Fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami elected its new chief who hailed Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s father Mujibur Rahman as the “architect” of Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan, in a bid to mend ties with the government after top Jamaat leaders were executed on 1971 war crime charges. Former school teacher Maqbul Ahmed, 70, was elected as new Jamaat-e-Islami leader after a secret ballot of party members, the Islamist party said in a statement on Monday. The post was lying vacant after its former chief Motiur Rahman Nizami was hanged in May after a tribunal convicted him of mass murder during the 1971 war of independence.
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In his first statement after his election as Jamaat’s new ‘ameer’, Ahmed, who is untainted by war crime allegations, paid tribute to Hasina’s father, who led the war of independence against Pakistan. “I pay profound respect to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the architect of the country’s independence…,” he said. He also paid tributes to “other undisputed leaders of the Liberation War of Bangladesh” including slain president Zia-ur Rahman, who is the founder of Jamaat’s ally BNP.
BNP is the main opposition outside parliament as it did not take part in the 2014 elections after Jamaat was barred from contesting the polls following a Supreme Court ruling. Ahmad was serving as acting Jamaat chief after the execution of Nizami and four other top party leaders, including the party’s secretary general, its two joint secretaries and its main financier, following trials that rights groups have condemned as unfair.
The new Jamaat chief also paid tributes to his predecessor Nizami and grand predecessor Gholam Azam, also a war crimes convict who died last year while serving imprisonment until death, recalling “their contributions to country’s development and democracy”. “The government hanged five senior (Jamaat) leaders to death on false charges,” Ahmed said.
Jamaat opposed Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan, but denies its leaders were involved in mass murders and rapes during the nine-month long conflict. Bangladesh launched the war crimes trial process in 2010 in line with electoral pledges of Prime Minister Hasina’s ruling Awami League which had stewarded the Liberation War in 1971 when Jamaat formed militia units as auxiliary forces of the Pakistani troops. Several Jamaat leaders earlier said they would now reorganise the party with leaders free of war crimes stigma.