Bangladesh war crimes court to charge first suspect

Senior official of the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami scheduled to be the first case presented in court.

Afp August 18, 2011

DHAKA: A special Bangladeshi court set up to try people suspected of war crimes during the 1971 battle for independence from Pakistan is expected to outline charges against its first suspect on Thursday.

The Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal, which was established last year by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, will hear cases of alleged collaborators who are accused of crimes ranging from mass killings to rape.

Delwar Hossain Sayedee, a senior official of the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami, the country's largest Islamic party, was scheduled to be the first case presented in front of Judge Nizamul Huq.

Sayedee, 71, has been accused of killing more than 50 people, torching villages, rape, looting and forcibly converting Hindus to Islam.

The court opened proceedings last week but immediately adjourned after Sayedee's lawyers argued that they had not been given access to court documents. They requested a six-week extension, but were given just eight days.

"We have not been provided with sufficient time," said Sayedee's British lawyer Toby Cadman, who was denied a visa to enter Bangladesh to represent his client and would not be present at Thursday's hearing.

"It is a very difficult environment in which to operate," he told AFP by email. "How can one expect a proper defence to the charges if fundamental rights are systematically withdrawn or denied?"

Sayedee has been held in detention along with four other war crime suspects from Jamaat and two from the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

The BNP and Jamaat have dismissed the tribunal as a government "show trial".

The New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch has said rules being used to prosecute the war crime suspects fall short of international standards.