DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Bangladesh's Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the death sentence of a top Islamist party leader for war crimes and crimes against humanity during the independence war against Pakistan in 1971.
A four-member panel headed by the Chief Justice S.K. Sinha dismissed the appeal by Jamaat-e-Islami party's Secretary General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed.
He was convicted of five charges including murder, abduction and torture in 2013. The same year, the High Court upheld the death sentence and Mojaheed appealed.
The 65-year-old will be hanged if the case is not reviewed by the same court or if he doesn't get a presidential clemency.
Attorney General Mahbubey Alam said he was pleased with the ruling, but defense counsel Khandaker Mahbub Hossain said Mojaheed did not get proper justice. Hossain said they would still seek a review of the decision.
Hours after the verdict, the Jamaat-e-Islami party said in a statement it would enforce a 24-hour general strike starting at 6 a.m. on Wednesday.
Bangladesh blames Pakistani soldiers and local collaborators for the deaths of 3 million people during the nine-month war of independence from Pakistan. An estimated 200,000 women were raped and about 10 million people fled to refugee camps in India, which helped Bangladesh with training, arms and other support to fight.
Mojaheed was found guilty of "superior responsibility" and "criminal liability" in the 1971 atrocities. The original verdicts said Mojaheed was personally involved in systematic persecution of Hindus and that he led a systematic campaign to kill Bangladeshi intellectuals, including teachers and journalists.
Mojaheed fled after the war but returned after independence leader and then-President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was assassinated along with most of his family members in a military coup in 1975.
The initial trials that followed Bangladesh's independence were halted after Rahman's assassination. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the eldest daughter of Rahman, revived the process, making good on a pledge she made before 2008 elections.
Mojaheed was a Cabinet member in the government of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia in 2001-2006, and Jamaat-e-Islami has criticized the trial as being aimed at removing Islamist political opponents. Hasina has dismissed the allegation and said it was for ensuring justice.
Jamaat-e-Islami is the main political ally of Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party. It garners about 2 percent to 3 percent of the popular vote but has been weakened significantly as most of its senior leaders have been convicted. Two have been hanged already for similar crimes.
The Bangladeshi government said Mojaheed's trial met the proper standards with the defendant receiving the opportunity to challenge the prosecution's case in open court and appeal the verdict all the way up to the Supreme Court.
Hasina has vowed to continue the trials despite pressure from abroad and the opposition at home.