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Bangladesh politician accused of war crimes

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A former Bangladeshi opposition politician, Ghulam Azam, is on trial for crimes against humanity committed more than 40 years ago.

The 89-year-old Azam cannot walk, cannot see, nor can he really hear. Yet he has 10 armed police officers watching him at all times.

The country's war crimes tribunal believes he collaborated with Pakistan's army, orchestrating mass killings during Bangladesh's 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.

Officials say three million people died in the nine-month-long conflict.

Sheikh Hasina Wajed, the Bangladeshi prime minister, has made the prosecution of war criminals part of her election manifesto. Her government is determined to fulfil its pledge.

A recent hearing by the UN working group on arbitrary detentions concluded the detention of Azam and others as arbitrary and in breach of international law.

However, Shaufiq Ahmed, the Bangladesh law minister, rejects the accusation. "This tribunal is not an international war crimes tribunal, this is a domestic tribunal," he said.

"Those who have been arrested are facing trial, so it's not an illegal detention."

If found guilty Azam will face the death penalty. Whatever the decision the court comes to, it will have dramatic consequences. It may bring justice to many but at the cost of throwing Bangladesh into further political instability.


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