A top lawmaker of the main Opposition Bangladesh National Party was arrested on Thursday on charges of "crime against humanity" committed during Bangladesh's bloody 1971 'Liberation War'.
Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, a key leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and considered close to former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia is accused of war crimes during the nine-month struggle against Pakistan which left three million dead.
"He has been arrested in line with directives of the International Crimes Tribunal", constituted earlier this year to try those accused of targeting unarmed civilians in 1971 home minister Sahara Khatun told reporters on the sidelines of the Victory Day Parade in the capital.
She said the tribunal issued an order saying Chowdhury must be arrested immediately and police complied with the order.
On March 25, the ruling Awami League government set up a special tribunal for the trial of "war criminals" accused of genocide and those who sided with the Pakistani military during the 1971 'Liberation War'.
The arrest of Chowdhury, which is the first time a senior BNP official has been formally held as a war crimes suspect, came as the country today celebrated the 39th anniversary of its victory against Pakistani troops in the 1971 Liberation War.
According to official figures, Pakistani troops, aided by local collaborators, killed an estimated 3 million people, raped about 200,000 women and forced millions more to leave their homes during the bloody nine-month guerrilla war.
On this day in 1971, the Pakistan army surrendered to the India-Bangladesh joint forces in Dhaka, ending the nine-month freedom struggle sparked by Pakistani army crackdown on unarmed Bengalis on March 25 that year, prompting the armed Bengali resistance.
BNP secretary general Khandker Delwar Hoissain alleged Chowdhury's arrest was "unlawful" as it came ahead of issuance of the charge sheet and the action meant the government does not have respect for the law.
"We are not opposed to war crimes trial but it appears the process is aimed at eliminate the opposition," he said while the BNP's called a half day stoppage on Sunday in Chittagong, the hometown of Chowdhury to protest his arrest.
Hours after his arrest Chowdhury, who is in his mid- sixties, was taken to Bangabandhu Sehikh Mujib Medical University for medical examination as he complained of "sickness" at the police station.
Later, he appeared before a court in downtown Dhaka where the magistrate ordered him to be interrogated for five days in police custody.
In a recent television interview Chowdhury, in his typical ridiculing tone, denied the allegations against him, claiming that he spent most of time abroad during the country's independence struggle.
But a special investigation agency, constituted along with the International Crimes Tribunal, recently said they gathered "enough evidence" of "crimes against humanity" against Chowdhury, who was particularly suspected for masterminding the 1971 killing of Nutun Chandra Sinha, a respected philanthropist and an industrialist in Chittagong.
On March 26, 1971, Bangladesh -- then East Pakistan -- declared its independence from West Pakistan. Chowdhury is also widely accused of running a "torture cell" at his residence in the port city during the war time.
A senior journalist in Dhaka told PTI he was ready to testify against Chowdhury, being a victim of tortures at his residence during the Liberation War.
"I am ready to say the truth if am called by the International Crimes Tribunal," said Nizamuddin Ahmed, who was a collage student and had intended to join the armed resistance against Pakistani troops.
Ahmed underlined that he was not a party to any political group but he wanted to expose how he was brutally tortured as he had sided with the freedom fighters.
The arrest of the BNP leader came as five stalwarts of radical Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), including the party's chief Matiur Rahman Nizami and Secretary General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed, arre in jail to face the trial on war crime charges.
The pro-Pakistan Jamaat was opposed to Bangladesh's independence while Nizami and Mojajeed allegedly led the infamous elite Al-Badr auxiliary militia force, which is particularly castigated for their alleged role in killing a number of leading intelligentsia during the war.
The tribunal along with the special investigation agency and a prosecution cell was constituted earlier this year in line with the election pledges of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's ruling Awami League to expose to trial the war criminals.