Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina. - Reuters Photo

DHAKA: Human Rights Watch called on Thursday for Bangladesh to investigate threats to defence lawyers and witnesses at a court probing alleged war crimes in the nation's 1971 war of independence.

The court, set up last year, will try people suspected of carrying out atrocities during Bangladesh's bloody nine-month battle against Pakistan, is due to start its first trial on November 20.

“Harassment of defence counsel and witnesses further tarnishes a flawed process,” Brad Adams, Asia director at the New York-based watchdog, said.

“If the Bangladeshi government wants these trials to be taken seriously then it must make sure that lawyers and witnesses don't face any threats or coercion.”

Threats have been made against lawyers representing Delawar Hossain Sayedee – a leader of the Islamic party Jamaat-i-Islami who is charged with 20 counts including crimes against humanity and genocide, the campaign group said.

One of Sayedee's barristers has been threatened with arrest on false charges and another senior lawyer is facing an arrest warrant in order to make it difficult for him to participate fully in preparing the defence, HRW said.

A researcher has also gone into hiding in fear for his life, the rights group added.

Attorney General Mahbubey Alam responded to the claims by telling AFP that “these are vague allegations, they are not genuine”.

Sayedee is being held along with four other suspects from the Jamaat-i-Islami party and two from the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

Both parties have dismissed the tribunal as a government “show trial”.

The court has also called the International Crimes Tribunal which is a domestic set-up with no United Nations oversight or involvement.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina – the daughter of independence hero Sheikh Mujibur Rahman – established the court after she returned to power in 2009, but it has been widely criticised for targeting her political opponents.

Updated Nov 03, 2011 08:21am

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