The Bangladeshi government has deployed its paramilitary Border Guard on the streets of Dhaka after a war crimes tribunal convicted a leading member of the country’s main Islamic party of five offences of crimes against humanity during the country’s war for independence in 1971.
Abdul Quader Mollah, an assistant general secretary of the Jamaat-e-Islami party – part of the main opposition alliance – was sentenced to life imprisonment in a packed court room in Dhaka. A death sentence had been expected, but Toby Cadman, an international human rights barrister who was part of Mollah’s defence team, said that he was “appalled” by the decision. “This has very little to do with justice and the whole process has been tainted by allegations of judicial and prosecutorial misconduct,” he said.
The Jamaat-e-Islami, which has demanded that the tribunals be stopped, has announced a second day of national strikes in response to the conviction.
The crimes for which Mollah was convicted took place during a war which started after the Pakistan military refused to accept the results of democratic elections held at the end of 1970. These had resulted in the Awami League, based in what was then East Pakistan, holding a majority of parliamentary seats over the whole country.
After West Pakistan’s army initiated military operations in March 1971 in the country’s Eastern wing, a civil war erupted which resulted in the defeat of the military and the emergency of Bangladesh as a newly independent country.
During the war, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths a number of small mostly Islamic minded parties, based in East Pakistan, supported the Pakistan military.
Amongst the most prominent was the Jamaat-e-Islami whose student wing is alleged to have been involved in militias which were involved in killing Bengali civilians who were supporting independence. There are also allegations of rape and arson against the Pakistani military.
Elections are due by January 2014 and the Awami League government has been accused of using the trials to buttress its political support. Last month, a former leader of the Jamaat, Abul Kalam Azad, was sentenced to death after being found guilty in absentia of one charge of genocide and 6 charges of crimes against humanity.
The tribunal has detained a further 10 men on allegations of war crimes, all of them members of the Jamaat or the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.