Bangladesh awaits Azam verdict amid protests

Supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami party clash with police ahead of a court verdict against their spiritual leader.

    Supporters of Bangladesh's biggest Islamic Party clashed with police on Sunday ahead of a court verdict against their spiritual leader for allegedly masterminding atrocities during the 1971 liberation war.

    Around 400 Jamaat-e-Islami supporters burnt a police van and hurled crude bombs in the capital Dhaka, according the police sources.

    They are protesting what they say false charges against the spiritual leader of the party, Ghulam Azam, 90, who could face the death penalty if convicted by the war crimes court on Monday.

    Previous sentences by the controversial court sparked the country's worst political violence after the liberation war.

    Azam was the head of the Jamaat-e-Islami party during the war in which the government says three million were killed, many by the militias he allegedly helped. Independent estimates put the death toll at between 300,000 and 500,000.

    The International Crimes Tribunal, which was set up by the secular government in 2010, will deliver verdict against Azam on Monday, prosecutor Sultan Mahmud told to AFP.

    Prosecutors have sought the death penalty for Azam, comparing him to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. They describe him as a "lighthouse" who guided all other war criminals and the "architect" of the militias which committed many of the 1971 atrocities.

    Call for nationwide strike

    Jamaat, the country's largest Islamic party and a key member of the opposition, has called a nationwide strike on Monday to protest the verdict.

    Azam is no longer politically active but is seen as Jamaat's spiritual leader. He faces five broad charges of planning, conspiracy, incitement, complicity and murder and torture, alleging a total of 61 crimes.

    Azam's lawyer Tajul Islam said that the prosecution had completely failed to prove any of the charges, which were based on newspaper reports.

    The verdict against Azam will be the fifth to be delivered by the ICT. Three Islamists have been sentenced to death and one given life imprisonment.

    The verdicts triggered nationwide protests by Jamaat supporters, leading to mass violence in which 150 people were killed in clashes with police.

    Eight more opposition politicians, six from Jamaat and two from the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, are also on trial.

    The opposition has criticised the cases as politically motivated and aimed at settling old scores rather than meting out justice.

    The government maintains the trials are needed to heal the wounds of the 1971 war.

    SOURCE: AFP


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