15 die in protests at Bangladesh Islamist’s death sentence

Updated 28 February 2013
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15 die in protests at Bangladesh Islamist’s death sentence

DHAKA: A Bangladesh tribunal convicted an Islamist party leader and sentenced him to death on Thursday, the third verdict by the court set up to investigate abuses during the country’s independence war, triggering widespread protests by supporters in which at least 15 people were killed.
Delwar Hossain Sayedee, 73, vice-president of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, was found guilty of mass killing, rape, arson, looting and forcing minority Hindus to convert to Islam during the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan, lawyers and tribunal officials said.
The religious party, known simply as Jamaat, had called for a day-long countrywide strike in anticipation of the verdict against Sayedee, the third senior party member convicted by the tribunal.
Police, witnesses and media reports said at least 15 people were killed and around 200 wounded in clashes between Jamaat activists and police as violence erupted in more than a dozen districts.
Protesters set fire to a Hindu temple and several houses in Noakhali district, south of Dhaka, reporters said. In southeastern Cox’s Bazar, they attacked a police camp.
In the capital, authorities deployed extra police and members of a rapid response force and put paramilitary soldiers on standby, a Home Ministry official told reporters.
Thousands of people in the capital’s Shahbag square, who support the tribunal and have been protesting for weeks to demand the highest penalty for war criminals, burst into cheers as the sentence was announced.
Sayedee looked defiant and remained calm in the dock as judges read out the verdict, witnesses said.
“I didn’t commit any crime and the judges are not giving the verdict from the core of their heart,” Sayedee told the court. “They are submitting to the excessive pressure from Shahbag,” he said, referring to the protests.
State prosecutor Haider Ali told reporters he was happy with the verdict which he said “appropriately demonstrated justice.”
Defense attorney Abdur Razzak said the sentence was politically motivated. “He is a victim of sheer injustice. We will appeal,” he said.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina set up the tribunal in 2010 to investigate abuses during the war that claimed about 3 million lives and during which thousands of women were raped.
The tribunal has been criticized by rights groups for failing to adhere to international standards of due process. Human Rights Watch cited defense lawyers, witnesses and investigators as saying they had been threatened.
Critics say the tribunal is being used by the prime minister as an instrument against her opponents in the two biggest opposition parties, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the Jamaat-e-Islami. Begum Khaleda Zia, Hasina’s arch rival and leader of the BNP, has called the tribunal a farce.
Hasina’s party has denied allegations of bias.
On Jan. 21, the tribunal sentenced Abul Kalam Azad, a former Jamaat member, to death in absentia after he was found guilty of torture, rape and genocide during the independence war.
In its second verdict, on Feb. 5, the tribunal sentenced another senior Jamaat member, Abdul Quader Mollah, 64, to life in prison after he was found guilty of murder, rape, torture and arson.
Both verdicts sparked protests by Jamaat supporters.
But those protests incited larger counter-demonstrations by supporters of the tribunal demanding death sentences for all those responsible for abuses during the war.
Nine more people, mostly Jamaat members, are facing trial for war crimes, tribunal officials said.
The overwhelmingly Muslim south Asian country of 160 million people would likely see more violence in the run-up to parliamentary elections in January, in which both Hasina and Khaleda will run for power, analysts said.
Jamaat is a potential ally of Khaleda’s BNP and holds a big chunk of its vote bank.
Bangladesh became part of Pakistan at the end of British colonial rule in 1947. But the country then known as East Pakistan won independence with India’s help in December 1971 following a nine-month war against the then West Pakistan.
Some factions in Bangladesh opposed the break with Pakistan, including the Jamaat. Jamaat leaders have denied involvement in abuses.


UN says Nicaragua protest killings may be 'unlawful'

Updated 24 April 2018
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UN says Nicaragua protest killings may be 'unlawful'

  • Some groups called for "dictator" Ortega and his wife to step down, yelling "Out! Out!"
  • Mass street protests are rare in Nicaragua, where the army maintains a very tight grip on public order.
MANAGUA: The United Nations said Tuesday that many deaths in nearly a week of anti-government protests violently repressed by police in Nicaragua may have been "unlawful" and called for an investigation.
The scrutiny from the Swiss-based UN human rights office adds to international alarm at Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's ordered crackdown against a wave of anti-government demonstrations and clashes.
The European Union, United States and the Vatican have all urged talks to restore calm, while the US embassy in Managua ordered family members of staff out of the country after Ortega deployed the army to the streets and looting broke out.
A toll compiled from the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights and Ortega's wife and vice president, Rosario Murillo, puts the number of deaths since last Wednesday at 27. Most were protesters, among which university students and youths figure prominently.
"We are particularly concerned that a number of these deaths may amount to unlawful killings," Liz Throssell of the UN Office for the High Commissioner on Human Rights told reporters in Geneva.
"It is essential that all allegations of excessive use of force by police and other security forces are effectively investigated to ensure those responsible are held to account," Throssell said.
The UN office said at least 25 people, including a police officer, had been killed.
The protests were sparked Wednesday by pension reforms aimed at keeping Nicaragua's burdened Social Security Institute afloat by cutting benefits and increasing contributions.
But they rapidly spread and intensified as other grievances over Ortega's rule surged to the fore.
On Monday, tens of thousands of people -- employees, students, pensioners and ordinary citizens -- marched peacefully in the capital Managua and other cities demanding an end to the forceful security crackdown on protests.
Some groups called for "dictator" Ortega and his wife to step down, yelling "Out! Out!"
Ortega, a 72-year-old former Sandinista guerrilla leader who has ruled Nicaragua for 22 of the past 39 years, has been taken aback by the demonstrations against him, the biggest in his last 11-year stretch in power.
He has canceled the pension reforms and called for dialogue, and Murillo has suggested arrested protesters could be released.
But his security forces have not been pulled back, and -- though Managua appeared relatively calm early Tuesday -- widespread anti-government sentiment persisted.
Even Nicaragua's business sector, whose support had shored up Ortega over the past decade, has abandoned him over the violence.
A pro-government rally was being organized for Thursday to show that the president still enjoyed backing from part of the population.
Mass street protests are rare in Nicaragua, where the army maintains a very tight grip on public order.
But dissatisfaction has been bubbling over in recent months.
Frustrations have been voiced over corruption, the distant and autocratic style of Ortega and Murillo, limited options to change the country's politics in elections, and the president's control over the Congress, the courts and the electoral authority.
In rural areas, anger also stemmed from a stalled plan by Ortega to have a Chinese company carve a $50 billion canal across Nicaragua to rival Panama's lucrative Pacific-to-Atlantic shipping canal.
If the project went ahead, it would displace thousands of rural dwellers and indigenous communities, while dealing a negative impact on the environment.
"People are demanding democracy, freedom, free elections, a transparent government, the separation of powers, rule of law. The people want freedom," former Nicaraguan foreign minister Norman Caldera told AFP.
"If the government doesn't yield, it's going to be very difficult to stop this (the protests)," he said, asserting that the "big majority" of the population was showing its frustration with Ortega.
"The repressive apparatus is not able to halt protests on this scale," Caldera said.
Though Ortega has held out the promise of talks with opponents, the lack of any identifiable leader in the protest movement could make dialogue there difficult.
Under his watch, Nicaragua has avoided the rampant crime seen in northern Central American countries where gangs are rife.
It has also put in solid economic growth, yet it remains one of the poorest nations in Latin America.
The sudden upsurge in the streets puts Ortega at a crossroads: to tough it out, or to bow to the demands for democracy that have become too loud to ignore.