Bangladesh urged to charge or free counsel

New York, Oct 27 (IANS) Bangladeshi authorities should immediately charge or release Asad Uddin, a key member of the defence team in the war crimes trial against Motiur Rahman Nizami, Human Rights Watch has said.

Uddin’s arrest comes two weeks ahead of key appeals and review hearings in the cases of two men, both senior members of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, convicted by the war crimes tribunal.

Uddin was travelling to his hometown in Sirajganj when he was detained on October 22.

According to a witness, armed men in both police uniforms and plainclothes stopped the bus he was in after it crossed the Jamuna river bridge.

They identified themselves as members of the detective branch of the police and detained Uddin.

The bus driver and some other witnesses on the bus immediately notified Uddin’s family, who tried to register a complaint with the police.

The police rejected the application, and denied having him in custody in spite of credible evidence obtained by his family that he is being held in the detective branch of the Sirajganj Police Station, Human Rights Watch said.

That same day in the evening, the uniformed police raided the house of another defence counsel, Mohammad Shishir Manir, stating to those present that they were there to arrest him.

They left after not finding Shishir at home. Shortly after, men in plainclothes, who identified themselves as members of the detective branch, again entered Shishir’s home, detained his driver, and questioned the driver for several hours before finally releasing him.

On October 25, Asad Uddin was produced before the Chief Metropolitan Magistrates Court in Dhaka, where police argued that they needed more time to question him because they suspected a conspiracy to “overthrow the government and obstruct the war crimes trials”.

On October 26, the magistrate remanded Uddin to two days remand in the Dhaka Central Jail.

“The detention of Uddin and the raid on Shishir’s home are deeply worrisome,” said Human Rights Watch.

“The arrest and raid seem to be an effort to intimidate lawyers acting as defense counsel at the war crimes tribunal with flimsy allegations, a shocking breach of the rule of law.”

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