US urges Bangladesh to hold fair trials


Activists and former freedom fighters who fought in the 1971 war demonstrate outside the International Crimes Tribunal court premises in Dhaka. AFP

Washington: The United States urged Bangladesh to hold free and fair trials after a war crimes court sentenced a fugitive TV preacher to death Monday amid allegations the tribunal is politically motivated. The International Crimes Tribunal, a domestic body with no international oversight, ordered Maolana Abul Kalam Azad to be hanged for genocide and murder during the bloody 1971 war.

"The United States supports bringing to justice those who commit such crimes," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement. "However, we believe that any such trials must be free, fair and transparent, and in accordance with domestic standards and international standards Bangladesh has agreed to uphold through its ratification of international agreements."

Azad, who for years presented a widely watched show on Islam on private and state-run television channels, is a former leading light of Bangladesh's largest opposition Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami. The 63-year-old TV host has been on the run for about a year. In total, 11 top opposition figures – nine from Jamaat and two from the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) – stand accused of war crimes.

Both Jamaat and the BNP have called the cases "politically motivated and farcical" and international rights groups have questioned the proceedings and found loopholes in the war crime laws. The Bangladeshi government says the trials are fair and meet international standards."The United States urges the government of Bangladesh to adhere to the due process standards that are part of its treaty obligations, and to fully respect the rule of law" as it addresses atrocities committed during the liberation war, Nuland said.

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