November 3, 2014 / 4:46 AM / 4 years ago

Bangladesh Islamist leader sentenced to death for war crimes

DHAKA (Reuters) - A Bangladesh war crimes court convicted an Islamist party leader on Sunday of atrocities during the country’s war of independence from Pakistan more than four decades ago and sentenced him to death.

Mir Quasem Ali, 62, an executive member of the Jamaat-e-Islami party and considered a main party financier, was found guilty on charges of killing, torture and abduction during the war to break away from Pakistan in 1971, lawyers said.

Such convictions have in the past led to violent protests by party supporters.

The verdict came three days after the party chief and former minister Motiur Rahman Nizami was also sentenced to death on similar charges, which sparked some violence by party activists.

“Justice has been served,” state prosecutor Ziad Al Mamun told reporters outside the packed court amid tight security.

The death sentence would dispel any “culture of impunity” in Bangladesh, he said.

But defence lawyer Mizanur Rahman told reporters his client would appeal: “We didn’t get proper judgment.”

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

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.

It was the second verdict on war crimes charges since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina came to power for a second consecutive term in an election in January boycotted by the main opposition.

Jamaat called for a nationwide protest strike on Thursday. A three-day strike is already under way protesting the death sentence to its party chief.

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

An Islamist politician was hanged in December, the first war crimes execution in Bangladesh.

Violent protests over the war crimes trials are one of the main challenges facing Hasina, who opened an inquiry in 2010 into abuses committed during the war.

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

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

International human rights groups say tribunal’s procedures fall short of international standards. The ruling party has rejected such criticism.

Editing by Robert Birsel & Kim Coghill

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