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Friday, March 1, 2013
Death Sentence Given to Bangladesh Islamist Sparks Fatal Clashes
Source: Bloomberg News Bangladesh’s war crimes tribunal sentenced a senior member of the country’s biggest Islamic party to death, sparking fatal violence nationwide.
A panel of judges yesterday foundJamaat-e-Islamileader Delwar Hossain Sayedee guilty of committing crimes against humanity during Bangladesh’s independence struggle in 1971, Syed Haider Ali, a prosecutor, said in comments on live television.
The tribunal’s first verdict since protesters began occupying a Dhaka square to demand capital punishment for the guilty was followed by clashes between activists of Jamaat and security forces, which the Daily Star newspaperreportedleft as many as 13 people dead, three of them policemen.
The International Crimes Tribunal’s rulings have reopened wounds from thewarmore than four decades ago that led to the founding of Bangladesh. Thousands of protesters demanding the most severe punishments for those convicted have occupied Shahbag square in central Dhaka since judges sentenced another Jamaat leader to life in prison on Feb. 5.
Sayedee, 73, who was in court when the verdict was delivered, faced 19 charges including the murder of civilians, collaborating with the Pakistani army to kill and torture unarmed people, torching homes and carrying out atrocities against the Hindu community, according to a court document detailing the indictment. Eight charges were proved beyond reasonable doubt, Ali said.
“It’s a victory day, it’s a day of joy. Through this verdict, the nation is seeing the resurgence of liberation war spirits,” Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told reporters at the tribunal premises in Dhaka amid heightened security.
Sayedee was sentenced to death on two specific charges of killing unarmed people in the southern district of Pirojpur, Alam said.
The judges -- led by Justice A.T.M. Fazle Kabir -- said in their summary of the verdict that international law imposed no statute of limitations onwar crimes.
Demonstrators led by Imran Sarkar, convener of a group known as the Bloggers and Online Activists Network, called for the death penalty for Sayedee as they poured into the capital’s financial district of Motijheel Feb. 27.
“We won’t give up the fight until we get justice,” Sarkar said in a statement to the media. The protesters later relocated to Shahbag, the rallying point for anti-Jamaat activists. Jamaat called for a national strike, demanding Sayedee be freed.
At the end of British colonial rule in 1947, East and West Pakistan were separated by 2,000 kilometers (1,241 miles) of Indian territory. Pakistani troops in 1971 attempted to quell a nationalist uprising in the east that was triggered by the jailing of Hasina’s father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who had led his Awami League to victory in elections. The war ended nine months later with the creation of Bangladesh after Indian forces helped defeatPakistan’s army.
As crowds swelled in Shahbag, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed Feb. 17 empowered the tribunal to punish any organization whose members carried out crimes during the independence fight. The move sparkedreportsthe government was preparing to ban Jamaat, an extremist group which sided with Pakistan during the war and whose members account for nine of the dozen people facing the tribunal.
Previously judges could only put individuals on trial. In another change, prosecutors can now appeal any of the panel’s verdicts.
In a sign of the widespread anger the alleged mass murders, rapes and abductions four decades ago can still provoke, the Dhaka protest site has drawn bloggers, writers, singers, teachers, students, and the country’s cricket team. Police say the gathering has at times swelled to 100,000 people.
While the prime minister says the tribunal is about righting an historic wrong, opponents have called the trials politically motivated. Jamaat is an ally of Hasina’s main rival, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, and won nearly 5 percent of votes cast in the nation’s parliamentary election in 2008, according to the Bangladesh Election Commission.
The Shahbag protests began after the tribunal Feb. 5 gave a jail term to Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Mollah.
The protesters defend their call for the death penalty for the guilty by saying that people like Mollah would be freed from jail if Jamaat once again has a role in government.
Sayedee was involved in the abduction, confinement and rape of women, including Hindus, in Pirojpur, according to the court document. He also forced some Hindus to convert to Islam, an act the court considers a crime against humanity.