An “International Crimes Tribunal” sentenced the leader of Bangladesh’s Jamaat-e-Islami to death for war crimes committed during the nation’s independence war against Pakistan in 1971.
Motiur Rahman Nizami, 71, sat in the dock on Wednesday as the verdict was read out in the packed courtroom in Dhaka. The defence said it would appeal.
Police and paramilitary units patrolled the streets outside because previous verdicts by the ICT have sparked violence.
JI denounced the verdict in a statement and called a general strike for Thursday, Sunday and Monday.
Nizami, a former cabinet minister, was tried on 16 charges, including genocide, murder, torture, rape and destruction of property. He was accused of personally carrying out or ordering the deaths of nearly 600 Bangladeshis.
The Bangladeshi government claims that Pakistani soldiers, aided by local collaborators, killed 3 million people, raped 200,000 women and forced about 10 million people to take shelter in refugee camps across the border in neighbouring India during the nine-month liberation war.
The prosecution said Nizami acted as the supreme commander of the Al-Badr brigade, which carried out a systematic plan to torture and execute pro-liberation supporters during the war.
The group is blamed for killing dozens of people by kidnapping them from their homes just before Pakistan surrendered to a joint force of India and Bangladesh on Dec. 16, 1971. At that time, Nizami was also the president of Islami Chattra Sangha, the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, in what was previously called East Pakistan.
JI openly campaigned against independence and its then-leader, Ghulam Azam, toured the Middle East to mobilise support for Pakistan, but the party has denied committing atrocities. Azam was sentenced last year for similar crimes and died naturally in a hospital prison cell on October 23rd.
Two crimes tribunals set up by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, which have not been recognised by any international bodies have delivered 10 verdicts.
A senior leader of JI, Abdul Quader Molla was hanged for alleged war crimes in 1971 last December.
Another senior JI member, Delwar Hussain Sayeedi’s death sentence was reduced to life imprisonment in September.
Nizami was a cabinet minister during former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s last term in 2001-2006.