US citizen, Briton sentenced in absentia for 1971 war crimes in Bangladesh

08.11.2013 22:03

DHAKA — A Bangladesh war crimes
court convicted and sentenced to
death in absentia on Sunday two men
accused of committing atrocities
during the country's war of
independence from Pakistan in 1971.
Britain-based Muslim leader
Chowdhury Mueen Uddin and
Ashrafuzzaman Khan, a U.S. citizen,
were found guilty of the torture and
murder of 18 intellectuals during the
war, lawyers and tribunal officials said.
They said the 18 included nine Dhaka
University teachers, six journalists and
three doctors. Both men were 65 years
"Justice will be denied if they are not
given death sentences for their
heinous crimes," judge Obaidul Hassan
told the crowded tribunal.
Lawyers representing Mueen
denounced the verdict and said the
court had staged a show trial.
Bangladesh has been hit in recent
months by a wave of violent protests
over war crimes convictions,
presenting the government with a
security and credibility challenge
ahead of polls early next year.
The tribunal has brought down eight
convictions so far, with six defendants
sentenced to death.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina set up
the tribunal in 2010 to investigate
abuses during the conflict, during
which India helped Bangladesh, then
known as East Pakistan, break away
from Pakistan. It delivered its first
verdict in January.
The prime minister's opponents say
she is using the tribunal against the
two biggest opposition parties, the
Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and
the Jamaat-e-Islami.
Bloodletting has erupted across the
country since the tribunal's first
verdict. More than 100 people have
been killed in the clashes this year,
most of them were Islamist party
activists and members of the security
Outside the courtroom, veterans of the
war were among hundreds of people
who cheered the verdict.
So far, six former and current Jamaat
leaders and two BNP leaders have
been convicted.
The New York-based Human Rights
Watch group has said the tribunal's
procedures fall short of international
Rejecting all charges leveled against
Mueen, his international legal team said
in a statement: "This is coming from a
body that has been accused of gross
irregularity and misconduct by human
rights groups, notable figures and
institutions around the world."
It accused the government of staging a
"political show trial" to help the ruling
party keep power in upcoming
elections. It called for a halt to all trials
and the convening of a full
international inquiry.
Law Minister Shafique Ahmed told
reporters that international standards
had been upheld and pledged action to
bring the two men to Bangladesh.
"We know where they are living. We
must do our best to bring them back
and execute them," state prosecutor
Tureen Afroz told reporters.
Sunday's verdicts appeared to have
triggered no unrest.
But sporadic violence broke out on the
eve of a new 60-hour strike called by
the BNP to demand next year's
election take place under a non-
partisan government. Several people
were injured as crude bombs went off
in Dhaka and other cities.
Bangladesh became part of Pakistan at
the end of British rule in 1947 but it
broke away from Pakistan in 1971
after a nine-month war. Some factions
in Bangladesh, including the Jamaat,
opposed the break with Pakistan, but
the party denies accusations that its
leaders committed murder, rape and
About three million people were killed,
according to official figures, and
thousands of women were raped.