Dhaka: A special Bangladeshi court handed the death sentence to the leader of the country's largest Islamist party for war crimes, in a long-awaited verdict that triggers fears of fresh violence.
The war crimes court found Motiur Rahman Nizami, head of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, guilty of mass murder, rape and looting during Bangladesh's war of independence against Pakistan in 1971.
Head judge Enayetur Rahim sentenced Nizami to "hang by the neck until his death" for orchestrating the killing of top doctors and intellectuals during the conflict as head of a ruthless militia.
"It's a historic verdict," chief prosecutor Haider Ali told reporters outside the packed and heavily guarded court in Dhaka. Ali said Nizami, who became Jamaat's leader in 2000 and was once a minister in a Jamaat-allied government, led the notorious Al-Badr militia "which took part in many heinous crimes".
Security was tightened across Bangladesh ahead of the verdict after similar judgments against several of Nizami's senior lieutenants plunged the country into one of its worst crises last year.
Tens of thousands of Jamaat supporters fought with police and more than 500 people died in the unrest and subsequent political violence ahead of disputed polls in January. Jamaat called a called three-day nationwide strike to protest against the verdict.
Death sentence upheld
Meanwhile, Bangladesh's Supreme Court upheld the death penalty handed down to an Islamist leader for atrocities during the war of independence from Pakistan more than four decades ago.
Mohammad Kamaruzzaman, 62, assistant secretary general of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, was found guilty of genocide and torture of unarmed civilians during the 1971 war to break away from Pakistan by a special war crimes tribunal in May last year.
The tribunals have delivered death sentences for two Jamaat leaders, including its party chief and former minister, Motiur Rahman Nizami, over the past week.
Media mogul gets death
Another Jamaat leader and media tycoon Mir Quasem Ali was sentenced to death by a special war crimes court for atrocities he committed during the 1971 independence war against Pakistan. "He (Ali) shall be hanged by neck until he is dead," pronounced chairman of the three-member special tribunal for war crimes, as the 62-year-old Jamaat leader looked bewildered on the dock. Amid heavy security, the court simultaneously sentenced him to 72-year imprisonment for several other charges. The jail terms would be virtually infructuous since he was sentenced to death.