Islamist leader sentenced to death in Bangladesh

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September 17, 2013

A senior leader of Bangladesh’s main Islamic party, Abdul Quader Mollah, has been sentenced to death for war crimes committed during the country’s 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.

The ruling, by Bangladesh’s Supreme Court, was followed by violent protests in Chittagong and Dhaka and a call for a 48-hour general strike by leaders of his Jamaat-e-Islami party. The decision was denounced by both his defence team and human rights groups as a breach of natural justice.

Mr Mollah, known by opponents as the ‘Butcher of Mirpur’, is one of four Jamaat-e-Islami leaders sentenced to death by the Bangladesh government’s controversial International Crimes Tribunal. The tribunal was established in 2010 by prime minister Sheikh Hasina to try those accused of war crimes during the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan. The government claims up to three million were killed.

The Jamaat leader was jailed for life earlier this year for rape, murder and torture, in a sentence denounced by protesters as too lenient. The government later amended the law to allow it to appeal against the verdict and sentence. The Attorney General Mahbubey Alam Mr Mollah said Mr Mollah now had no further right of appeal and could only plead for clemency.

Toby Cadman, Mr Mollah’s British lawyer, said while he believed atrocities had been committed in Bangladesh, the trials of his client and others accused of war crimes had been politically motivated.

The original life imprisonment sentence had been overturned on appeal only after the government changed the law and applied it retrospectively in breach of international conventions.

Mr Cadman cited a secretly filmed meeting between a defence figure and a key witness in the war crimes trial of another Jamaat leader in which the witness said he was being forced by government threats and financial inducements to give evidence.

In the film, the witness, known as ‘Nannu’ said he and his family had been threatened and that he had been offered a large interest free loan to be a witness against Motiur Rahman Nizami, another top Jamaat leader, accused of committing atrocities. “I’ve seen this video and it’s deeply disturbing. It brings the whole process into question. If this witness has been pursued and coerced by the government, there has to be an international, independent inquiry into this whole process,” said Mr Cadman.

A Human Rights Watch spokesman said retrospective use of a new law against Mr Mollah was a breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Bangladesh had signed.

“The prohibition on retroactive penalties is one of the fundamental protections of the rights of the accused in both international law, and for that matter in Bangladeshi law as well. Without this protection, governments would simply keep amending laws whenever faced with a verdict they didn’t like,” he said.

Source: The Telegraph