US envoy concerned over Bangladesh contempt filing

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — The U.S. ambassador in Bangladesh said Wednesday he was concerned about a contempt petition prosecutors were seeking against Human Rights Watch over a Bangladesh war crimes case.

Ambassador Dan Mozena said that a human rights organization like it has “a critical role to play.”

The prosecutors sought permission Tuesday from a special tribunal to file a contempt notice against the New York-based rights organization because of a statement in which HRW said the trial of former Jamaat-e-Islami party chief Ghulam Azam was “deeply flawed” and did not meet international standards.

The statement the group issued Friday alleged the “judges had improperly conducted an investigation on behalf of the prosecution” and mentioned “collusion and bias among prosecutors and judges.”

Azam was convicted of crimes against humanity and genocide and sentenced to 90 years in jail for his actions during the nation’s independence war against Pakistan. Bangladesh says Pakistani soldiers, aided by local collaborators, killed 3 million people and raped 200,000 women in the 1971 war.

Both the defense and prosecution have appealed the verdict. The maximum punishment Azam could have faced was the death penalty.

The prosecutors’ petition accuses Human Rights Watch’s board of directors, its director for the Asia region, Brad Adams, and his associate Storm Tiv.

The group said it had no immediate response.

“We have seen news reports suggesting a Bangladeshi prosecutor is seeking contempt of court proceedings against Human Rights Watch but we have not had any notice of such an action at present and so we are not in a position to respond,” communications director Emma Daly said in an email.

A person found responsible for contempt could face one year in jail and be ordered to pay 5,000 takas ($63).

The prosecution’s filing said the group raised “biased, baseless, utterly false, fabricated and ill-motivated” allegations involving the trial process. It also called the statement most unethical as the appeals from both sides are pending with the Supreme Court.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government is holding war crimes trials over the independence war under protest from the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its key ally Jamaat-e-Islami party. Jamaat-e-Islami is accused of organizing forces against the fighters who sought independence.

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