- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Bangladesh’s Supreme Court on Tuesday sentenced to death a leader of the country’s main Islamist party for his role in a mass murder during the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.

The court ruling against Abdul Quader Mollah, assistant secretary-general of the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami, overturned a life sentence imposed earlier this year by a tribunal.

The verdict sparked protests by Mollah’s supporters in the capital, Dhaka, and in the port city of Chittagong.

Mollah’s role in the mass murder in the Mirpur area of Dhaka in 1971 earned him the nickname “Butcher of Mirpur.”

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed’s government set up an International Crimes Tribunal to try those accused of participating in the Pakistani army’s campaign of rape and murder against Bangladeshis in the war for independence. According to official estimates, 3 million people were killed and 200,000 women were raped during the war.

In February, the tribunal found Mollah guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to life in prison. The verdict sparked protests by secularists who demanded the death penalty.

Following public outcry, Parliament amended the law to allow the state to appeal any verdict of the war crimes tribunal.

Human Rights Watch said the retroactive legislation violated fair trial standards and undermined the legitimacy of the tribunal’s work.

Both the prosecution and the defense appealed the life sentence for Mollah.

Mollah’s defense team said Tuesday it was stunned by the death sentence.

“The trial process has been shown to be nothing short of a political show trial aimed at removing an Islamist political party, suppressing the opposition and securing the next election for the present Awami League government,” said Toby Cadman, an international defense lawyer for Jamaat-e-Islami leaders accused of war crimes.

Parliamentary elections are expected early next year.

“The language of the trial judgment clearly demonstrates that it had little to do with individual criminal liability and more about demonising a political opponent,” Mr. Cadman said.

Bangladeshi Attorney General Mahbube Alam said the court’s verdict cannot be appealed.

Besides Mollah, three other Jamaat-e-Islami leaders also have been sentenced to death and another to 90 years in prison.

Jamaat-e-Islami has called for a nationwide strike Wednesday and Thursday. It accuses the government of conspiring to kill its leaders.

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