A Bangladesh war crimes court has found a British-based Muslim leader and a US citizen guilty of atrocities committed during the war of independence and sentenced them to death in absentia.
Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin and Ashrafuz Zaman Khan were tried in absentia on charges of killing 18 intellectuals and professionals in the last week of the 1971 liberation war.
“They encouraged, they gave moral support to and participated in the killing of 18 intellectuals,” judge Mujibur Rahman Mia told the packed court in Dhaka on Sunday.
Mueen-Uddin, who fled to Britain after the war, is the director of Muslim spiritual care provision in the National Health Service and a Muslim community representative.
Khan was a member of the Central Committee of the Islami Chhatra Sangha. After the war, he went to Pakistan and worked for Radio Pakistan and later moved to New York.
Mueen-Uddin is accused of leading a notorious militia during the war, abducting and torturing civilians, and helping Pakistani forces to target and kill top intellectuals including doctors, scholars and journalists.
Mueen-Uddin denied the charges against him when he spoke to Al Jazeera last July, saying: “Yes, I supported the unity of Pakistan, but supporting the sovereignty of a nation is one thing and getting involved in any criminal activity is quite another.”
Bangladesh, which was called East Pakistan until 1971, has struggled to come to terms with its violent birth.
The current government says up to three million people were killed in the war, many murdered by locals who collaborated with Pakistani forces.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government established the tribunal in March 2010 to try the collaborators, but it has been hit by a series of controversies.
More than 100 people have been killed in protests and counter-protests over the war crimes convictions this year.
Al Jazeera’s Rob Reynolds, reporting from outside the courthouse, said security had been tightened although no violence was expected after Sunday’s verdicts.
He said the opposition, a coalition of 18 parties, believes that the tribunal is a way for the ruling party to try and physically eliminate some of the opposition parties, especially the religious ones, through “judicial show trials”.
“The opposition says that the current prime minister is unseemingly rushed to carry out these trials and possibly carry out the death sentences before her government is removed from power, as it seems likely at this point that the opposition will win the January election.”