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Bangladesh probe seeks ban of Islamist party

DHAKA, Bangladesh: Bangladesh investigators probing crimes during the country’s 1971 independence war against Pakistan recommended Tuesday that the largest Islamist party be banned for alleged involvement in genocide and other offenses.
The government-appointed investigators submitted a detailed report to the chief prosecutor accusing the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami party of crimes against humanity.
Chief investigator Abdul Hannan Khan said there is evidence the party formed several citizens’ brigades and auxiliary forces to help Pakistan’s army eliminate people fighting for independence.
Bangladesh says at least 3 million of its citizens were killed and 200,000 women were raped during the nine-month war against Pakistan in 1971.
Several top leaders of the party have already been tried and convicted of war crimes, and a senior leader has been executed. Those verdicts triggered violent protests, and the move to ban the party could further destabilize the country’s politics.
Opponents of Jamaat-e-Islami say it is a fundamentalist group with no place in a secular country. Bangladesh is predominantly Muslim, but is governed by largely secular laws based on British common law.
Jamaat-e-Islami earlier shared power with former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, who now heads the main opposition alliance. The party was banned after Bangladesh became independent, but the prohibition was later overturned.
It openly campaigned against independence and its then leader, Ghulam Azam, toured the Middle East to mobilize support for Pakistan. It has denied committing atrocities.
Bangladesh became independent on Dec. 16, 1971, with the help of India, which sheltered nearly 10 million refugees along its border.
“We want complete dissolution of the party,” Khan told a news conference in Dhaka. “The party cannot avoid its command responsibility for the atrocities committed during the independence war.”
The investigators, appointed by the government to help prosecutors conduct war crimes trials in two special courts, also sought a ban of the party’s publication, Dainik Sangram, which published articles denouncing the fight for independence in 1971.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government initiated the war crimes trials in 2010. Critics say they have primarily targeted members of the opposition, and Jamaat-e-Islami says they are politically motivated. Authorities have denied the allegation.
The party was banned from taking part in January elections after the High Court ruled that its charter violates the spirit of the national constitution.