Bangladesh court takes on Human Rights Watch over trial report
Rights group says guilty verdicts on Islamic leaders were biased
HRW's Brad Adams speaks at a press conference to launch their Bangladesh report (Munir Uz Zaman / AFP)
A court in Dhaka has threatened Human Rights Watch with contempt of court after the New York-based group questioned the guilty verdict handed to a radical Islamist leader for crimes in the 1971 war of liberation.
HRW described the verdict which resulted in a 90-year sentence for Ghulam Azam, the former chief and spiritual guru of radical Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami, as "flawed" and short of international standards.
“The problems with the Azam trial are manifold, and lead to the inescapable conclusion that there has been strong judicial bias towards the prosecution and grave violations of due process rights,” said Brad Adams, Asia Director of HRW.
“The victims of these crimes and their families deserve real answers, which can only be found through fair and transparent proceedings.”
HRW's report listed five concerns over the trial, including improper conduct by judges, investigations on behalf of the prosecution, collusion and bias among prosecutors and judges, failure to take steps to protect defense witnesses, changes in the trial court panel, and lack of evidence to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
ATM Fazle Kabir, head judge of the International Crimes Tribunal-1, one of the two domestic courts prosecuting people for crimes against humanity during the war, passed an order to the group demanding they prove their innocence against contempt of court within three weeks.
Law Minister Shafique Ahmed said the HRW observation is “interference.” Barrister Tureen Afroz, a state prosecutor, said: “HRW's allegations are vague, baseless and completely false. It is a shameless move to undermine our judicial process.” Her team filed a petition on August 20 to bring contempt of court charges against HRW.
Azam was sentenced on July 15 for more than 60 counts of war crimes including planning, conspiracy, incitement, complicity and murder. He was found guilty on all counts but was spared the death penalty due to old age.
On August 12, the prosecution appealed against the sentence, arguing that Azam deserved the death penalty.
Jamaat opposed Bangladeshi independence from Pakistan. Its entire leadership is accused of wartime abuses as local collaborators of the Pakistan army, whose nine-month war led to the deaths of more than three million civilians and the rape of about 200,000 women.
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