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Bangladesh charges U.S.-based rights group with contempt

DHAKA (Reuters) - Bangladesh prosecutors on Tuesday charged Human Right Watch with contempt of court after the New York-based rights group criticized the conviction of a top Islamist politician on war crimes charges.

But it was not immediately clear what the move will mean, as Human Rights Watch does not have a resident representative in Bangladesh to stand accused.

Ghulam Azam, 91, the former head of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, was jailed for 90 years last month for masterminding crimes against humanity, genocide and other offences during the country's 1971 war of independence.

The rights group condemned the conviction as "deeply flawed" and said it failed to meet international standards of a fair trial.

"A petition seeking contempt of court proceedings against the Human Rights Watch has been filed in the war crimes tribunal," prosecutor Tureen Afroz told reporters.

Human Rights Watch had said judges improperly conducted an investigation on behalf of the prosecution, there was collusion among prosecutors, failure to protect defense witnesses and a lack of evidence to establish guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

"The problems with the Azam trial are manifold, and lead to the inescapable conclusion that there has been strong judicial bias towards the prosecution and grave violations of due process rights," Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said.

Bangladesh has been hit in recent months by a wave of violent protests over war crimes convictions, presenting the government with a security and credibility challenge ahead of polls early next year.

Early this month, a court declared Jamaat-e-Islami illegal, effectively banning it from the election.

Six party leaders have been convicted of various crimes in connection with the war. Four of them were sentenced to death and two, including Azam, to life in prison.

(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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