Bangladesh TV preacher sentenced to death

Controversial Bangladeshi war crimes court probing the 1971 war for independence orders hanging of fugitive preacher.

The tribunal's verdict was warmly welcomed by the government and its supporters [AFP]

A controversial Bangladeshi war crimes court probing the nation’s independence war has sentenced a fugitive Muslim TV preacher to death as it handed down its first judgement.

Maolana Abul Kalam Azad, who has been on the run for about a year “is found guilty… to be hanged by the neck until he is dead” for genocide and murder during the 1971 war against Pakistan, Judge Obaidul Hasan announced on Monday.

The International Crimes Tribunal, a domestic body with no international oversight, was created by the government in 2010 and has been tainted by allegations it is politically motivated.

Its first verdict was warmly welcomed by the government and its supporters.

“It’s a victory for humanity. Bangladeshi people have been waiting for this day since 1971. They can now heave a sigh of relief,” said Attorney-General Mahbubey Alam.

Supporters of the ruling Awami League party held processions in the capital and across the country as the verdict was announced.

There were also marches by former freedom fighters, some of whom made V signs.

Azad, 63, who for years presented a widely-watched show on Islam on private and state-run television channels, is a former leading member of Bangladesh’s largest Islamic opposition party Jamaat-e-Islami.

In total, 11 top opposition figures – nine from Jamaat and two from the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) – stand accused of war crimes.

Controversial tribunal

Both Jamaat and the BNP have called the cases “politically motivated and farcical” and international rights groups have questioned the proceedings and found loopholes in the war crime laws.

Abus Shukur Khan, a tribunal-appointed defence lawyer for Azad, said the case was “false”.

“He was not involved in any of these crimes and was never named a Pakistani collaborator,” he said, adding the convict can appeal the verdict in the Supreme Court but he “must surrender to the court or be arrested”.

Prosecutor Shahidur Rahman said Azad was a Jamaat activist during the war when he was known as “Bachchu the collaborator” in his home town in a southwestern district, where he was accused of murdering at least a dozen Hindus.

Jamaat-e-Islami campaigned against Bangladesh’s war of separation from Pakistan. The party stands accused of supporting or in some cases taking part in atrocities committed by Pakistani troops.

Azad, who also heads an Islamic charity, is believed to have fled the country immediately after the tribunal opened the case against him.

Bangladesh was called East Pakistan until 1971.

The current government says up to three million people were killed in the war, many murdered by locals who collaborated with Pakistani forces.

Source: News Agencies