War crimes life sentence leads to deadly riots in Bangladesh

Featured South East Asia - February 6th, 2013

Deadly riots erupted in Bangladeshi cities Tuesday after a court sentenced the leader of the country’s largest Islamic party to life in prison for war crimes.

Supporters of Abdul Quader Mullah’s Jamaat-e-Islami party exploded homemade bombs and clashed with police in violent protests denouncing the verdict on the opposition leader.

The International Crimes Tribunal found Mullah guilty of mass murder, committed during the 1971 liberation war against Pakistan. It tried him on six counts, including his direct role in the killing of 381 unarmed civilians. Mullah denied the charges and will appeal the verdict, according to his defense lawyer.

Two men were shot dead while 50 people were also injured in the port city of Chittagong, including six policemen who were allegedly shot by protesters, authorities said. Jamaat has said it would extend the nationwide strikes through Wednesday.

Police also clashed with protesters in the capital Dhaka and the northwestern city of Rajshahi, firing tear gas and rubber bullets to break up demonstrators who smashed vehicles and hurled firebombs.

Ten other opposition figures – including the entire leadership of the Jamaat and two from the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) – stand accused of committing atrocities during the war against Pakistan, according to AFP. Both Jamaat and BNP claimed the charges were politically motivated and the cases were “show trials”.

International rights groups have questioned aspects of the trial proceedings and highlighted the disappearance of a defence witness outside the courthouse gates, AP reports.