Dhaka, Wed Sept 17 05:30 GMT
Allama Delwar Hussain Sayedee, a vice president of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami and one of the most prominent Islamic scholars in Bangladesh, has been sentenced to life imprisonment by the Supreme Court of Bangladesh on alleged charges of crimes against humanity committed during the 1971 War of Independence. The Supreme Court commuted an earlier death sentence given by the special International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) on February 28 2013 to life imprisonment.
The ICT was set up by the current ruling Awami League government to try those alleged to have committed crimes against humanity during the war over 40 years ago. Although there has been some demands from the victims of the 1971 war for justice, the current mechanism through the ICT has widely been vied as totally inadequate, with accusations of being politically motivated against the opponents of the ruling Awami League and lacking minimum international standards required for such tribunals and courts. Numerous International observers and bodies including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the United Nations, USA State Department and European Court of Human Rights among others have criticised the Bangladeh ICT as having too many shortcomings to be able to deliver a transparent justice that it has been set up for. The higher courts also stand accused of being politically infiltrated by the ruling party in order to ensure desired verdicts against its political opponents.
So far one Jamaat leader, Mr Abdul Quader Mollah, has been executed by hanging in December 2013 through verdicts from these controversial courts. The previous verdicts and their implementations are believed by many to have been carried out in line with political circumstances to ensure the maximum political benefits to the ruling Awami League; the hanging of Mr Mollah was rushed before completion of due process of the law as a seeming political act in the run up to the January 2014 general elections that saw the Awami League retain the ruling seat against the backdrop of opposition election boycott and poor voter turnout. It is believed by many that the previous death penalty against Mr Sayedee by the ICT, and the subsequent commuting to the lifetime imprisonment today by the Supreme Court, are similarly politically manipulated.
Mr Sayedee asserts to have been politically impartial and inactive n 1971. Credible evidence and witnesses for his innocence has been disregarded by both courts. One of his key witnesses, Mr Shukhoranjan Bali, was abducted by the government’s security forces at the court gates in November 2012 just as he was about to enter the court to give evidence in support of Mr Sayedee. Mr Bali was later discovered to have been transferred to India where he has been located in Dum Dum Central Jail, Kolkata.
Mr Sayedee is a very popular Islamic scholar and preacher with millions of supporters throughout Bangladesh and the diaspora. He is one of the most popular leaders of Jamaat which is a member of the opposition alliance led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. It is alleged that the ruling Awami League is manipulating the sensitivities surrounding the 1971 Independence War to harass and eliminate its political opponents, and in particular the religious political opponents from Jamaat who form the bulk of the ICT accused.
Mr Sayedee maintains his full innocence and his lawyers have vowed to continue fighting for his acquittal and freedom.