DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A special war crimes tribunal in Bangladesh on Thursday sentenced the leader of an Islamic political party to death for crimes stemming from the nation’s 1971 fight for independence, a politically charged decision that sparked violent protests.
Jamaat-e-Islami leader Delwar Hossain Sayedee was found guilty of eight counts out of 20 involving mass killings, rape and atrocities during the nine-month war against Pakistan, prosecutor Syed Haider Ali said. The verdict was announced by presiding tribunal judge ATM Fazle Kabir in a packed courtroom.
“Justice has been done to those who lost their loved ones at the hands of Sayedee,” Ali said.
Lawyers for the defendant boycotted the tribunal during the verdict and rejected it as politically motivated. Sayedee’s lawyer Abdur Razzak said they will appeal.
Jamaat-e-Islami was enforcing a nationwide general strike Thursday to denounce the trial and to demand Sayedee be freed.
Supporters of Sayedee clashed with police in Sirajganj district while protesting the verdict, leaving two people dead, private television channels Ekattar TV reported. Police were not immediately available to comment on the reported deaths.
Sayedee is the third defendant to be convicted of crimes against humanity since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government initiated the tribunal in 2010.
In the first verdict in January, the tribunal sentenced former Jamaat leader Abul Kalam Azad to death on similar charges.
Another Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Mollah was sentenced to life in prison in February for atrocities during the war.
Another seven top leaders of Jamaat are on trial for their alleged role in the atrocities during the war.
Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest Islamic party in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, had campaigned against the 1971 independence war, but it denies committing any atrocities.
Jamaat, a key ally of the country’s largest opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party led by ex-premier Khaleda Zia, was a partner in her government from 2001-2006.
Zia’s party has questioned the conduct of the tribunal, saying the trial was aimed at destroying the opposition.
International human rights organizations also questioned fairness of the trial, referring to the disappearance of a witness for Sayedee.
Bangladesh says the 1971 war left 3 million people dead, 200,000 women raped and forced millions to take shelter in neighboring India.