DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A special tribunal sentenced a senior leader of an Islamic party to death on Wednesday for his role in the kidnapping and killing of people involving Bangladesh's independence war against Pakistan in 1971.
The verdict came in a packed courtroom in the capital, Dhaka, in presence of defendant Ali Ahsan Mojaheed, the secretary-general of the Jamaat-e-Islami party. The tribunal found him guilty of kidnapping and killing a journalist, a music director and a number of other people.
Mojaheed faces seven charges including genocide, murder, conspiracy and complicity in atrocities during the war. He is accused of leading a notorious group that during the war kidnapped and killed many teachers, journalists and writers who supported the cause for independence.
But the court said five charges were proven beyond doubt, while the prosecution failed to prove two other charges.
The defense attorneys said they would appeal the verdict.
Two tribunals dealing with the war crimes have already delivered five verdicts against three incumbent leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami and a former chief and another expelled man of the party. Jamaat-e-Islami and its leaders had openly campaigned against the creation of Bangladesh and are accused of forming citizens' brigades to aid Pakistani army in the battle against the fighters who fought for independence. Bangladesh became independent with the help of India on Dec. 16, 1971 when Pakistani army surrendered in Dhaka.
Bangladesh says the Pakistani army killed 3 million people and raped 200,000 women, while about 10 million people took shelter across the border in India during the war.
To denounce the verdict, Jamaat-e-Islami enforced a daylong general strike across the country on Wednesday. No major violence was reported. The party indicated that it might extend the general strike to Thursday if Mojaheed was sentenced to death.
Protests over previous verdicts have turned deadly.
The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina formed the tribunal in 2010 amid criticism from the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist party, led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia. Zia has said the tribunal is meant to weaken the opposition. Jamaat-e-Islami is the main political ally of Zia's party, and shared two posts in the Cabinet during Zia's latest premiership in 2001-2006.
Hasina's government says it had pledged before the 2008 election to prosecute those responsible for war crimes. A political alliance led by Hasina's Awami League party won the election with a two-third majority.