At least 14,000 Bangladeshis gathered in central Dhaka today to demand the death penalty for an Islamist leader sentenced to jail by a war crimes tribunal.
“The crowd may grow bigger,” Sirajul Islam, the police officer in charge of the area around the capital’s Shahbag Square, said in a telephone interview.
Abdul Quader Mollah, assistant secretary general of Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh’s biggest Islamic party, was imprisoned for life yesterday after being found guilty of murder, rape and torture during the country’s independence struggle four decades ago. The verdict sparked both demonstrations for his release and counter-protests by people angered he avoided capital punishment.
Television channel ATN Bangla broadcast footage of violent clashes today between police and Jamaat activists in Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna and Narayanganj.
In its first ruling, the government’s International Crimes Tribunal last month sentenced a former Jamaat official to death in absentia.
As British colonial rule ended in South Asia in 1947, East and West Pakistan were separated by 2,000 kilometers (1,241 miles) of Indian territory. Pakistani troops in 1971 attempted to quell a nationalist uprising in the east that was triggered by the jailing of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who had led his Awami League to victory in elections.
The war ended nine months later with the creation of Bangladesh after Indian forces helped defeat Pakistan’s army. Jamaat-e-Islami supported staying with Pakistan during the war and several of its leaders are among 10 people being investigated by the tribunal on charges they collaborated with Pakistani forces.
The tribunal was set up in 2010 by the government led by Sheikh Mujib’s daughter, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, after it began to investigate alleged war criminals from the conflict that killed three million people. Opposition parties have called it politically motivated.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has expressed concern over some aspects of the tribunal’s working, including the harassment of defense counsel, the need for clearer definitions of war crimes and better protection for witnesses.