A special tribunal in Bangladesh investigating allegations of atrocities committed during the 1971 war of independence against Pakistan, has charged a senior member of the country’s biggest Islamic party with an array of charges.
Delawar Hossain Sayedee, accused of ordering mass murders and torture, among other crimes, is the first suspect charged by the special court.
Sayedee, a leader of Bangladesh's Jamaat-e-Islami party, was arrested last year, and has denied all charges against him.
He is specifically is accused of being involved in murdering more than 50 people, setting whole villages on fire, rape, looting and forcibly converting Hindus to Islam.
“The court has framed charges on 20 counts including crimes against humanity and genocide against Mr. Sayedee, Mohammad Shahinur Islam, registrar of the International Crimes Tribunal, told the BBC.
He pleaded not guilty. He claimed all those allegations were false. With the framing of charges the trial has started. As a citizen, I should say this is a historic day for Bangladesh.”
The nine-month 1971 war, in which Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) gained independence from (formerly West) Pakistan, with help for India, killed at least 3-million people. Allegations of atrocities -- including mass rapes -- committed by both occupying Pakistani soldiers and their Bengali collaborators have been around ever since. Bangladesh only formed the tribunal to probe such war crimes last year.
Sayedee, now 71, is among seven suspects, including two from the main opposition Bangladeshi Nationalist Party, who are facing trial. The defendants claim the government (ruled by the Awami League party) is carrying out a political vendetta against them.
Every word, every sentence and every line of the 4500-page allegations against me are lies, Sayedee told the court after being charged.
I was not a collaborator. I did not commit any crimes.
During the 1971 war, Jamaat-e-Islami advocated against secession from Pakistan.
Khaleda Zia, the former prime minister and current opposition leader, called the tribunal a travesty and a farce.
Sayeedee's trial is scheduled to commence on October 30 and is expected to last for months.
If found guilty, he faces the hangman’s noose.