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Bangladesh Islamist Leader Gets Death for 1970s Massacre, Rapes

Wednesday, 29 Oct 2014 06:40 AM

Oct. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Bangladesh sentenced the top leader of the country’s biggest Islamic party to death for war crimes, the ninth person to face execution for atrocities during the country’s independence struggle in 1971.

A Dhaka tribunal found Motiur Rahman Nizami, 71, guilty of crimes against humanity, including involvement in mass killings and rapes, Law Minister Anisul Huq told reporters in Dhaka after the verdict. Nizami leads the Jamaat-e-Islami party and served as a cabinet member from 2001 to 2006.

“No witnesses said Mr. Nizami was there on the scene during the committing of the crimes,” Tajul Islam, his lawyer, told reporters in Dhaka after the verdict. “We will challenge the verdict in the Supreme Court. I can assure you that the verdict will be nullified.”

The sentence threatens to end months of political calm after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed won a January election that was boycotted by the major opposition parties aligned with Jamaat-e-Islami. Tribunal-related violence killed more than 150 people last year, clouding the investment climate in the world’s second-biggest garment exporter after China.

The court found Nizami responsible for killings and rapes in three villages in Pabna, the northwestern district where he was born, that took place in May 1971 during Bangladesh’s struggle for freedom from Pakistan, according to the court ruling. He had maintained his innocence throughout the trial.

Nizami told villagers prior to the killings that the Pakistani army would arrive to bring peace in the neighborhood, according to court documents. Four days later, troops accompanied by Nizami’s aides surrounded the area and shot dead about 450 civilians, the documents show.

Rape Victims

After the massacre, the Pakistani army and local collaborators raped about 40 women and forced many of the victims to leave their homes and head to India as refugees, the documents show. Nizami was also accused of supplying information to Pakistan that led the army to kill about 70 Hindus and burn down about 72 houses.

Nizami was elected to parliament in 1991 and again in 2001 as a member of Jamaat-e-Islami, a key ally of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party. Nizami served as agriculture minister from 2001 to 2003 and industry minister from 2003 to 2006 under Zia’s administration.

Since Hasina started the trials in 2010, 19 people, including 10 Jamaat-e-Islami leaders, have been tried for crimes against humanity. Nizami was the 11th person convicted, while five are awaiting verdicts and three are still on trial.

Old Wounds

The tribunal has reopened wounds over Bangladesh’s founding in 1971, a time when Jamaat-e-Islami sided with Pakistan’s army in a bid to prevent the country from forming. In August 2013, a court banned Jamaat from standing in the general election in response to a 2009 petition claiming that the party doesn’t believe in democracy or the country’s sovereignty.

Hasina’s ruling Bangladesh Awami League, which campaigned to set up the tribunals before winning the last election in 2008, has the backing of many Hindus and other religious minorities. Muslims account for about 90 percent of the country’s 166 million people, with Hindus accounting for most of the rest, according to the CIA World Factbook.

To contact the reporter on this story: Arun Devnath in Dhaka at adevnath@bloomberg.net To contact the editors responsible for this story: Daniel Ten Kate at dtenkate@bloomberg.net Jeanette Rodrigues

© Copyright 2017 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

   
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