A Bangladesh tribunal has sentenced a top opposition party leader to death for war crimes during the 1971 war of independence.
Lawyers said that Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed, 65, was on Wednesday found guilty in the capital, Dhaka, of genocide, conspiracy in killing intellectuals, torture and abduction during the war to break away from Pakistan.
Supporters of Mojaheed, the secretary-general of Jamaat-e-Islami, clashed with security forces in different parts of Bangladesh, after he was found guilty by the International Crimes Tribunal of five of the seven charges.
Prosecutors have described him as an architect of the killings of intellectuals by fighters at the end of the war. The charges include the abduction and disappearance of a top journalist and the murder of a leading music director.
“As the president of Jamaat’s now defunct student wing, he was the chief of the notorious Al Badr militia between October and December in 1971,” prosecutor Muklesur Rahman Badal said.
Mojaheed shouted, “wrong judgment,” when the judge handed down the sentence for him to be hanged.
Defence lawyer Saifur Rahman said outside court that they would appeal against the Mojaheed’s verdict.
Al Jazeera’s Tanvir Chowdhury, reporting from Dhaka, said that general elections were due to be held in five months’ time, which could prompt a retrial.
Mojaheed’s son had earlier told Al Jazeera that the crimes his father was accused of were politically motivated.
Mojaheed was an influential minister in the 2001-2006 government headed by Khaleda Zia, the present head of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
When it became clear that Pakistan was losing the war, dozens of intellectuals were abducted from their homes and murdered in December 1971 in the most gruesome chapter of the war. Their bodies were found blindfolded with hands tied in a marsh on the outskirts of the capital.
Shaheen Reza Noor, whose father, Sirajuddin Hossain, was the top journalist who disappeared during that period, was delighted at Wednesday’s verdict.
“My father was abducted just six days before independence because of his pro-independence writings,” said Noor, who is also a journalist.
“We’re satisfied at the verdict. But we’ll be happy when he’ll be executed.”
Violence flared in several towns on Wednesday, the third day of a protest strike called by the Jamaat.
There were no reports of deaths on Wednesday but nine people were killed on Monday and Tuesday, police and witnesses said.
Scores of Jamaat activists took to the streets in the western city of Rajshahi to protest against the latest verdict.
Police fired rubber bullets at supporters who were burning wood in an attempt to block a highway, local police chief Ziaur Rahman said. About 25 activists were arrested, Rahman said.
Jamaat supporters had called the strike over the 90-year sentence given to Ghulam Azam, the 90-year-old spiritual leader of the party.
Shops and businesses were closed and main roads were largely deserted of cars in the capital Dhaka.
Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh’s prime minister set up the tribunal in 2010 to investigate abuses during the conflict and it delivered its first verdict in January.
Unlike other such courts, Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal is not endorsed by the United Nations. Human Rights Watch has said its procedures fall short of international standards.
The prime minister’s opponents said that she was using the tribunal against the two biggest opposition parties, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the Jamaat-e-Islami.
Former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia, Hasina’s arch-rival and leader of the BNP, has called the tribunal a “farce”. The ruling party has rejected such criticism and denied accusations of bias.
So far six people have been sentenced for war crimes, including Mojaheed and Azam.
Chowdhury said that earlier tribunals sentenced expelled Jamaat leader Abul Kalam Azad and Muhammad Kamaruzzaman, Jamaat Assistant Secretary-General to death.
Assistant Secretary-General Abdul Quader Mollah received a life sentence and Jamaat leader Delawar Hossain Sayedee received capital punishment.
More than 100 people have been killed in protests and counter-protests since the tribunal’s first verdict in January.
Bangladesh became part of Pakistan at the end of British rule in 1947, but it broke away from Pakistan in 1971 after a war between Bangladeshi nationalists, who were backed by India, and Pakistani forces.
Some factions in Bangladesh, including the Jamaat, opposed the break with Pakistan but the party has denied charges that it collaborated with the Pakistani army.
Official figures show about three million people were killed during the nine-month war and thousands of women were raped.