Bangladesh Awami League activists march following the verdict at the International Crimes Tribunal in Dhaka, yesterday.
DHAKA: A controversial Bangladeshi war crimes court probing the nation’s bloody independence struggle sentenced a fugitive Islamic TV preacher to death yesterday 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 liberation war against Pakistan, Judge Obaidul Hasan announced.
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.
But 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 instant 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 light of Bangladesh’s largest opposition Islamic 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. 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.
Abdus 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”.