Bangladesh sentences Islamist party leader to death, riots leave at least 30 dead

A special tribunal in Bangladesh today sentenced a leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party to death for crimes during the nation's 1971 war for independence. Party supporters rioted.

A.M. Ahad/AP
A Bangladeshi police officer escorts Delwar Hossain Sayedee, right, a leader of Bangladesh's largest Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami as he arrives at the International Crimes Tribunal in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Thursday. A special war crimes tribunal in Bangladesh on Thursday sentenced Sayedee to death for crimes stemming from the nation's 1971 fight for independence, a politically charged decision that sparked violent protests.

A Bangladeshi Islamist party leader was sentenced to death on Thursday over abuses carried out during the country's independence war, triggering riots that killed at least 30 people.

Delwar Hossain Sayedee, vice-president of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, was found guilty by Bangladesh's  war crimes tribunal of mass killing, rape, arson, looting and forcing minority Hindus to convert to Islam during the 1971 war of separation from Pakistan, lawyers and tribunal officials said.

After he was convicted and sentenced, police clashed with activists from Sayedee's party and violence raged in more than a dozen areas around the country, police, witnesses and media reports said.

At least three policemen were among the dead and around 300 were wounded, they added.

Protesters, who said the verdict was politically motivated, set fire to a Hindu temple and several houses in southern Noakhali region, reporters said. In the southeastern region of Cox's Bazar, they attacked a police camp, killing one.

Two policemen were killed when Islamists stormed a police station at Sundarganj in northern Gaibandha district, police said. "We have been virtually besieged. It's a horrible situation," station officer Manzur Rahman told Reuters.

Call for strike

Members of the religious party - known simply as Jamaat - called for a national strike on Sunday and Monday, raising fears of more violence. Sayedee was the third senior party member convicted by the tribunal.

In the capital, authorities deployed extra police and paramilitary soldiers, a Home Ministry official told reporters.

Thousands of people in the capital's Shahbag square, who support the tribunal and have been protesting for weeks to demand the highest penalty for war criminals, burst into cheers as the sentence was announced.

Sayedee looked defiant but remained calm in the dock as judges read out the verdict, witnesses said.

"I didn't commit any crime and the judges are not giving the verdict from the core of their heart," Sayedee told the tribunal, said reporters at the hearing.

State prosecutor Haider Ali told reporters he was happy with the verdict which he said "appropriately demonstrated justice".

Defence attorney Abdur Razzak said the sentence was politically motivated. "He is a victim of sheer injustice. We will appeal," he said.

Critics of the tribunal

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina set up the tribunal in 2010 to investigate abuses during the war that claimed about 3 million lives. Thousands of women were raped during the conflict.

The tribunal has been criticized by rights groups for failing to adhere to international standards. Human Rights Watch said lawyers, witnesses and investigators reported they had been threatened.

Critics say the tribunal is being used by the prime minister as an instrument against her opponents in the two biggest opposition parties, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the Jamaat-e-Islami. Begum Khaleda Zia, Hasina's arch rival and leader of the BNP, has called the tribunal a farce.

Hasina's party has denied allegations of bias.

On Jan. 21, the tribunal sentenced Abul Kalam Azad, a former Jamaat member, to death in absentia after he was found guilty of torture, rape and genocide during the independence war.

In its second verdict, on Feb. 5, the tribunal sentenced another senior Jamaat member, Abdul Quader Mollah, 64, to life in prison after he was found guilty of murder, rape, torture and arson.

Both verdicts triggered protests by Jamaat supporters, in which at least 15 people were killed.

Nine more people, mostly Jamaat members, are facing trial for war crimes, tribunal officials said.

The overwhelmingly Muslim south Asian country of 160 million people would likely see more violence in the run-up to parliamentary elections in January, in which both Hasina and Khaleda will run for power, analysts said.

Bangladesh became part of Pakistan at the end of British colonial rule in 1947. But the country, then known as East Pakistan, won independence with India's help in December 1971 following a nine-month war against the then West Pakistan.

Some factions in Bangladesh opposed the break with Pakistan, including the Jamaat. Jamaat leaders have denied involvement in abuses.

(Additional reporting by Ruma Paul and Serajul Quadir; Editing by Nick Macfie and Andrew Heavens)

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.