A Bangladeshi court has sentenced Matiur Rahman Nizami, the leader of the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami party, and 13 others to death for arms smuggling.
Thursday’s sentencing in front of a full courtroom comes just weeks after Bangladesh held general elections that were marred by violence.
Defence lawyer Kamrul Islam Sazzad said those sentenced would appeal. “The verdict is nothing but political harassment. Justice was not done to my clients,” he said.
Jamaat-e-Islami is part of an anti-government coalition under former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia that has been calling on the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to resign and boycotted the January elections, which Hasina’s coalition won amid street fighting, a boycott and low turnout.
Paresh Barua, a former Indian rebel commander, was also convicted in absentia and also received the death penalty.
Others included a former deputy interior minister, Lutfozzaman Babar, and a former director general of the National Security Intelligence, retired Major General Rezzakul Haider Chowdhury.
The sentences were handed down by Chittagong Metropolitan Special Tribunal judge SM Mojibur Rahman, who told the court in his verdict that it was one of the country’s most sensational and important cases, state prosecutor Kamal Uddin told reporters.
The case goes back to 2004, when police seized 10 truck-loads of weapons in a raid on a state-owned jetty in the southeastern port city of Chittagong, when they were being unloaded from fishing boats.
The origin of the arms has never been established publicly, but according to documents they were believed to have been bound for fighters in India belonging to the United Liberation Front of Asom.