A Bangladesh war crimes court yesterday sentenced a British-based Muslim leader and a US citizen to death in absentia for murder, the latest ruling over atrocities during the Bangladesh Liberation War.
London-based Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin and Ashrafuzzaman Khan, from the US were found guilty by the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) of 11 charges related to the kidnap and slaughter of 18 intellectuals during the 1971 conflict.
“Justice will not be done if they are not awarded capital punishment,” senior judge Obaidul Hassan told the packed court in Dhaka.
Prosecutors accused the pair, who fled Bangladesh after it gained independence from Pakistan, of being “high command” members of the al-Badr militia that supported Pakistani forces during the war.
“They killed top professors, journalists and doctors to make the nation devoid of any talent,” senior court prosecutor M.K. Rahman told reporters after the ruling.
The pair refused to return to Bangladesh to face the tribunal, which Mueen-Uddin’s London-based lawyer said lacks “all credibility.”
“Mr Mueen-Uddin has consistently maintained that he is prepared to stand trial and establish his innocence before a court of law that is fully independent and impartial,” Tony Cadman said in an e-mail.
Bangladeshi Minister of Law Shafique Ahmed said officials were negotiating with Britain and the US for the pair’s return, although it is unclear if extradition requests have formally been made.
However, Britain said in response that it opposed the “application of the death penalty in all circumstances.”
The tribunal has convicted 10 people, mostly leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami — Bangladesh’s largest Islamic party — for war crimes, with seven sentenced to death by hanging. At least eight more are on trial.
Jamaat says the cases are politically motivated and accuses the secular government of trying to execute its leadership ahead of elections. Dhaka says the trials heal the wounds of the conflict.
Mueen-Uddin has held positions in several top Islamic organizations in Britain and was involved in setting up the Muslim Council of Britain. He was a reporter in then-East Pakistan when the war broke out.
Khan was a Dhaka University student leader during the war and is now believed to reside in New York. Prosecutors have described him as the “chief executor” for al-Badr.
Several hundred people cheered the ruling and staged a procession.
Masuda Faruq Ratna broke down after the ruling. Ratna, a prosecution witness, said she saw the pair help kidnap her uncle, a Dhaka University professor.
“I was 17 when they took my uncle. Now I am 58 and the two are sentenced to death. I hope I’ll live long enough to see the two ... executed,” she said.