Bangladesh. Several prominent, current as well as former, leaders in the opposition parties Bangladesh Nationalist Party (GDP) and Jamaat-e-Islami were sentenced to death or long prison sentences by the special tribunal, the International Crimes Tribunal (Bangladesh), which has the task of investigating persons suspected of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the liberation war in 1971. Twelve people, including a former GDP minister and several leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami, were charged with such crimes at the start of the year.
In January, high-ranking Muslim leader Abdul Kalam Azad, who was also a well-known TV preacher, was sentenced to death for genocide and crimes against humanity. He was sentenced in his absence since moving abroad. In February, Islamist Jamaat-e-Islamis Deputy Secretary-General Abdul Kadir Mullah was found guilty of humanity crimes and sentenced to life imprisonment. Hundreds of thousands of people walked the streets in protest of the verdict. In the same month, another senior leader in Jamaat-e-Islami, Delwar Hossain Sayadi, was sentenced to death for mass murder, rape and torture. More than 60 people were killed in the clashes between protesters and police who erupted after the verdict was announced. Also in May, a Jamaate Islam leader, Muhammad Kamaruzzaman, was sentenced to death for crimes against humanity.
When in July, Jamaat-e-Islami’s former party leader Ghulam Azam was jailed for war crimes committed during the liberation war, thousands of supporters walked the streets in protest. At least two people were killed when protesters clashed with the riot police. The same month, the Islamist party’s general secretary, Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid, was also convicted of war crimes.
In September, Abdul Kadir Mullah’s sentence to death penalty was sharpened. When he was executed in Dhaka in December, a wave of violence rained across the country when opposition people protested. In October, a member of parliament, Salauddin Quadir Chowdhury of GDP, was sentenced to death for murder and religious persecution of Hindus. The same month, former Prime Minister Abdul Alim of GDP received a death sentence. In November, two Bangladeshis were exiled by the tribunal for robbing and killing independence in 1971.
According to Countryaah, the Bangladeshi War Criminal Tribunal, which began its work in November 2011, had been criticized from several directions for actually being a tool for the government to counter the opposition. For example, the UN had said it did not live up to international standards.
In July, another Bangladeshi court banned Jamaat-e-Islami from running for election because its statutes were judged to violate the Constitution which states that the country should be a secular state. But for the Awami League and its allies and supporters, the tribunal was instead to be seen as a late settlement with the militias and runners who supported the Pakistani forces during the war in 1971. According to government estimates, at least three million people were killed during the war, and around 200,000 women were raped. According to other, independent assessors, the death toll was rather around 300,000.
In the spring, Parliament passed a law that would make it illegal to criticize Islam, but Prime Minister Hasina Wajed of the Awami League in April vetoed the bill which thus fell. Mass demonstrations were held in protest of the Prime Minister’s intervention.
In April, Parliament elected Abdul Hamid, veteran of the ruling Awami League, as new president. The month before, then President Zillur Rahman had passed away.
Perhaps the worst industrial accident in the country’s history occurred in April, when a factory building on the outskirts of the capital Dhaka collapsed and more than 1,100 people, the vast majority of women factory workers, died. The tragedy turned out to be due to serious negligence on the part of the owner as to how to follow security rules inside the building. The owner tried to escape but was arrested at the border with India and charged with a number of crimes. Factory workers in several Bangladeshi cities went on strike and protests against the lack of safety and poor working conditions in the country’s economically important textile industry. As a result, hundreds of factories were forced to close temporarily. The government promised to raise the minimum wage for the workers and make it easier for them to form trade unions, promises that were fulfilled during the year.
In July, some 70 foreign companies signed an agreement to inspect the factories they employ and pay for the security improvements to be implemented. A month earlier, the United States had abandoned some trade benefits that Bangladesh had previously had. About 4 million people, mainly women, were employed in the Bangladeshi textile industry, which accounted for 80% of the country’s exports.
The Hasinian government’s protracted conflict with Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank, known for its micro loans, continued during the year when the government in September ordered various authorities to take legal action against Yunus, who was charged with tax fraud.
In November, a civil court issued death sentences to just over 150 border guards who were involved in the 2009 soldier uprising. At least as many soldiers received life sentences for the same crime. Previously, some 6,000 soldiers, mostly border guards, had been sentenced for mutiny in military courts.
The same month, Prime Minister Hasina declared parliamentary elections until January 5, 2014. She decided not to hand over power to a transitional government until the election, which was done earlier in order to reduce the risk of a troubled election campaign. Hasina explained that a unity government with her as head would instead govern. The opposition decided to boycott the election.