Jailed Bangladesh ex-Islamist leader dies

AP News
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Posted: Oct 24, 2014 12:56 AM

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A former Bangladeshi Islamist party leader, whose imprisonment on war crimes charges triggered violent protests last year, has died of a heart attack in a prison cell of a government hospital.

Ghulam Azam, 91, died late Thursday after life support was removed at the Bangabandhu Sehikh Mujib Medical University in the capital, Dhaka, said hospital spokesman Abdul Majid Bhuiyan.

A special tribunal last year sentenced Azam, a former chief of Jamaat-e-Islami party, to 90 years in prison on 61 charges of war crimes during the Bangladesh 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.

Bangladesh accuses the Pakistani army and local collaborators for the deaths of 3 million people and the rape of 200,000 women during the nine-month war. Azam led Jamaat-e-Islami in what was then East Pakistan. His party openly campaigned against independence and Azam toured the Middle East to mobilize support for Pakistan. The party has denied committing atrocities.

Azam led the party until 2000, and was still considered to be its spiritual leader. Jamaat-e-Islami claims his trial was politically motivated, which authorities deny.

Azam's supporters clashed with police after the verdict was announced last July.

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, has criticized the tribunal, saying it is intended to weaken the opposition. Jamaat-e-Islami is the main political ally of Zia's party.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who set up the tribunal in 2010, says she had pledged before the 2008 election — which it won in a landslide — to prosecute those responsible for war crimes.