Within just two weeks since 19 April, Hefazat-e-Islam's leaders met Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal twice, held meetings at his official residence and pursued him to realise their demands, including – the most important one – release of their leaders arrested on charges of destroying public properties and carrying out subversive activities during the celebration of Bangladesh's 50 years of independence at the end of March.
The underlying meaning of the outcomes of the last meeting held on Tuesday night seems more significant if what a state minister and a Hefazat leader said to the media after the three-hour meeting is taken into consideration.
The state minister for religious affairs who joined the meeting along with the home minister told the media, "Hefazat leaders have admitted that some of their actions were wrong. They said that infiltrators vandalised and caused the violence. Later, they requested to release their leaders and activists."
Nurul Islam Jihadi, secretary general of the recently dissolved Hefazat committee and member secretary of the current convening committee, said, "The home minister has promised to release the arrested leaders and activists."
Two weeks ago, top leaders of Hefazat also met with the senior officials of the police's Special Branch (SB). Hefazat leaders even "admitted their mistakes" for the recent anti-government activities, according to a TBS report, and it wants compromise with the government again.
Confessing any wrongdoing or pleading to guilty may lessen the punishment, but that does not pave the way for acquittal of the accused from the criminal charges. But Hefazat leaders want release of their arrested leaders and activists accused of committing criminal offences.
The "negotiation" with the minister and the SB officials is not supported by the law as it is the judiciary that will decide whether the accused are guilty or not. And it is the duty of the police to investigate and place charge sheets before the court of the cases they filed against the Hefazat leaders and activists. The home minister in no way can "promise" – as the Hefazat leader told the media – to release the arrested leaders and activists.
It is clear that Hefazat leaders do not want disposal of the cases through proper procedure of the law which was violated by the Hefazat men who carried out the violence. Is this the rule of Hefazat that has emerged as a threat to a progressive Bangladesh and economic growth and women empowerment? The principles of their politics are contradictory to the country's constitution that advocates a principle under which all persons and institutions are accountable to the law.
In such a situation, allowing the Hefazat leaders to meet him also indicates that the home minister still has a "soft corner" for the religious outfit even after the police had filed more than a hundred cases against Hefazat leaders and activists and arrested over 500 of them countrywide on charges of various criminal offences.
In the latest long meeting, the Hefazat leaders also demanded that the government withdraw the cases filed against them following the 2013 Shapla Chattar mayhem.
Over 50 cases were filed against Hefazat leaders and activists on charges of resorting to vandalism and arson attacks on law enforcers and police outposts, vehicles, offices and shops. The violence left more than three dozen people killed.
In the last seven years, the cases remain stalled as Hefazat allegedly developed "good relations" with the government and it did not take to the streets against the government.
The law enforcement agencies announced the resumption of the stalled investigation of the cases after Hefazat carried out violence opposing Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Dhaka visit to join the celebration of 50 years of Bangladesh's independence. This time the violence annoyed the administration.
With the law enforcement agencies investigating the cases against Hefazat leaders, holding meetings with them by the home minister does not give a positive signal to the agencies to proceed with proper investigation.
The way the cases filed against Hefazat men after 2013 violence were handled undermines the rule of law. An alleged understanding between the government and Hefazat stalled the investigation of those cases.
So, there is still skepticism among many about the intention of the law enforcement agencies – whether they are trying to tame Hefazat or bring them to the book for their offences.
Shakhawat Liton is the Deputy Executive Editor of The Business Standard.