Dhaka: A top leader of Bangladesh's fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami was on Thursday sentenced to death for mass murder and "crimes against humanity" he committed during the 1971 liberation war against Pakistan, becoming the fourth person to be convicted in the case.
A special Bangladeshi tribunal handed down death penalty to Muhammad Kuamaruzzaman for collaborating in the mass murder of 164 unarmed civilians in Sohagpur village on July 25, 1971, The Daily Star reported.
"He will be hanged by neck until he is dead," chairman of the three-judge International Crimes Tribunal-2 Justice Obaidul Hassan pronounced as the convict was escorted to the dock at the crowded courtroom.
Kuamruzzaman, 60, an assistant secretary general of Jamaat, is the fourth accused who was convicted for the 1971 war crimes siding with Pakistani troops while his party was opposed to Bangladesh's independence.
Elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion and police enforced a sharp vigil around the tribunal complex of the special tribunal at the Old High Court complex at down town Dhaka as the verdict came while an opposition enforced nationwide shutdown for the second consecutive day.
Kuamaruzzaman was brought at the court by a security convoy from the Dhaka Central Jail. The prosecution lawyers earlier said he was a principal organiser of the so-called elite Al Badr militia forces manned by Bengali collaborators in the northern Mymensingh region which subsequently carried out atrocities and mass murders also elsewhere in the country.
During the trial, Kamaruzzaman denied the allegations and said the prosecution was politically motivated. The tribunal indicted him on June 4, 2012 on seven specific charges while it delivered the verdict after months of arguments between the prosecution and defence lawyers. The 265-page judgement said the five of the charges including mass killings were proved in the trial.
Bangladesh says the liberation war left 3 million people dead, 200,000 women raped and forced millions to flee to India. Strongly opposing the tribunal decision, Kamaruzzaman' counsel Saifur Rahman said they would appeal against the judgement with the Supreme Court.
The judgement came as the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led opposition alliance with Jamaat being a major partner enforced for the second consecutive day a nationwide general strike to protest what they said "mass killing" of Islamists.
Officials said 21 people were killed during the May 5, 6 violence over the Hefazat-e-Islam's Dhaka siege programme. Under the law, Kuamruzzaman would now get a chance to appeal against the verdict before the apex Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in next 30 days.
Of the three previous convicts former Jamaat leader Abul Kalam Azad alias Bacchu Razakar Jamaat stalwart Delwar Hossain Sayeedi were handed down death penalties while another Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Mollah was handed down life term, sparking massive street protests. Bangladesh has put its security forces on high alert in anticipation of the verdict. In February, more than 70 people were killed as riots swept through Bangladesh after Sayedee was sentenced to death for crimes against humanity.