B'deshi tribunal indicts 1971 war crimes suspect



Dhaka: An influential opposition BNP lawmaker was Wednesday indicted by a special Bangladeshi tribunal for "crimes against humanity" during country's 1971 Liberation War against Pakistan, nearly two years after his arrest.

"The 23 charges (brought by the prosecution against you (Salahuddin Qader Chowdhury) is framed," chair of the three- member panel of International Crimes Tribunal-1 Justice Nizamul Haque pronounced as the detained suspect was brought to dock from suburban Kashimpur Central Jail.

The tribunal then asked the prosecution to make their "opening statement" against the suspect on April 29 to launch the formal trial of Chowdhury, who happened to be a senior highest policy making standing committee member and lawmaker of main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

Haque also noted "based on the prosecution produced evidence, the tribunal now had enough reasons to believe that Chowdhury was involved in crimes against humanity".

Chowdhury was arrested on the eve of the December 16, 2010, Victory Day celebrations, in line with the tribunal's order while he was particularly suspected for masterminding the killing Nutun Chandra Singha in 1971, a respected philanthropist an industrialist in Chittagong, also the hometown of the high-profile accused.

He is the second suspect to be indicted for war crimes charges after Jamaat-e-Islami leader Delwar Hossain Sayeedi since the first International Crimes Tribunal constituted two years ago along with a special investigation agency and a prosecution cell.

Seven other suspects, six being Jamaat stalwarts and another a BNP leader, are now in jail to face the trial for 1971 crimes while officials said investigations were underway against several others on the identical charges. The indictment came as the tribunal in line with the practice of courts read out the 23 prosecution charges and then asked Chowdhury "if you are guilty or not" and in response the suspect in his typical apparently ridiculing tone delivered a long statement without replying directly the question.

"The tribunal assumes (interpreting your statement) you have said that you are not guilty," the panel chief said as he ordered Chowdhury's indictment.

Apart from Singha's murder, the specific charges against Chowdhury included arson, massacre of several hundred people at different places in the port city and adjoining areas and forced several thousand others out of the country.

Chowdhury is also widely accused of running a "torture cell" at his house in the port city during the liberation war period but he denied all the allegations against him.

PTI