34 killed in Bangladesh after court orders Islamist leader hanged

DHAKA: At least 34 people were killed in Bangladesh in a wave of violence on Thursday as Islamists reacted furiously to a ruling that one of their leaders must hang for war crimes during the 1971 independence conflict.

At least 23 of them were shot in clashes between police and protesters that erupted after Delwar Hossain Sayedee, the Jamaat-e-Islami party´s vice president, was found guilty of war crimes, including murder, arson and rape.

Sayedee is the third person to be convicted by the controversial domestic tribunal whose previous verdicts have also been met with outrage from Islamists who say the process is more about score settling than delivering justice.

Thursday´s death toll was compiled by AFP after talking to police in the 15 districts where protests turned deadly. They were the most violent political clashes in more than two decades in the impoverished country´s history.

The latest unrest brought the overall death toll to 50 since the first verdict was delivered on January 21.

Among Thursday´s dead were four policemen, two of whom were beaten to death after protesters hurled small homemade bombs at a police station in Gaibandha in Bangladesh´s north and attacked it with sticks, local police chief Monjur Rahman said.

“At least 10,000 Jamaat supporters attacked us. We were forced to open fire,” Rahman told AFP.

About 300 people, including scores of policemen, were also injured, doctors, police and local media said.

Police also reported attacks on several Hindu homes and temples by Islamists in the southern Noakhali and Chittagong districts. One old Hindu man was killed in the attack in Chittagong, district police chief Hafiz Akter told AFP.

Security forces had been braced for trouble ahead of the verdict against Sayedee, who reacted to the judgment by saying it had been influenced by “atheists” and pro-government protesters who have been demanding his execution.

Sayedee, now best known in Bangladesh as a firebrand preacher, was convicted for setting ablaze 25 houses in a Hindu village and abetting the murders of two people including a Hindu man, according to a copy of the verdict.

He led a pro-Pakistani militia who abducted three Hindu sisters and raped them for three days at a Pakistani camp, said the verdict. He also forced at least 100 Hindus to convert to Islam and made them say Islamic prayers, it added.

His lawyer Tajul Islam described the verdict as “a gross miscarriage of justice”, adding that Sayedee did not live in the town at the time when the alleged crimes took place.

“It´s a case of mistaken identity. We´re stunned. We´re going to appeal the verdict,” he told AFP.