November 3, 2014 / 3:38 AM / 3 years ago

Bangladesh court upholds death sentence for convicted war criminal

Mohammad Kamaruzzaman (C) sits inside a police van after hearing the verdict of his trial in front of the International Crimes Tribunal-2 in Dhaka May 9, 2013. REUTERS/Khurshed Rinku

DHAKA (Reuters) - Bangladesh’s Supreme Court on Monday upheld the death penalty for an Islamist leader over atrocities committed during the country’s war of independence from Pakistan more than four decades ago.

In May last year, a special war crimes tribunal found Mohammad Kamaruzzaman, 62, an assistant secretary general of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, guilty of genocide and torture of unarmed civilians during the 1971 war.

The tribunals have delivered death sentences for two Jamaat leaders, including its party chief and former minister, Motiur Rahman Nizami, over the past week.

Violent protests over the trials are one of the main challenges facing Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who opened an inquiry into war crimes in 2010.

Defense lawyers said they would file a petition for a review but state prosecutors said a review was not an option.

“His death penalty was upheld by a majority decision of the Supreme Court,” chief prosecutor Golam Arif Tipu told reporters outside the packed court amid tight security.

Veterans of the war were among hundreds gathered outside the court who cheered the verdict.

“We want the verdict to be implemented soon,” Nasiruddin Yusuf, a filmmaker and war veteran, told reporters.

Jamaat called for another strike for Wednesday to protest against the verdict. A three-day strike is already underway in protest against the death sentence for the party chief.

On Monday, Jamaat activists smashed a dozen vehicles in Gazipur, on the outskirts of the capital, Dhaka, where several crude bombs went off.

In September, the Supreme Court commuted to life imprisonment a death sentence for another top Islamist leader, Delawar Hossain Sayedee, convicted for similar crimes.

An Islamist politician was hanged in December, the first war crimes execution in Bangladesh, after the Supreme Court overturned a life sentence imposed by the tribunals.

The tribunals have angered Islamists who call them a politically motivated bid to persecute the leadership of Jamaat and weaken the opposition.

More than 200 people were killed in clashes last year, most of them Islamist party activists and members of security forces.

International human rights groups say the tribunal’s procedures fall short of international standards.

The government denies such charges.

What was East Pakistan at the end of British rule in 1947 broke away into independent Bangladesh in 1971 after a war between Bangladeshi nationalists, backed by India, and Pakistani forces. About three million people were killed in the war.

Some factions in Bangladesh, including the Jamaat, opposed the break with Pakistan, but the party denies accusations that its leaders committed murder, rape and torture.

Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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