x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Bangladesh war crimes court indicts UK Muslim

Former journalist, who was based in London, denies link to killings during 1971 war.

DHAKA // A war-crimes court in Bangladesh yesterday indicted a Bangladesh-born British Muslim leader for his alleged role in the murder of leading intellectuals during the country's 1971 liberation war.

Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin has held positions with a host of prominent Islamic organisations in his adopted homeland and was also involved in setting up the Muslim Council of Britain.

The former journalist, who is based in London, denies any wrongdoing.

He was a newspaper reporter in the South Asian country when what was then East Pakistan broke away from West Pakistan.

He has been accused of being a leading member of the notorious Al Badr militia and of the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami political party, which fought for the country to remain part of Pakistan.

"The court has taken into cognisance the charges of war crimes against Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin and issued a warrant to arrest him," said Nasiruddin Mahmud, the International Crimes Tribunal registrar.

Mr Mueen-Uddin would face the death penalty if extradited and convicted.

The state prosecutor, Syed Haider Ali, said that Mr Mueen-Uddin "has been indicted for crimes against humanity and genocide. The charges include the killing of the country's top intellectuals during the 1971 war of liberation".

The head of the tribunal's investigation agency, Abdul Hannan, said that Mr Mueen-Uddin had fled the country after the war.

In response, Mr Mueen-Uddin's lawyer, Toby Cadman, said he "rejects all these allegations in their entirety" and raised doubts about whether Britain would ever agree to extradition, given concerns about the death penalty and the impartiality of the court.

"Bangladesh will be required to establish that there is a prima facie case against Mr Mueen-Uddin," said Mr Cadman. "They will also be required to give an undertaking that Mr Mueen-Uddin will not receive the death penalty."

The court also indicted Ashrafuzzaman Khan, a United States citizen, yesterday on the same charges as those against Mr Mueen-Uddin.

The tribunal has already charged 12 people with war crimes and sentenced to death two people, including the vice-president of Jamaat-e-Islami.

Bangladesh has struggled to come to terms with its violent birth.

The government has said up to three million people were killed during the war, many of them murdered by locals who collaborated with Pakistani forces.

The government of the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, established the tribunal in March 2010 to try the alleged collaborators, but it has been hit by a series of controversies.

A presiding judge resigned in December last year after his leaked internet calls showed he was under pressure from the government to deliver a quick judgment.

The war crimes trials have plunged the country into one of its most turbulent chapters since independence, as the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its main ally, Jamaat, have protested against what they view as politically motivated charges.

The opposition has called a series of national strikes in protest against the trials and clashes over the verdicts have left more than 100 people dead since the first judgement was announced on January 21.