Jamaat leader indicted in Bdesh over wartime atrocities

Dhaka: A special Bangladeshi tribunal today indicted another senior member of the country`s largest fundamentalist party on seven charges, including genocide and crimes against humanity committed during the Liberation War in 1971.

Mohammad Kamaruzzaman is the third highest ranked leader of the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami party to be charged with wartime atrocities. "This (International Crimes) tribunal hereby charges you (Quamruzzaman) on seven charges of crimes against humanity…rejecting your discharge petition having no substantial merit," pronounced chairman of the three-judge International Crimes Tribunal II Justice A T M Fazle Kabir.

If convicted, the 60-year-old leader could face the death penalty. The tribunal, earlier, read out the prosecution charges in line with the practise of the legal procedure and asked Quamruzzaman if he was "guilty". He replied saying the war crimes allegations against him were "motivated, baseless and imaginary".

The prosecution lawyers said the suspect was a principal organiser of the pro-Pakistan auxiliary force called al-Badr in the northern Mymensingh region which subsequently carried out atrocities and mass murders also elsewhere in the country, siding with the Pakistani troops.

Quamruzzaman, the assistant secretary general of the rightwing party, was the sixth detained war crime suspect who was indicted since the war crimes trial process was initiated two years ago.

The International Crimes Tribunal had already indicted Jamaat Ameer Matiur Rahman Nizami, another assistant secretary general Abdul Quader Mollah, ex-Jamaat chief Ghulam Azam, party leader Delwar Hossain Sayeedi and main opposition BNP lawmaker Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury.

All the leaders were charged for masterminding or stewarding genocide, mass murders, rapes, arson and inciting others to stage war crimes.

The tribunal set July 2 for the prosecution to submit their opening statement against the accused launching his trial and asked the defence to submit a list of their witnesses and other documents before court on the same day.

Witnesses said the tribunal witnessed a heated debate between the prosecution and defence lawyers while the accused tended to lengthen his statement prompting the chair of the judge to call police to take him away.

The accused, however, was not expelled from the courtroom as his lawyer urged the tribunal to allow his client to complete his statement as allowed earlier by the court. "We allowed him to speak but this is delivering a political statement (which is unacceptable)," a judge of the tribunal said.

The indictment was done as the accused claimed innocence calling himself "not guilty" as the tribunal against asked him to say if he was guilty. Jamaat had opposed Bangladesh`s 19721 Liberation War against Pakistan.

Eight high-profile war crime suspects were detained so far to face trial since Bangladesh constituted the tribunal in March last year along with the special investigation agency and a prosecution cell in line with the election pledges of the ruling Awami League to expose to trial the war criminals.

Officially, three million people were killed by the Pakistani army and their Bengali-speaking collaborators during the 1971 Liberation War.