Dhaka: Bangladesh war crimes tribunal on Thursday handed down death penalty to a top leader of fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami for "crimes against humanity" during the 1971 liberation war against Pakistan, triggering fierce clashes across the country that left at least 35 people dead. 73-year-old Delwar Hossain Sayedee, vice-president of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), was sentenced to death after he was found guilty of eight counts out of 20 involving rape, mass killings and atrocities during the nine-month freedom war.
"He (Delwar Hossain Sayedee) will be hanged by neck till he is dead," pronounced chairman of the three-judge International Crimes Tribunal Justice ATM Fazle Kabir. The clashes broke out as the news of Sayadee's death penalty spread. The violence have killed at least 35 people, including four policemen, and injured scores of others.
Police battled JI activists during a strike the party had called to denounce the trial and demand Sayedee's acquittal. The Jamaat activists attacked policemen with bombs and even firearms, the authorties said, adding that they retaliated with tear gas and rubber bullets. At some place police opened fire to control the situation.
The northern districts were the worst hit with six deaths reported from Gaibandha, five in Thakurgaon, five in Rangpur, two in Sirajganj, and one each in Dinajpur, Natore, Rajshahi, Chapainawabganj and Bogra. Four deaths were reported from Satkhira, three from Chittagong, two in Noakhali, one each in Dhaka, Cox's Bazar and Moulvibazar.
Meanwhile, JI has called a 48-hour nationwide strike from Sunday protesting death penalty for Sayedee. Amiruzzaman, Jamaat chief of Chittagong (North), said the party would organise special prayers tomorrow and stage protest rallies on Saturday across the country.
Sayedee is the third JI politician to be convicted by the Tribunal since the trial of war crimes suspects, mostly belonging to the Islamist group, began three years ago. In the first verdict in January, former Jamaat leader Abul Kalam Azad was sentenced to death on similar charges.
Another Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Mollah was sentenced to life in February for atrocities during the war. The JI, Muslim-majority Bangladesh's largest Islamic bloc, was opposed to the 1971 liberation war when officially 3 million people were killed and 200,000 women were raped.
Sayedee's chief counsel Abdur Razzak, however, said they would file an appeal against the verdict before the apex Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. In the violence that erupted, several thousand supporters of the Islamic party attacked a police outpost in Sundarganj upazila area of Gaibandha.
They beat three policemen to death and set fire to the outpost. In response, police opened fire, leaving three people killed. In Thakurgaon about 1,500 Jamaat-Shibir men took out a procession after the verdict and attacked shops and houses of Awami League men and the Hindu community.
Police and Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) teams rushed there and fired blank shots and tear shells to disperse the attackers. Encircling the police, the marauding Jamaat-Shibir men started to throw brick-bats and, at one stage, closed in to fight them. Police opened fire to escape, leaving one dead on the spot and about eight to 10 injured.
A 13-year-old Shibir supporter, was later found lying dead, bullet-hit, inside a shop. A 24-year-old youth was also killed in police firing, sources said.
Two other persons were declared dead at the Thakurgaon Sadar Hospital, police said. At least two people were killed and 57 others injured during clashes between the activists of JI-Shibir and the police in the northwestern district of Rangpur.
Meanwhile, Shibir men vandalised at least 60 vehicles in Satkania upazila on the Chittagong-Cox's Bazar highway. In Noakhali Jamaat and Shibir activists set fire to a temple and houses of Hindu community.
Two people were killed as the activists clashed with law enforcers at different points in Noakhali. In Dinajpur, a Shibir man was killed and two sustained bullet wounds when the BGB men opened fire on activists of JI and Shibir.
Three people in Satkhira, two in Sirajganj and one each in Cox's Bazar and Chapainawabganj, were killed in violence. An Awami League activist was hacked to death in Natore district. JI activists also attacked police camps at different places.