Three JI leaders remanded to custody in Bangladesh

Dhaka: Three top leaders of Bangladesh's biggest Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), including its chief Motiur Rahman Nizami, were remanded to custody on Wednesday in five cases, even as angry party members threatened to launch a countrywide agitation, protesting the arrests.

Additional metropolitan magistrate Ali Hussain ordered Nazami, secretary general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid and another party stalwart Maulana Delwar Hossain Sayeedi to be quizzed for 16 days in custody, a court official said.

Three charges relate to police assaults or obstructing the police in discharging duties, other charge relates to setting vehicles on fire and third is a sedition charge.

"The magistrate granted the total of 16 days of remand for each of them against a police prayer for a total of 37 days in five cases," a court official said.

However, they were granted bail in the case relating to "hurting Muslim religious sentiment" for which they were arrested yesterday.

Tight security was enforced around the downtown court complex with deployment of some 800 policemen and elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) troops as Nazami, Mujahid and Sayeedi appeared on the dock after five police cars escorted the fundamentalist party leaders.

Police, meanwhile, arrested overnight and today at least 65 JI leaders and activists from different parts of the country, 28 of them from the court compound as they tried to stage a protest march in line with party's decision to launch a countrywide protest.

But witnesses said supporters of ruling Awami League later amassed outside the court and shouted slogans demanding "death sentences" for accused JI leaders for their "crimes against humanity" during the country's 1971 Liberation War.

JI, a crucial ally of ex-prime minister Khaleda Zia's main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), is widely castigated for actively siding with Pakistani troops against 1971 independence during the Liberation War.

At a press conference late yesterday the party announced its protest saying the three leaders were arrested defying an earlier high court order.

Dhaka city secretary general Makbul Ahmad, at a press conference last evening, however, said they expected the government to release them by today "showing their positive attitude."

The three were arrested hours after a court issued arrest warrants against four JI leaders as they failed to appear before the court to face a charge accusing them of "defaming Prophet Muhammad".

But Dhaka's police commissioner AKM Shahidul Haque last night told the state-run BSS that the three were indicted or shown arrested in two other cases, including a murder charge linked to the February 2010 assassination of a ruling party student wing activist, in northwestern Rajshahi University.

The university murder case, however, was not raised during the court hearing today.

Activists of JI's student wing Islamic Chhatra Shibir allegedly hacked to death Hossain, a fourth year student and activist of Chhatra League and injured several others sparking a countrywide protest and tensions in public university campuses.

"Nizami, Mujahid and Sayeedi were shown arrested in the case in line with confessional statements of two earlier detained suspected Shibir workers who said the murder was carried out in line with a blueprint drawn by central Jamaat leaders," Haque said.

Metropolitan Magistrate Mehdi Ahsan Talukdar yesterday issued the warrants against the four Jamaat leaders as they "failed to appear" before the court to face hearing on a charge accusing them of "hurting the Muslim sentiment."

Tariqat Federation, which preaches interfaith harmony in line with ideals of Islamic Sufi saints, in March accused the Jamaat leaders of hurting the Muslim sentiment comparing Nizami with Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) saying they were exposed to "tortures" in an identical manner in preaching Islam.

Police, meanwhile, cordoned off the main offices of JI in Dhaka and southeastern port city of Chittagong after the arrest of its top leaders to "thwart its supporters from creating chaos."

The developments came as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government said it was set to expose "soon" several high-profile Jamaat leaders, including Nizami, to justice under for "crimes against humanity" during the 1971 atrocities allegedly siding with Pakistani troops when the process of "war criminals" trial was underway.