By Serajul Quadir
Bangladesh’s war crimes tribunal sentenced the chief of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh to death on Wednesday for his involvement in crimes against humanity, including genocide, torture and rape, during the country’s 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.
“Considering the gravity of the crimes, the tribunal punished him with the death sentence,” state prosecutor Mohammad Ali told reporters.
The sentence passed on Motiur Rahman Nizami, a 71-year-old former legislator and minister, could provoke protests by supporters of his Islamist party who say the government has used the tribunal to weaken its political opponents.
Jamaat-e-Islami said in a statement that the people of Bangladesh were “surprised, stunned and deeply sad”, and called for a 24-hour general strike from Thursday and a 48-hour national stoppage from Sunday to protest against the verdict.
Police said Jamaat activists protested soon after the ruling and about 90 of them were detained in Nizami’s home district.
“We are very unhappy with the judgment and the tribunal’s observation,” defence lawyer Tajul Islam told reporters, adding that his client would appeal to the Supreme Court.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina set up the tribunal in 2010 to investigate abuses during the independence war that claimed about 3 million lives and during which thousands of women were raped.
Critics say the government has abused the process as a political tool to target the two biggest opposition parties, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-e-Islami. This year, more than 100 people have been killed in protests over the tribunal’s verdicts.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch group has said the court’s procedures fall short of international standards