Protests in Bangladesh as Islamist sentenced
Clashes continue as Jamaat-e-Islami ex-leader (91) jailed over 1971 atrocities
Ghulam Azam, former head of Jamaat-e-Islami party, leaves court after the verdict of his trial in Dhaka. Photograph: Reuters
The Bangladesh authorities were bracing themselves for a new wave of violence after a controversial war crimes court sentenced a leading Islamist politician to life in prison yesterday.
The judgment was the latest in a series this year that have prompted unrest in the south Asian state.
An election is scheduled to take place within the next six months and there are fears of increasingly intense clashes as political factions seek to establish supremacy on the streets in the run-up to the poll.
Even before the verdict on 91-year-old Ghulam Azam, a former leader of the Jamaat-e- Islami party, was announced, there had been rioting, attacks with makeshift bombs and pitched battles. About 100 people have been injured since Sunday, according to local police officials.
The trials have revealed a deeply polarised society, in which grievances dating back more than 40 years to the brutal war of independence that saw Bangladesh break away from Pakistan remain raw.
Azam was sentenced to 90 years for planning, conspiracy, incitement and complicity to commit genocide and crimes against humanity during the 1971 conflict, lawyers and tribunal officials said.
“He was tried for five charges and all the five charges have been proved . . . He deserves highest priority of death but considering his age and ailments . . . he has been awarded a sentence of 90 years or unto death in prison,” MK Rahman, Bangladesh’s attorney general, told reporters.
Jamaat-e-Islami, the main Islamist party and a key part of an opposition coalition led by the Bangladesh National party (BNP), called a day-long strike to protest against the verdict. Further demonstrations are planned for today, officials said.
The tribunal has angered both religious conservatives in the country of 160 million and the BNP. The BNP has called the trials a politically motivated attempt to persecute the Jamaat-e- Islami leadership ahead of elections.
The extent of the atrocities in 1971 – and responsibility for them – has always been disputed. The war claimed as many as three million lives, according to estimates. Some Bangladeshi Islamists collaborated with Pakistani military forces in a systematic campaign of rape, arson and murder.
Crimes against humanity
“This is true that Ghulam Azam believed in an undivided Pakistan . . . But genocide and crimes against humanity are completely different from working for Pakistan’s freedom and sovereignty . . . The prosecution has not been able to prove any of the 61 charges it has brought against him,” Jamaat-e- Islami said in a statement.
The tribunal has so far sentenced three other Jamaat leaders to death and another to life. Gowher Rizvi, chief representative of Bangladesh’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, said: “ . . . The government is pleased with the fair judicial process and that all the charges of genocide have been upheld by the court.”
Six more JI leaders and two from the BNP are also on trial at the tribunal, which has been criticised by human rights groups for falling short of international standards.– (Guardian service)