Warrants issued for Bangladeshi Islamic party leaders on charges of crimes against humanity
DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A special tribunal in Bangladesh issued arrest warrants against four senior leaders of the country’s largest Islamic party on Monday ahead of a planned trial over alleged crimes against humanity during the nation’s 1971 independence war.
Suspects including Jamaat-e-Islami party chief Matiur Rahman Nizami and his senior party colleagues Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid, Abdul Quader Mollah and Muhammad Kamaruzzaman were arrested earlier on various charges including attacking police and blaspheming Islam.
Monday’s arrest warrants mean the tribunal is allowing authorities to keep them behind bars for interrogation on specific charges of crimes against humanity.
The party has accused the government of conspiracy and arresting its leaders on politically motivated charges.
The government set up the tribunal in March to prosecute people accused of collaborating with the Pakistani army in killings and other crimes during the 1971 war that culminated in Bangladesh ceding from Pakistan and winning independence.
On Monday, the three-member tribunal headed by Justice Nizamul Huq made the order after the prosecution petitioned it, seeking arrest warrants against them on charges of alleged genocide, murder, rape, torture, looting and arson related to 1971 war. In an amended law, the government recently described these heinous acts as crimes against humanity.
Chief Prosecutor Golam Arif Tipu told the court that if the accused were not detained in connection with the charges of committing crimes against humanity, they could be released from custody on bail in other cases and could leave the country or obstruct the investigation.
Later Monday, a magistrate in Dhaka separately allowed detectives to question Nizami and Mujahid for three days.
According to official Bangladesh figures, Pakistani soldiers, aided by local collaborators, killed an estimated 3 million people, raped about 200,000 women and forced millions more to flee their homes during a bloody nine-month guerrilla war.
Police say most of the suspects are from Jamaat-e-Islami, which opposed the battle for independence and sided with Pakistan. India backed those seeking independence.
The tribunal was pledged by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League before it won general elections in 2008.
Jamaat-e-Islami was a major partner of a 2001-2006 coalition government headed by Hasina’s longtime political rival, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia. Two of the suspects, Nizami and Mujahid, were senior ministers of that government.
On March 26, 1971, Bangladesh — then called East Pakistan — declared its independence from West Pakistan, following years of perceived political and economic discrimination. Bangladesh emerged as an independent nation on Dec. 16, 1971, with the surrender of the Pakistani army in Dhaka.
After the war, an amnesty was declared by independence leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman — Hasina’s father — for collaborators who were not directly involved in heinous crimes. It did not cover those who had specific charges or evidence of crimes against them. It remains unclear whether the four Islamic party leaders have outstanding criminal cases dating to that time.
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