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Bangladesh sentences UK, US men to death on war crimes

A special war crimes tribunal in Bangladesh has sentenced a UK Muslim leader and a US citizen to death in absentia. The two men had been convicted of massacring 18 people during Bangladesh’s bloody independence war.

The three-judge panel sentenced Britain's Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin and US citizen Ashrafuzzaman Khan to death on Saturday on 11 charges related to the killings of 18 Bangladeshi intellectuals more than four decades ago.

During the trial, prosecutors said the two men had been senior members of the infamous Al Badr militia, which supported Pakistan during Bangladesh's war of independence. In December 1971, Mueen-Uddin and Khan abducted and murdered nine university teachers, six journalists and three physicians.

The killings were part of a broader campaign during the closing phase of the eight-month-long conflict, after it had become clear that Islamabad could not defeat Dhaka. Pro-Pakistani militias rounded up intellectuals for execution in an effort to deprive a future Bangladeshi state of an intelligentsia.

“They killed top professors, journalists and doctors to make the nation devoid of any talent,” senior prosecutor M.K. Rahman told reporters outside the court after the two men had been convicted.

Mueen-Uddin and Khan were sentenced in absentia on Saturday, having refused to return to Bangladesh and appear before the court. Mueen-Uddin is currently a Muslim leader in the UK, where he helped set up the Muslim Council of Britain. Khan is believed to now live in New York City.

War crimes tribunal

Saturday's sentencing is part of a broader push by the Bangladeshi government to prosecute alleged war crimes committed during the South Asian nation's independence struggle. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina established the International Crimes Tribunal in 2010 to pursue this goal. But the tribunal has been criticized by Human Rights Watch (HRW) for failing to meet international legal standards.

So far, the tribunal has convicted 10 people, primarily members of Jamaat-e-Islami. The Islamist party, the largest in Bangladesh, was pro-Pakistan during the independence war. Another eight members of the party are currently on trial.

In October, Bangladesh's Supreme Court upheld the conviction and death sentence of Abdul Quader Mollah, a senior member of Jamaat-e-Islami, sparking deadly clashes and a general strike.

The Bangladeshi government claims that Pakistani forces and local collaborators killed up to three million people and raped 200,000 women during the independence war. But independent research estimates the death toll at 300,000 - 500,000.

slk/tj (AP, AFP, dpa)