(AP) – A special tribunal in Bangladesh on Thursday sentenced a leader of an Islamic political party to death for crimes during the nation’s 1971 war for independence, a politically charged decision that sparked violent protests that left at least 12 people dead across the nation.
Delwar Hossain Sayedee, one of the top leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami, was found guilty on eight of 20 counts involving mass killings, rape and atrocities committed during the nine-month war against Pakistan, prosecutor Syed Haider Ali said.
“Justice has been done to those who lost their loved ones at the hands of Sayedee,” Ali said.
Sayedee, 73, is the third defendant to be convicted of crimes against humanity since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government initiated the war crimes tribunal in 2010.
Lawyers for Sayedee boycotted the announcement of the verdict, which they said was politically motivated. Sayedee’s lawyer Abdur Razzak said they would appeal.
Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest Islamic party in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, campaigned against the independence war more than 40 years ago but denies committing any atrocities. It is a key ally of the largest opposition group, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which says the trials are aimed at destroying the opposition.
Jamaat-e-Islami enforced a nationwide general strike Thursday to denounce the trial and demand that Sayedee be freed from detention, and announced another strike on Sunday and Monday.
Security forces fired rubber bullets and tear gas at dozens of Jamaat supporters who smashed vehicles and attacked an office of the ruling Awami League party in Rangpur district, killing two people, police said.
Supporters of Sayedee clashed with police in Sirajganj district, leaving two people dead, private television channel Ekattar TV reported.
Stone-throwing Jamaat supporters also clashed with police in southeastern Chittagong city, injuring dozens of people, Ekattar TV reported. At least 60 vehicles were smashed, it said.
Police confirmed eight more deaths in clashes across the country.
Sayedee was a teacher at an Islamic school during the war. Prosecutors said he was directly involved in the deaths of three people, guided Pakistani soldiers to kill dozens of others, and forced 150 Hindus to convert to Islam.
In January, the tribunal sentenced former Jamaat leader Abul Kalam Azad to death for crimes during the war. Another Jamaat leader, Abdul Quader Mollah, was sentenced to life in prison in February on similar charges. Seven other top party leaders are currently on trial.
International human rights groups have questioned the fairness of the trials, including the disappearance of a witness for Sayedee.
Bangladesh says the 1971 war left 3 million people dead, 200,000 women raped and forced millions to take shelter in neighboring India.
By FARID HOSSAIN