DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A special tribunal dealing with war crimes involving Bangladesh’s independence war against Pakistan on Monday asked an international rights group to explain why it shouldn’t be charged with contempt of court for comments the group made about a recent ruling.
The tribunal ruled that Human Rights Watch must reply within three weeks or it could be charged. A person found responsible for contempt could face one year in jail and be ordered to pay 5,000 takas ($63).
Last month, New York-based group issued a statement saying the trial of former Islamic party leader Ghulam Azam was “deeply flawed” and did not meet international standards. The statement also alleged the “judges had improperly conducted an investigation on behalf of the prosecution” and mentioned “collusion and bias among prosecutors and judges.”
Azam was sentenced to 90 years in jail for war crimes. Both the defense and prosecution have appealed the verdict. The maximum punishment Azam could have faced was the death penalty. The tribunal found him guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity, but said it considered his age and decided to award a jail term. Azam is 91.
Azam is known to be the key person to openly oppose the independence struggle and toured the Middle East to raise support for Pakistan. His party has been accused of organizing citizens’ brigades to fight against the soldiers and guerrillas who sought independence. Bangladesh says Pakistani soldiers, aided by local collaborators, killed 3 million people and raped 200,000 women in the 1971 war. Bangladesh was the eastern wing of Pakistan and was geographically divided by India.
The group’s statement prompted prosecutors to file a contempt petition last month against the group. The prosecution’s filing said the group raised “biased, baseless, utterly false, fabricated and ill-motivated” allegations involving the trial process.
The U.S. ambassador in Bangladesh, Dan Mozena, expressed his concern last month over the prosecutors’ move. He said an organization like Human Rights Watch has “a critical role to play.”
The prosecutors’ petition names the group’s board of directors, its director for the Asia region, Brad Adams, and his associate Storm Tiv.
There was no immediate response from Human Rights Watch. It said last month that it was not in a position to respond because it had not received any official notification of the prosecutor’s contempt petition.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government is holding the war crimes trials despite protests from the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its main ally Jamaat-e-Islami party.