Bangladesh sentences two to death for war crimes

Prosecutors say one of the convicts headed group behind series of attacks on civilians during 1971 independence war.

Defence lawyers said they would seek to overturn the International Crimes Tribunal ruling [Mahmud Hossain Opu/Al Jazeera]

A Bangladeshi tribunal has sentenced two pre-independence figures to death for war crimes during the 1971 conflict which culminated in the dismemberment of Pakistan.

Lawyers for 66-year-old Obaidul Haque and Ataur Rahman, 62, immediately announced that they would seek to overturn Tuesday’s ruling by the International Crimes Tribunal, a domestic court which lacks international oversight.

Both men were convicted of killing seven people and raping a woman in the northern district of Netrokona, and of torturing six others to death after abducting them.

A total of 23 prosecution witnesses had testified against the pair since charges were laid against them last year.

The court has so far convicted two dozen people of atrocities in the conflict, in what was then East Pakistan, which broke away from the rest of the country to become Bangladesh.

READ MORE: Between justice and politics in Bangladesh

Following Tuesday’s verdict, Mokhlesur Rahman Badal, a prosecutor, told Al Jazeera: “The prosecution is satisfied with this judgment.”

Ziad al-Malum, another prosecutor, told Al Jazeera that with the verdict, the tribunal “made it clear that there can be no more debate over the number of three million martyrs whose sacrifices have given us an independent state”.

Prosecutors had told the tribunal that Haque was not only one of the leaders of an anti-independence political party in 1971, but also the head of an armed group behind a series of attacks on civilians.

Rahman was accused by witnesses of being a member of the same armed group.

“We will challenge the verdict with the Supreme Court and hope our clients will be proved not guilty and be acquitted,” Gazi Tamim, a defence lawyer, said after the sentence was handed down.

Sheikh Hasina's government says the trials are needed to heal the wounds of the conflict [Mahmud Hossain Opu/Al Jazeera]
Sheikh Hasina’s government says the trials are needed to heal the wounds of the conflict [Mahmud Hossain Opu/Al Jazeera]

Twenty-four people have so far been convicted of war crimes by the International Crimes Tribunal.

Most of them were senior figures in Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s largest Islamist party.

Three of the Jamaat leaders have so far been executed, along with a senior leader of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

The government of Sheikh Hasina Wajed says the trials are needed to heal the wounds of the conflict.

The BNP accuses the prime minister of presiding over politically motivated killings.

Jamaat, which was banned from contesting the 2014 general elections, says the executions are part of a strategy “aimed at eliminating” its leadership

Previous convictions and sentences handed down by the International Crimes Tribunal have set off political violence, with up to 500 people killed over the past three years. 

With reporting from Mahmud Hossain Opu in Dhaka

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies