking at the rally Hifazat leader Zubair Ahmed alleged the government had been betraying the Muslims since it took office. He also said if Acting Editor of BNP-leaning Amar Desh Mahmudur Rahman was detained, they would have him freed him within 24 hours.
Ahmed Saifullah said the MPs speaking in favour of the atheists in parliament must also apologise.
Another speaker Nurul Islam Olipuri said their movement would go on until the ‘atheists’ were hanged.
Selim Ullah raised slogans against the Prime Minister at 12:55pm and the participants were seen holding their shoes high in support of it.
However, minutes after the slogan, announcements were made from the rally retracting it. “We must respect everyone. Sheikh Hasina is our Prime Minister now. The slogan chanted against her is anti-Liberation. We are retracting it.”
A platform of 25 socio-cultural organisations had enforced a 24-hour shutdown to thwart the rally. The Ganajagaran Mancha also observed a 22-hour blockade to the same end.