DHAKA, Bangladesh: A special tribunal in Bangladesh on Thursday sentenced a leader of an Islamic political party to death for crimes during the nation’s 1971 war for independence, a politically charged decision that sparked violent protests that left four people dead.
Delwar Hossain Sayedee, one of the top leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami, was found guilty of eight counts out of 20 involving mass killings, rape and atrocities committed during the nine-month war against Pakistan, prosecutor Syed Haider Ali said. The verdict was announced in a packed courtroom by the presiding judge of the war crimes tribunal, ATM Fazle Kabir.
“Justice has been done to those who lost their loved ones at the hands of Sayedee,” Ali said.
Sayedee is the third defendant to be convicted of crimes against humanity since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government initiated the tribunal in 2010.
Lawyers for Sayedee boycotted the tribunal during the verdict, which they said was politically motivated. Sayedee’s lawyer Abdur Razzak said they would appeal.
Jamaat-e-Islami enforced a nationwide general strike Thursday to denounce the trial and to demand Sayedee be freed.
Security forces fired rubber bullets and tear gas at dozens of supporters of Jamaat who smashed vehicles and attacked an office of the ruling Awami League party in Rangpur district, killing two people, a local police official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak publicly. Rangpur is 248 kilometers (155 miles) north of Dhaka, the capital.
Supporters of Sayedee clashed with police in Sirajganj district while protesting the verdict, leaving two people dead, private television channel Ekattar TV reported. Police were not immediately available to comment on the reported deaths in that area, which is 104 kilometers (65 miles) north of Dhaka.
Stone-throwing Jamaat supporters also clashed with police in southeastern Chittagong city, injuring dozens of people, Ekattar TV reported. At least 60 vehicles were smashed, it said.
In the tribunal’s first verdict in January, it sentenced former Jamaat leader Abul Kalam Azad to death on similar charges as Sayedee.
Another Jamaat leader, Abdul Quader Mollah, was sentenced to life in prison in February for atrocities committed during the war. Seven other top party leaders are currently on trial for their alleged roles in war atrocities.
Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest Islamic party in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, had campaigned against the 1971 independence war, but denies committing any atrocities.
Jamaat, a key ally of the country’s largest opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which is led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, was a partner in Zia’s government from 2001-2006.
Zia’s party has questioned the conduct of the tribunal, saying the trials are aimed at destroying the opposition.
International human rights organizations also have questioned the fairness of the trials, 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.