Bangladesh Islamic leader indicted on war crimes charges for role in 1971 independence war

DHAKA, Bangladesh – A senior leader from Bangladesh’s largest Islamic party was charged Monday with war crimes for allegedly leading groups that took part in killing, looting, arson and rape during the country’s 1971 independence war against Pakistan.

A special tribunal set up by the government to deal with charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity stemming from the war accepted 20 of 31 charges filed by the prosecution against the Jamaat-e-Islami party’s Delwar Hossain Sayedee, including those that he aided Pakistan.

Bangladesh – with help from India – won independence from Pakistan in 1971 after a nine-month war. Bangladesh says Pakistani soldiers, aided by local collaborators, killed an estimated 3 million people, raped about 200,000 women and forced millions to flee their homes during the war.

Sayedee is accused of involvement in the killing of more than 50 people, torching villages, rape, looting and forcibly converting Hindus to Islam.

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Sayedee has denied the allegations.

Sayedee was arrested last year along with four other party leaders accused of war crimes, including party chief Matiur Rahman Nizami. He is the first to be indicted by the tribunal.

Jamaat-e-Islami openly campaigned against breaking away from Pakistan during the war.

The party says the charges against its leaders are politically motivated. Jamaat-e-Islami was a key partner in the 2001-2006 government headed by Khaleda Zia, the former prime minister and current opposition leader.

Zia, the longtime political rival of the current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has called the tribunal a farce.

The international community has called on the government to ensure that the tribunal is free and impartial.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has called for changes to the tribunal, including allowing the accused to question its impartiality, which current law prohibits.

Sayedee’s trail is scheduled to begin Oct. 30.

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