A Bangladesh war crimes tribunal has sentenced a leader of the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami party to death, the
third verdict by the court set up to investigate abuses during the country’s 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.
Delwar Hossain Sayedee, 73, vice-president of the party, was found guilty of charges of mass killing, rape, arson, looting and religious persecution during the liberation war, lawyers and tribunal officials said on Thursday.
“The verdict has appropriately demonstrated justice. We are happy,” state prosecutor Haider Ali told reporters.
Lawyers for the defendant boycotted the tribunal during the verdict.
“I didn’t commit any crime and the judges are not giving the verdict from the core of their heart,” Sayedee told the court.
“I didn’t commit any crime and the judges are not giving the verdict from the core of their heart.”
– Delwar Hossain Sayedee, Convicted Jamaat-e-Islami leader
Comments from Sayedee’s lawyers were not immediately available, but he had previously denied the allegations and said the charges were politically motivated.
The vedict triggered a fresh round of violence across the country, and Reuters news agency reported that at least 15 people were killed in protests by Sayedee’s supporters.
Another 200 people were wounded as his supporters clashed with police in more than a dozen districts across the country.
But thousands of people in the capital, Dhaka’s Shahbag square, who support the tribunal and have been protesting for weeks to demand the “highest penalty” for war criminals, burst into cheers as the verdict was announced.
Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s largest Islamic party, has denounced the trial and called for a day-long countrywide strike in anticipation of the verdict against Sayedee.
Earlier this month, the war tribunal sentenced Abdul Quader Molla, Jamaat’s assistant secretary general, to life imprisonment, leading to deadly protests by Islamists that left 16 people dead.
The verdict also enraged secular protesters, tens of thousands of whom have since poured onto a central Dhaka intersection to reject the “lighter sentence” and demand the execution of Jamaat leaders.
Last month, another Jamaat leader Maolana Abul Kalam Azad was sentenced to death in absentia. Seven other top leaders of Jamaat are on trial for their alleged role in the atrocities during the war.
Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital, was tense ahead of the verdict.
About 10,000 policemen were on patrol and the government also deployed border guards as reinforcement to prevent violence.
Schools and shops were shut and roads in Dhaka and inter-city motorways were empty.
The tribunal, a domestic body with no international oversight, has been tainted by controversies and allegations it is targeting only the opposition.
But the scale of recent secular protests show a large section of Bangladeshis support moves to punish those linked to atrocities during 1971.
Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister, set up the tribunal in 2010 to investigate abuses during the independence war that claimed about 3 million lives and, according to the government, during which thousands of women were raped.
The tribunal has been criticised by rights groups for failing to adhere to international standards of due process.