Oct 1 2013, 4:50am CDT | by IANS
Dhaka, Oct 1 — A tribunal in Bangladesh's capital Dhaka Tuesday issued the death penalty to a top opposition party leader for war crimes, including mass killings, during the country's war of independence 42 years ago.
The latest verdict came about two weeks after the country's apex court awarded death penalty to a high-ranking Jamaat leader for war crimes, including mass killings.
This is the first time that the ICT has delivered a verdict on war crimes charges against a member of parliament and a leader of the BNP, which is headed by ex-prime minister Khaleda Zia, a rival of incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Justice ATM Fazle Kabir, head judge of ICT-1, announced that nine out of 23 charges, which include mass killings, murder, genocide and conspiracy to kill intellectuals during the country's Liberation War in 1971, were proved beyond reasonable doubt against the 64-year-old leader.
The three-member panel of the ICT-1 read out the summary of the 172-page verdict in a jam-packed court room in the presence of a huge crowd of people, particularly journalists and lawyers, amid tightened security in and around the tribunal.
Security has been beefed up in places in Dhaka and Chittagong. Paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) troops have been deployed to thwart any untoward incident after the verdict against Chowdhury, a member of BNP's standing committee, the highest policy-making body of the party.
This is the seventh war crimes case verdict in Bangladesh. Six current and former leaders of BNP's key ally Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami party had earlier been sentenced to either death or life imprisonment for crimes against humanity during the Liberation War.
In April last year, Chowdhury was indicted on the charges of genocide, murders, abductions, torture in confinement, loot, arson attacks and complicity in other atrocities committed in Chittagong in 1971.
In his closing arguments in the case, defence counsel A.K.M. Fakhrul Islam claimed that the prosecution had failed to prove the charges and expressed the hope that his client would be acquitted.
After returning to power in January 2009, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of Bangladesh's independence hero Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, established the first tribunal in March 2010, almost 40 years after the 1971 fight for independence from Pakistan, to prosecute those who committed crimes against humanity during the nine-month war.
Both the BNP and Jamaat have dismissed the court as a government "show trial" and said it was a domestic set-up without the oversight or involvement of the United Nations.
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