Bangladesh shut down awaiting war crimes verdict
DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Security officers patrolled in Bangladesh’s capital before a war crimes tribunal delivers its verdict Monday against a former Islamic party leader expected to get the death penalty for atrocities during Bangladesh’s war for independence.
Ghulam Azam led Jamaat-e-Islami in then-east Pakistan in 1971 when Bangladesh became independent through a bloody war. Azam and his party are accused of forming a citizens’ brigade to commit genocide and other serious crimes against the pro-independence fighters during the war. The prosecution in the trial said Azam must take “command responsibility” for months of atrocities perpetrated by his supporters.
On Monday morning, the 91-year-old Azam was taken to the tribunal from a prison cell in a government hospital, where he was being treated for various complications.
Jamaat-e-Islami claims the trial is politically-motivated, which authorities deny. The party called for a shutdown after the tribunal announced Sunday it would have the verdict Monday. Azam led the party until 2000 and is still thought to be its political guru.
Police clashed with party supporters in parts of Dhaka while party activists set fire to a few vehicles that tried to defy the strike call, Bengali-language Prothom Alo newspaper reported.
Police fired rubber bullets to disperse an opposition procession in Dhaka’s Jatrabari area, the newspaper said, adding that some photographers and cameramen were injured in the chaos.
Similar violence was also reported in some other parts of the country, several TV stations said.
Previous verdicts against Jamaat-e-Islami leaders also sparked violence.
Azam had openly campaigned against the creation of Bangladesh and toured the Middle East to get support in favor of Pakistan. He routinely met with Pakistan authorities during the war. A mouthpiece of the party routinely published statements by Azam and his associates calling for crushing the fighters who fought against the Pakistani military in 1971.
Bangladesh says the Pakistani army killed 3 million people and raped 200,000 women with the assistance of local collaborators during the war. Some 10 million people took shelter across the border in India during the nine-month war.
Azam faces charges of conspiring to commit crimes against humanity, provoking crimes in 28 instances and being complicit in 23 incidents of crimes against humanity.
The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina formed the tribunal in 2010 to try the alleged collaborators of 1971, but the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia criticized it, saying it was meant to weaken the opposition. Jamaat-e-Islami is the main political ally of Zia’s party.
Hasina’s government says it has been mandated by the people as it had pledged to the people before 2008 election that it would try the suspects if returns to power. Hasina’s government got a landslide victory in the election.