Britain's most important Muslim leader to be charged with war crime
Published: Sunday, Apr 15, 2012, 9:30 IST
By Andrew Gilligan | Place: DHAKA | Agency: The Daily Telegraph
One of Britain's most important Muslim leaders is to be charged with war crimes, investigators and officials have told The Sunday Telegraph.
Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin, director of Muslim spiritual care provision in the NHS, a trustee of the major British charity Muslim Aid and a central figure in setting up the Muslim Council of Britain, fiercely denies any involvement in a number of abductions and "disappearances" during Bangladesh's independence struggle in the 1970s. He says the claims are "politically motivated" and false.
However, Mohammad Abdul Hannan Khan, the chief investigator for the country's International Crimes Tribunal, said: "There is prima facie evidence of Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin being involved in a series of killings of intellectuals. We have made substantial progress in the case against him. There is no chance that he will not be indicted and prosecuted. We expect charges in June." Mr Mueen-Uddin could face the death penalty if convicted.
Shafique Ahmed, Bangladesh's law and justice minister, said: "He was an instrument of killing intellectuals. He will be charged, for sure."
For 25 years after independence from Britain, the country now known as Bangladesh was part of Pakistan. In 1971, Bangla resentment at the "colonial" nature of Pakistani rule broke out into a revolt. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were massacred by Pakistani troops.
Mr Mueen-Uddin, then a journalist on the Purbodesh newspaper in Dhaka, was a member of a fundamentalist party, Jamaat-e-Islami, which supported Pakistan in the war. In the closing days, as it became clear that Pakistan had lost, he is accused of being part of a collaborationist Bangla militia, the Al-Badr Brigade, which rounded up, tortured and killed prominent citizens to deprive the new state of its intellectual elite.
The widow of one such victim, Dolly Chaudhury, claims to have identified Mr Mueen-Uddin as one of three men who abducted her husband, Mufazzal Haider Chaudhury, a scholar of Bengali literature, on Dec 14 1971.
"I was able to identify one [of the abductors], Mueen-Uddin," she said in video testimony, seen by The Sunday Telegraph, which will form part of the prosecution case. "He was wearing a scarf but my husband pulled it down as he was taken away. When he was a student, he often used to go to my brother-in-law's house. My husband, my sister-in-law, my brother-in-law, we all recognised that man." Prof Chaudhury was never seen again.
Also among the as yet untested testimony is the widow of another victim, who claims that Mr Mueen-Uddin was in the group that abducted her husband, Sirajuddin Hussain, a journalist, from their home on Dec 10 1971.
"There was no doubt that he was the person involved in my husband's abduction and killing," said Noorjahan Seraji. One of the other members of the group, who was caught soon afterwards, allegedly gave Mr Mueen-Uddin's name in his confession.
Another reporter on Purbodesh, Ghulam Mostafa, also disappeared. The vanished man's brother, Dulu, said he appealed to Mr Mueen-Uddin for help and was taken around the main Pakistani army detention and torture centres by him. Dulu Mostafa said that Mr Mueen-Uddin appeared to be well known at the detention centres. Ghulam was never found.
Mr Mueen-Uddin's then editor at the paper, Atiqur Rahman, said that Mr Mueen-Uddin had been the first journalist in the country to reveal the existence of the Al-Badr Brigade.
After his colleagues disappeared, he said, Mr Mueen-Uddin had asked for his address. Fearing that he too would be abducted, he gave a fake one. Mr Rahman's name, complete with the fake address, appeared on a Al-Badr death list found after the end of the war.
"I gave that address only to Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin, and when that list appeared it was obvious that he had given that address to Al-Badr," Mr Rahman said in statements given to the investigators. He published a story about Mr Mueen-Uddin, who had by that stage left the city, naming him as involved in "disappearances."
This brought forward two further witnesses, Mushtaqur and Mahmudur Rahman, who claim they recognised the picture as somebody who had been part of an armed group looking for the BBC correspondent in Dhaka during the abductions. The group was unsuccessful because the BBC man had gone into hiding.
Toby Cadman, Mr Mueen-Uddin's lawyer, said yesterday (Saturday): "No formal allegations have been put to Mr Mueen-Uddin and therefore it is not appropriate to issue any formal response. Any and all allegations that Mr Mueen-Uddin committed or participated in any criminal conduct during the Liberation War of 1971 that have been put in the past will continue to be strongly denied in their entirety.
"The chief investigator will be aware that the decision as to the bringing of charges is made by the prosecutor and not an investigator. Therefore, the comments by the chief investigator are highly improper and serves as a further basis for raising the question as to whether a fair trial may be guaranteed before the International Crimes Tribunal in Bangladesh.
"The statement by the Bangladesh minister for law, justice and parliamentary affairs is a clear declaration of guilt and in breach of the presumption of innocence."
Since moving to the UK in the early 1970s, Mr Mueen-Uddin has taken British citizenship. In 1989 he was a key leader of protests against the Salman Rushdie book, The Satanic Verses. Around the same time he helped to found the extremist Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE), Jamaat-e-Islami's European wing, which believes in creating a sharia state in Europe and in 2010 was accused by a Labour minister, Jim Fitzpatrick, of infiltrating the Labour Party.
Tower Hamlets' directly-elected mayor, Lutfur Rahman, was expelled from Labour for his close links with the IFE.
Until 2010 Mr Mueen-Uddin was vice-chairman of the controversial East London Mosque, controlled by the IFE, in which capacity he greeted the Prince of Wales when the heir to the throne opened an extension to the mosque.
He was also closely involved with the Muslim Council of Britain, which has been dominated by the IFE. He was chairman and remains a trustee of the IFE-linked charity, Muslim Aid. He has also been involved in the Markfield Institute, the key institution of Islamist higher education in the UK.
The International Crimes Tribunal, a new body set up to try alleged "war criminals" from the 1971 war, has begun trying some Bangladesh-based leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami. However, Human Rights Watch said the ICT's proceedings "fall short of international standards" with a "failure to ensure due process" and "serious concerns about the impartiality of the bench".
"The chairman of the tribunal was formerly one of the investigators," said Abdur Razzaq, lead counsel for the defence. "As chairman, he will be pronouncing on an investigation report he himself produced." Mr Ahmed, the law minister, denied this. Any trial of Mr Mueen-Uddin would also be fraught with practical difficulties. There is no extradition treaty between Britain and Bangladesh and the UK does not extradite in death penalty cases.
Mr Hannan Khan said Mr Mueen-Uddin was likely to be tried in absentia if he did not return.
"I have waited 40 years to see the trial of the war criminals," said Mrs Seraji. "I have not spent a single night without suffering and I want justice."
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Britain's most important Muslim leader to be charged with war crime