Press Trust of India
Dhaka, 16 July
Fresh violence over the conviction of fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami’s 91-year-old supremo Ghulam Azad left at least four persons dead, even as machete-wielding protesters today went on a rampage enforcing a country-wide strike. Two Islamist demonstrators, including a minor, were killed in police firing when several thousand Islamists attacked police with sticks, machetes and crude bombs in southwestern Satkhita, officials and reports said.
“They (Jamaat) activists violently attacked us with lethal weapons and homemade bombs… we were forced to fire gunshots for our defence when the two died,” a police officer said.
In a separate incident, a nine-year-old girl was run over by a speeding bus that was being chased by protesters in suburban Gazipur. Another person died after being allegedly attacked by rival activists at southwestern Dinajpur.
The violence comes a day after Jamaat workers hacked to death a local leader of ruling Awami League at Satkhira ahead of the verdict sentencing Azam to 90 years in prison for 1971 “crimes against humanity”.
Jamaat rejected the International Crimes Tribunal verdict saying it was delivered as part of a plot to eliminate their leadership as it called for a nationwide strike today.
Businesses and shops were shut country-wide for the strike which started yesterday and roads and highways were largely empty, bringing inter-district transport to a halt.
Security was tight in the capital Dhaka, with thousands of police patrolling the streets. Awami League today cautiously welcomed yesterday’s judgment on Azam with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina saying “We are satisfied with the tribunal’s verdict… What the punishment should be is the matter of the court”.
Jamaat’s crucial ally main Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), however, declined to make any comment on the judgement. Azam is the fifth Jamaat-e-Islami politician to be convicted by the International Crimes Tribunal since the trial of war crimes suspects, mostly belonging to the Islamist group, began three years ago.
In the first verdict of the tribunal in January, former Jamaat leader Abul Kalam Azad was sentenced to death on similar charges.
Another Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Mollah was sentenced to life in February for atrocities during the war. In late February, Delwar Hossain Sayedee, vice-president of the party, was sentenced to death for committing “crimes against humanity” during the 1971 war.
On 9 May, the tribunal handed down death penalty to fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami stalwart Muhammad Quamaruzzaman for “crimes against humanity” he committed during the war. The verdict came as dozens of people, including reporters and policemen, were injured as Jamaat activists exploded scores of crude bombs and set nearly a dozen vehicles on fire ahead of the verdict, police said.
The defence lawyers visibly appeared happy with the judgment but a junior counsel for Azam with a smiling face told newsmen yesterday that they planned to challenge the verdict at the highest Appellate Division of the Supreme Court as “the prosecution could not prove their allegations”.
Meanwhile, Jamaat acting Secretary General Rafiqul Islam Khan, in a statement, said: “Observations about the Jamaat made in the verdict are irrelevant, unwanted and illegal. That proves the verdict was politically driven and given to serve the government’s interest.”