Bangladesh braces for Islamist chief war crimes verdict

DHAKA- Security was tightened across Bangladesh Wednesday ahead of the long-awaited verdict in the war crimes trial of the leader of the largest Islamist party, amid fears that it will spark a new round of bloodshed.

Motiur Rahman Nizami, 71, could face the death penalty if a special tribunal finds him guilty of 16 charges, including genocide, allegedly carried out during the 1971 independence war against Pakistan.

Similar judgements against several of his senior lieutenants in the Jamaat-e-Islami party plunged Bangladesh into one of its worst crises last year as tens of thousands of supporters fought with police.

More than 500 people died in the unrest and subsequent political violence ahead of disputed polls in January.

Junior home minister Asaduzzaman Khan said “all sorts of security measures have been taken across the country” amid fears that a death sentence could unleash a new bout of bloodletting.

While it was effectively banned from taking part in this year’s legislative elections, Jamaat has millions of activists who have staged shows of strength on the streets of Dhaka and other major cities in the aftermath of the previous verdicts.

“We won’t tolerate any attempt to create instability or chaos,” Khan told reporters on Tuesday.

Extra police and border guards have been deployed in the capital and in other major cities, security officials said.

Nizami arrived at the court in Dhaka early Wednesday flanked by heavy security, while hundreds of officers surrounded the complex.

Dozens of former “freedom fighters”, who battled in 1971 for independence against Pakistani troops, also gathered outside the court, demanding Nizami’s execution.

The verdict, originally scheduled for June, was postponed at the 11th hour because Nizami was suffering from high blood pressure.

“We are finally going to get the long-awaited verdict,” prosecutor Tureen Afroz told AFP. “We hope he will be sentenced to death for his crimes during the war.”