Bangladesh war crimes court to deliver verdict on BNP leader

A special Bangladeshi tribunal will on Tuesday give its verdict on senior BNP leader Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury’s alleged involvement in war crimes, prompting authorities to intensify security across the nation.

The verdict will come 16 months after the high-powered International Crimes Tribunal indicted 64-year-old Chowdhury on 23 specific charges of crimes against humanity committed along with Pakistani troops during the 1971 liberation war.

“Let the case be fixed for delivery of judgement tomorrow,” Justice ATM Fazle Kabir, chairman of the three-member tribunal, said during proceedings today.

Prosecution spokesperson Zead Al Malum said they could prove 17 of the 23 charges beyond doubt, which was expected to ensure death penalty for Chowdhury, an influential BNP lawmaker.

“The country hopes for capital punishment, so do we,” he told reporters. Chowdhury’s counsel claimed they were able to prove their client’s innocence during the trial.

The charges against Chowdhury include direct involvement in the killing of around 200 civilians, collaborating with the Pakistan Army to kill and torture unarmed people, looting of valuables and torching of houses and other properties, and persecuting people on religious and political grounds.

BNP is yet to comment on the trial of its controversial leader but according to media reports, there were anonymous threats that Bangladesh would go up in flames if Chowdhury is given the death penalty. These threats surfaced after the tribunal wrapped up the hearing of the case on August 14.

“We have asked police forces to be alert as a routine exercise ahead of the verdict,” a police spokesman told PTI.

Chowdhury, the son of former acting president and parliamentary speaker of Pakistan Fazlul Quader Chowdhury, hit the headlines with his ridiculing gestures and arrogant comments during his trial.

He was arrested on the eve of the Victory Day celebrations on December 16, 2010 following the tribunal’s order. He is the second accused to be indicted since the war crimes trials began three years ago.

He was particularly suspected for masterminding the 1971 killing of Nutun Chandra Singha, a respected philanthropist and industrialist, in the southeastern port city of Chittagong, also the hometown of the high-profile accused, who is widely castigated for running a “torture cell” at his paternal house during the war.

Forty-one prosecution witnesses, including a former journalist, testified against Chowdhury during the trial while he could gather four defence witnesses who claimed he was out of the country during the liberation war.

If convicted, Chowdhury would get the opportunity to challenge the verdict in the Supreme Court.

The apex court earlier this month issued its first verdict handing down the death penalty to senior Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Mollah for war crimes, revising the tribunal’s verdict sentencing him to life imprisonment.

Chodwdhury is one of two BNP leaders to be tried for war crimes, the other being former minister Abdul Alim.

Bangladesh witnessed the launch of the war crimes trial in 2010 in line with ruling Awami League’s election pledges and so far two International Crimes Tribunals have indicted over a dozen people, most of them Jamaat-e-Islami leaders.

The trials were welcomed by tens of thousands who wanted justice for the atrocities committed during the Liberation War. But the verdicts against Jamaat stalwarts plunged the country into political violence, with some 150 killed in clashes pitting activists of the extreme rightwing party and police and paramilitary forces.

Officially three million people were killed in 1971, and the Jamaat is accused of masterminding the murders of leading Bengali professors, doctors and journalists.