Dhaka: Bangladesh`s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Saturday said legal obstacles barred her government from pursuing further charges against the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami for crimes during the 1971 war as she backed her law minister, under fire for going soft on the Islamists.
"The law minister`s comment is legally correct," she told a crowded press conference at her official residence even as anti-war crime groups came up with strong protests against the comments by law minister Anisul Huq who said Jamaat`s trial as a party was impossible under existing laws.
Hasina said, "A case on the Jamaat issue is now pending with the Supreme Court. They (SC) will decide if Jamaat will remain as a party or be banned".
The premier`s comments came as platforms like Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee and Gonojagoron Mancha alleged that some ministers and leaders of ruling Awami League appeared soft on Jamaat despite a process underway to bring to justice members of the extreme right-wing party for crimes against humanity durung the country`s 1971 liberation war.
Jamaat was opposed to Bangladesh`s independence while most of its leaders are currently being tried in two special tribunals and one of them was hanged last year after a trial for atrocities committed and siding with Pakistani troops during the war.
But Huq`s comments came as the prosecution team of the country`s International Crimes Tribunal was nearly set to bring formal charges against Jamaat to be tried as a party alongside its leaders.
"Suppose Jamaat faces trial and is convicted for war crimes. Then the leaders of the party will serve the punishment for the crimes of Jamaat as per the existing laws of the country. But many leaders of Jamaat have already been sentenced by the tribunal," Huq said earlier this week.
He added, "So, how can a person be punished for the same offence again? It should be considered that imposing punishment twice is contradictory under the constitution".
His comments sparked controversy with Nirmul Committee leader Shahriar Kabir calling Huq, a criminal lawyer by profession, as an "ignorant" and warned any step to protect Jamaat would be "suicidal" for the government.
A radical faction of Ganojagaran Manch, a platform of mainly young internet bloggers which last year spearheaded a massive street campaign demanding maximum punishment for the 1971 war criminals, warned it would lay a siege around the Bangladesh Secretariat complex, the heart of the government administration unless Huq withdrew his remarks.
The two special tribunals have already handed down verdicts against some 10 war crimes accused and imposed death penalties on nine, seven of them being Jamaat leaders.
One of them, Jamaat leader Abdul Qader Mollah was hanged after the Supreme Court upheld his death penalty.