A massive oil spill from a stricken tanker is threatening endangered dolphins and other rare wildlife in the world's largest mangrove forest, Bangladesh officials warned Dec. 11. Rescue vessels have now salvaged the tanker, but the slick had already spread to a second river and a network of canals in the Sundarbans, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which straddles India and Bangladesh. "It's a catastrophe for the delicate ecology of the Sundarbans," the area's chief forest official Amir Hossain told the AFP news agency. "The oil spill has already blackened the shoreline, threatening trees, plankton, vast populations of small fishes and dolphins." The tanker was carrying more than 350,000 liters of oil when it collided with another vessel and sank in the Sundarbans' Shela River, home to the endangered Ganges dolphins. Forest and security officials are on high alert amid fears the spill may cross over to the Indian side of the Sunderbans, home to Bengal tigers, ridley turtles, and other rare flora and fauna. The Sunderbans is also an important feeding area for migratory birds from Siberia. (Radio Australia, Al Jazeera, Business Standard, India, Dec. 11)
A special tribunal in Bangladesh on Dec. 2 found British journalist David Bergman guilty of contempt for challenging the official death toll of Bangladesh's 1971 independence war with Pakistan. Bergman wrote in a 2011 blog post and two other articles that the number of those killed or raped during the war recorded by Bangladeshi officials lacked evidentiary support. According to officials, three million people were killed during the conflict. As a result of the judgment, in which the court stated that the journalist offended the nation, Bergman will have to pay a fine equal to $65. If he fails to do so, he will face a week in jail.
The Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal on Nov. 13 convicted (PDF) opposition politician MA Zahid Hossain Khokon to death for his role in killings and other war crimes perpetrated during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. The Tribunal found the accused guilty of the offenses of "murder, torture, deportation, rape, confinement, abduction and other inhumane acts" within the crimes against humanity sections of the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act of 1973. Khokon, a member of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), was tried in absentia and is currently a fugitive believed to be residing with his family in Sweden.
A special tribunal in Bangladesh on Oct. 29 sentenced Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) leader Motiur Rahman Nizami to death for crimes committed during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War with Pakistan. The former Cabinet minister was tried on charges that included genocide, rape, murder and torture, and was accused of personally carrying out or ordering the deaths of nearly 600 Bangladeshis while serving as supreme commander of the Al-Badr militia. The JI party has released a statement denouncing the verdict, and the defense has announced its plan to appeal, contending that the charges were not proven beyond a reasonable doubt and that the tribunal went beyond its jurisdiction.
A former Bangladeshi Islamist party leader, who was imprisoned for war crimes last year, died on Oct. 23 of a heart attack in a prison cell of a government hospital. Ghulam Azam was 91 when his life support was removed at the Bangabandhu Sehikh Mujib Medical University. Azam was sentenced last year to 90 years in prison on 61 charges of war crimes during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. Azam led the Islamist party until 2000, and was still considered to be its spiritual leader.
In a new video release, al-Qaeda boss Ayman al-Zawahri announced a new wing of the militant network to "raise the flag of jihad" across the "Indian subcontinent." Zawahri pledged that "al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent" (AQIS) will "break all borders created by Britain in India," and called on "our brothers" to "unite under the credo of the one god...in Burma, Bangladesh, Assam, Gujarat, Ahmedabad, and Kashmir." The statement made two references to Gujarat, the home state of India's new Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Gujarat was the scene of communal riots on his watch as chief minister of the state in 2002. More than 1,000 people, overwhelmingly Muslims, died in the wave of attacks. In the 55-minute video, delivered in a mixture of Arabic and Urdu, Zawahiri also pledged renewed loyalty to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar. India has thus far had no recorded al-Qaeda presence, although it has suffered numerous attacks from groups including Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Indian Mujahedeen. (Long War Journal, Sept. 5; Today's Zaman, Turkey, BBC News, Indian Express, Sept. 4)
Jamaat-e-Islami party (JI) leader AKM Yusuf, died at age 87 on Feb. 9 of cardiac arrest. Bangladeshi authorities arrested Yusuf in May on 13 charges of crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. Yusuf became ill while in jail, where we was detained while facing the war crimes charges, which included genocide, arson and rape. The International Crimes Tribunal Bangladesh ( ICTB) had been scheduled to begin Yusuf's trial on February 12. His defense counsel had previously sought bail due to the man's old age, and now claim that the jail should have provided better treatment.
A leader in Bangladesh's main Islamist party was charged on Dec. 31 in connection with war crimes during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War with Pakistan. Abdus Subhan, who was arrested last September, was formally charged after Bangladesh's International Crimes Tribunal (ICTB) conducted an investigation. However, human rights groups say that the tribunal, which was set up in 2010 to investigate abuses committed in that war, does not meet international standards and supporters of the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) say the tribunal is used politically to eradicate its leaders. The Bangladesh war of independence caused an estimated 10 million civilians to flee to India, and an estimated 3 million deaths. Subhan has denied all charges.