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Islamist fury over war crimes tribunal

Hundreds hurt and arrested in nationwide protests

Jamaat activists set vehicles on fire in Dhaka during clashes yesterday Jamaat activists set vehicles on fire in Dhaka during clashes yesterday
  • ucanews.com reporter, Dhaka
  • Bangladesh
  • November 6, 2012
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About 250 people including 54 police officers were injured yesterday when Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami demonstrators clashed with police across the country. The protesters are demanding the release of senior party leaders currently facing trial on war crimes charges.

In Dhaka, 33 were arrested as hundreds of activists clashed with police, demanding the cessation of the ongoing war crimes tribunal and the release of nine Jamaat leaders detained on charges of crimes against humanity during Bangladesh's 1971 liberation war.

“We barred the activists as they halted traffic movement by blocking roads and they attacked us with bricks and sticks injuring 22 police officers,” said Dhaka deputy police commissioner Nurul Islam. “They also vandalized about 10 vehicles including one police van.”

The attacks on police were premeditated, Islam said, and led to 210 arrests nationwide.

But Safikul Islam Masud, a Jamaat leader from Dhaka, said the protests were peaceful and alleged that police attacked them with batons, rubber bullets and tear gas.

“We organized a democratic protest rally demanding the release of our leaders from the so-called war crimes trials," Masud said. "Police attacked us without just cause, and hundreds of our activists were hurt and detained."

The war crimes tribunal was formed by the Awami League-led government in 2010. Eleven people, including two leaders from the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and nine from Jamaat, were arrested as part of it.

It is alleged that the Pakistani army and their local supporters killed three million people and raped more than 200,000 women during the nine month war for Bangladeshi independence. Local Islamists were blamed for aiding the army and committing widespread killing, looting, arson and rape.

The government says the tribunal is meant to deliver justice for millions. However, the BNP and Jamaat deny the allegations against their leaders and call the trial a tool of ‘political vengeance and gain.’

While there is a popular demand for war crimes trials, rights activists and observers are divided over the standard and procedure of two tribunals currently in progress.

Catholic lawyer and rights activist Rosaline Costa says there is no question about the standard of the tribunals, but they are functioning as a platform for political gain for both ruling and opposition parties.

“I don’t think the present government can complete the trial anyway,” she said. For the Awami League, setting up the tribunal was more about political gain than justice, she explained, adding that "they are not that serious about it."

"For the BNP or Jamaat it’s an open agenda to attack the ruling party,” the coordinator of Hotline Human Rights Bangladesh said.

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