Bangladesh's top court has sentenced a senior Islamist opposition leader to death for mass murder during the country's 1971 liberation war against Pakistan.
Abdul Quader Molla, 65, the fourth-highest-ranked leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, is the first politician to be found guilty by the country's Supreme Court after it overturned an appeal to acquit him of all charges.
"The court enhanced his life sentence to the death penalty," Mohammad Ali, prosecutor, said on Tuesday.
Lawyers said a five-strong Appellate Division bench threw away the defence appeal for acquittal of the Jamaat-e-Islami’s assistant secretary-general.
The defence lawyer Tajul Islam said: "We are stunned by the verdict. This is the first time in South Asian judicial history that a trial court sentence has been enhanced by a Supreme Court."
Jamaat-e-Islami has called for a 48-hour general strike to start on Wednesday. The original life sentence delivered in February triggered widespread protests including by secular protesters angry over the apparent leniency of the sentence.
Tens of thousands of secularists massed at a public square in Dhaka for weeks, demanding the execution of Molla, describing him as the "Butcher of Mirpur", responsible for the murder of hundreds of innocent villagers in a Dhaka suburb during the war.
The protests forced parliament to change the war crimes laws, allowing the prosecution to appeal against the verdict and seek the death penalty in the Supreme Court.
Bangladesh has been in upheaval since the current government set up two war crimes tribunals to try those suspected of links to excesses during the liberation war.
Many Bangladesh scholars put the death toll at three million but others have disputed the figure. More than 2,50,000 Bengali women were also raped during the period, according to the scholars.
Leaders on trial
Jamaat sided with Pakistan during the liberation war, but denies any role in the crimes.
Several of its top leaders are being tried for crimes during the war and four of them have already been sentenced to death for mass murder, rape and religious persecution
In August, Bangladesh's High Court declared the registration of Jamaat-e-Islami illegal, banning it from contesting January's general election.
Secular protesters have long demanded that Jamaat be banned from public office for its role in the 1971 war of independence, during which it opposed Bangladesh's breakaway from Pakistan.
Islamists, in turn, also held rival demonstrations across the country, calling the sentence politically charged, and sparking violent clashes between police and supporters of Jamaat.
About 150 people have been killed across the country in sporadic spells of violence.