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Death Sentence for Bangladeshi Opposition Leader

Alex Finkelstein

A Bangladeshi court on Thursday sentenced the country’s top opposition figure, Matiur Rahman Nizami, and 13 others to death for arms smuggling. The government accused Nizami of conspiring to export weapons to an insurgent group in India. In 2004, Police seized over 800 rocket launchers and almost 5,000 guns during a raid at a state-owned dock in the coastal city of Chittagong. Nizami, a state government official, was accused of involvement with the weapons cache in 2012.

Lawyers for the convicted opposition leader contends that the trial is “nothing but political harassment” because Nizami leads the Islamist Jaamat-e-Islami party, the biggest political challenger to the government.

Matiur Rahman Nizami’s sentence has prompted fears of fresh unrest in Bangladesh (Photo: AFP)

Nizami has also been indicted by Bangladesh’s war crimes tribunal, however, verdict remains pending. Bangladesh’s current government established a tribunal in 2010 to allegedly find justice for crimes committed during the 1971 war for independence against Pakistan. But Western NGOs remain concerned about the integrity of the tribunal with Human Rights Watch calling the proceedings “flawed.” The government has overseen the conviction of dozens of opposition officials without appeal and in violation of UN due process guidelines.

Tampering in the Nizami case and in the war crimes tribunal highlights the ruling Awami League’s authoritarian influence over the justice system in Bangladesh. The party has cracked down on dissent by limiting freedom of the press and scrapping constitutional safeguards. Turnout for the recent January 5th elections, fell to below 40% in part because people feared violence and intimidation at the polls. Opposition party figures were excluded from the ballot in many places and the international community has called for new elections.