News / Asia

Bangladesh Sentences Islamist Leader for War Crimes

Bangladesh's Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami former chief Ghulam Azam, on wheelchair, is escorted by security people to a court in Dhaka, July 15, 2013.
Bangladesh's Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami former chief Ghulam Azam, on wheelchair, is escorted by security people to a court in Dhaka, July 15, 2013.
TEXT SIZE - +
Anjana Pasricha
— In Bangladesh, a controversial war crimes court has sentenced a top Islamist leader to 90 years in prison for his role in atrocities committed during the country’s war of independence. The sentencing of 90-year-old Ghulam Azam has triggered violent clashes in which two people have died and several have been injured.     

The sentence was handed down Monday to the former head of Jamaat-e-Islami party, Ghulam Azam, in a packed courtroom in Dhaka. Azam, brought to court in a wheelchair, was found guilty of several crimes including inciting and planning war crimes in 1971, when Bangladesh broke free of Pakistan.

Prosecutors said he played a key role in setting up militia groups that killed and raped thousands of people. His defense lawyers said the charges were politically motivated.   

Clashes erupted even before the verdict was read out as Jamaat-e-Islami activists threw stones and torched vehicles in Dhaka and other cities. Police fired rubber bullets to disperse protestors. Several people were injured in the violence which began on Sunday.

Ghulam Azam is the fifth leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party to be sentenced since January by the war crimes tribunal, set up by the Awami-League led government in 2010. The trials have triggered violence that has left more than 100 people dead since January.

Professor Ataur Rahman at Dhaka University said Azam’s sentence could spark another round of deadly violence in the country.

“They will be on streets now, they are very frustrated and very angry. There will be more confrontation on this issue, there will be a new wave of protesting against the government, so we are expecting crisis after crisis,” said the professor.  

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s critics said she was using the tribunals to settle political scores and weaken the opposition ahead of next year’s general elections. Hasina said the prosecutions were an attempt to find justice for the tens of thousands of people who died during the country’s struggle for independence forty years ago and their surviviors. 

Professor Rahman said the trials have alienated Islamic groups in the country from the ruling party. He said this was working to the advantage of the main opposition party.   
  
“The main opposition, Bangladesh Nationalist Party is capitalizing on these problems of the government, and they are now mobilizing on the support of the Islamic groups as well as their own support. So this will be a tremendous pressure on the government,” he said.

Many middle class, secular people in Bangladesh support the trials and are calling for stiff punishments for the Islamist leaders. But experts said out in the countryside there was strong support for the Jamaat-e-Islami party and anger at the ongoing trials.

Human rights groups have also criticized the war crimes tribunal for falling short of international standards.


  • Members of Bangladesh Muktijoddha Sangsad shout slogans after a war crimes tribunal sentenced Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid to death, July 17, 2013.
  • A member of Bangladesh Muktijoddha Sangsad reacts after a war crimes tribunal sentenced Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid to death, July 17, 2013.
  • Secretary General of Jamaat-e-Islami Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid waves from a police vehicle as he is transported to the central jail following his court verdict in Dhaka, Bangladesh, July 17, 2013.
  • Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid  exits a court after the verdict of his trial in Dhaka, Bangladesh, July 17, 2013.

You May Like

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid