ucanews.com reporter, Dhaka
Updated: September 16, 2013 09:09 PM GMT
Thousands stage a huge rally in Dhaka’s Shahbagh Square to demand the death penalty for war criminals (photo by Shahadat Hosen)
The Bangladesh Supreme Court has sentenced to death a leader of the main Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami for crimes against humanity committed during the country’s 1971 war of independence.
Adbul Kader Mollah, Jamaat’s assistant secretary-general, was previously handed a life sentence by a war crimes tribunal in February.
However, a five-member bench headed by Chief Justice Muhammad Mozammel Hossain today increased the sentence to death after Mollah appealed against it in March.
Today’s death sentence, passed in a packed courtroom amid heavy security, was the first war crimes case to be resolved in the country’s highest court.
Mollah’s trial in February sparked protests by his supporters who accused the government of carrying out a vendetta against political opponents.
The verdict also angered progressive groups and young secularists who thought the sentence was too lenient. They organized huge rallies in Dhaka’s Shahbagh Square that lasted nearly two months, demanding death sentences for Mollah and all others convicted of war crimes.
Prosecutors, progressives and pro-liberation forces welcomed today’s verdict.
“Justice has been delivered by the Supreme Court and the verdict proves that our investigation and our findings concerning Kader Mollah’s brutality are true,” said Sanaul Haque, a state prosecutor.
Mollah was accused of being behind a series of massacres in the Mirpur district of Dhaka.
“Justice has been served for the people and their families who were victims of Kader Mollah’s atrocities,” said Dr Imran H Sarkar, an online activist and one of the organizers of the Shahbagh Square protests.
“We will continue to press for all war crimes sentences to be implemented,” he added.
Mollah’s lawyer said he was stunned by the verdict, saying his client had been denied justice and that it was the first time in the country’s history that the Supreme Court had increased a lower court’s sentence.
“We are bound to accept the verdict delivered by the country’s Supreme Court; but it is a wrong verdict and we are aggrieved,” Abdur Razzaque said.
“The judicial court didn’t deliver the death penalty, so the top court has set an unprecedented example by sentencing my client to death,” Razzaque told reporters.
“We will file a review petition against the judgment,” he added.
Jamaat and its entire leadership stand accused of committing war crimes during Bangladesh’s 1971 independence war against Pakistan.
Instituted in 2010, the war crimes tribunal has now convicted six Jamaat leaders, handing down death or life sentences in each case. Eight more politicians, mostly from Jamaat, are also being prosecuted and are awaiting trial.
Despite the support of most Bangladeshis, the tribunal has been criticized by rights groups such as New York-based Human Rights Watch, which says it falls short of international standards.
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