BANGLADESH’S Supreme Court has upheld a death sentence given to the leader of the country’s largest Islamist party for atrocities and multiple killings committed during the nation’s independence war against Pakistan in 1971.
Last year a special tribunal dealing with war crimes convicted the head of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, Motiur Rahman Nizami, on 16 charges, including genocide, murder, torture, rape and destruction of property.
Nizami acted as the supreme commander of the Al-Badr militia, which carried out a systematic plan to torture and execute pro-liberation supporters during warProsecution
Yesterday, a panel of senior judges headed by Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha rejected an appeal by Nizami against the previous verdict.
The decision has removed the last legal barrier to executing him by hanging unless he gets presidential clemency, which is unlikely.
Bangladesh says Pakistani soldiers, aided by local collaborators, killed three million people and raped 200,000 women during the war.
The verdict is expected to aggravate the divide between moderate and extremist groups.
Prime minister Sheikh Hasina set up the special war crimes tribunal in 2010 and three senior Jamaat-e-Islami leaders and another influential member of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, headed by former prime minister Khaleda Zia, have already been hanged for their roles in killing people in 1971. Zia is Hasina’s arch rival, and Nizami was a cabinet minister during her last term in 2001-6.
The prosecution said Nizami acted as the supreme commander of the Al-Badr militia, which carried out a systematic plan to torture and execute pro-liberation supporters during the war, including teachers, engineers and journalists. The Jamaat-e-Islami party openly campaigned against independence and its then-leader, Ghulam Azam, toured the Middle East to mobilise support for Pakistan, but the party has denied committing atrocities. Azam was sentenced for similar crimes but died naturally.
The international community has been alarmed over the deadly assaults on foreigners, secular writers and members of the Shiite community in the Sunni-majority nation.
The Islamic State group and a local affiliate have claimed responsibility for the killings of two foreigners – an Italian aid worker and a Japanese agricultural worker – as well as for attacks on Shiites.
Bangladesh’s government has repeatedly said that IS has no organisational presence in the country and accuses domestic Islamist groups along with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-e-Islami of carrying out the attacks.