Bangladesh‘s highest court has reduced the death sentence of a prominent Jamaat-e-Islam leader, sparking protests by both his supporters and secular opponents.
In a ruling on Wednesday, the Supreme Court said that Delwar Hossain Sayedee, 74, should spend “the rest of his natural life” in jail for crimes committed during the 1971 liberation war with Pakistan.
“We had expected that the court would uphold his death sentence,” Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told AFP news agency.
Defence lawyers said they were not satisfied with the court’s ruling on Sayedee, who was convicted last year on eight counts including murder, rape and persecution of the country’s minority Hindu community.
Tajul Islam, one of Sayedee’s defence lawyers, said that he was “pleased” that the JI leader had not received the death sentence, but said that he “should have been acquitted of all charges. There was no scope to convict him”.
Violence erupted between police and a mob of angry secular demonstrators who surrounded Dhaka University after the verdict was perceived as too lenient.
Police fired tear gas and water cannon to try to break up the demonstrators who shouted slogans and threw stones at officers.
“This is part of negotiations between the government and the Jamaat-e-Islami party,” said protest leader Imran Sarker, whom police said was among seven people injured.
Ultra-secular activists have been calling for the banning of JI, which is the country’s largest Islamist party of which Sayedee was the vice president, accusing its leaders of crimes against humanity during the war.
JI called a two-day nationwide strike starting this morning. It stated that Sayedee was prosecuted on “false and fabricated” charges.
Last February’s judgement by the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) led to weeks of deadly protests that left more than 100 people dead that eventually plunged the nation into chaos.
Since then, a total of nine JI leaders have been convicted of offences by the ICT.
Sayedee’s trial became controversial in November 2012 after Sukhranjan Bali, the brother of one of the men whom the JI leader was accused of murdering, was apparently abducted from outside the tribunal gates as he was on the way to provide testimony on behalf of Sayedee.
Some months later Bali turned up in an Indian jail where he said that law enforcement officers had taken him from outside the court, detained him for six weeks and then dumped him over the Indian border. Bangladeshi government officials deny the allegation.
Human rights groups say legal procedures at the ICT fall short of international standards.
The government rejects the accusations, saying the trials are required to “heal” the wounds of war that it claims killed three million people.
Independent estimates put the number of deaths between 300,000 and 500,000.
Secularists who were allegedly backed by the Awami government began demonstrations, demanding the death penalty and an end to “Islamic extremism” in Bangladeshi politics.
The biggest protest took place at the Shahbag intersection in central Dhaka on February 5th 2013. Secular bloggers and online activists who were affiliated with the ruling Awami League called for further mass demonstrations at Shahbag intersection. According to independent journalists and opposition leaders, the Shahbag protestors were provided with logistical support from the police.
Shahbag demonstrators held day-and-night vigils, refusing to leave until all those convicted of “war crimes” were sentenced to death. Counter protests were held by JI supporters against the trials and general strikes were launched in Dhaka, shutting down all activity in the capital city.
The Shahbag protest was followed by one of the bloodiest massacres since the country’s inception. The murder of nearly 1,500 protestors was carried out at night by the police, security service, plain-cloth thugs, border guards and Bangladesh’s elite counter-terrorism unit, Rapid Action battalion (RAB) on May 5-6 in the Motijheel area of Dhaka.
Most the victims were unarmed supporters of the non-violent Islamic movement, Hefazot-e-Islami.
They were killed and their bodies were dumped in unknown locations by sunrise because they refused to evacuate Shapla Square upon Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s orders.
Abdul Quader Mollah
On Thursday 12th December 2013, Bangladesh executed a senior leader of JI for alleged crimes against humanity during the liberation war.
A formal charge was filed by the ICT prosecution against the Assistant Secretary-General of JI, Abdul Quader Molla on 18th December 2011 in the form of a petition, as required under Section 9 (1) of the ICT Act 1973.
He was charged with abetting the Pakistani army and actively participating in the atrocities of 1971: rape and mass murder of Bangladeshis in the Mirpur area of Dhaka. A member of the Rajakar militia during the war, Molla was charged with killing 344 civilians.
The 65-year-old was the first “war criminal” to be executed by the questionable ICT for his alleged involvement in the bloodshed of 1971.