A war crimes tribunal in Bangladesh sentenced a leading Islamist leader to death Tuesday for rape, mass murder and genocide committed during the country’s 1971 independence war against Pakistan. The ruling is the second death sentence passed by the special court in two weeks, according to the Wall Street Journal.
A.T.M. Azharul Islam, the assistant secretary general of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party, was found guilty by the tribunal on five out of six charges, including the killing of unarmed civilians. Islam was the leader of a militia group in the country’s northern region that collaborated with the Pakistani military in confronting fighters supporting Bangladesh’s independence struggle, reported the Associated Press.
Islam protested the verdict as it was being delivered, standing up in the dock and shouting that the conviction had been “dictated” by the government, according to Reuters. Islam’s defense attorney Tajul Islam said Tuesday that he rejected the charges by the court and stated his intention to lodge an appeal.
Bangladesh has two separate tribunals overseeing trials on war crimes charges stemming from the revolutionary period, with 16 people already convicted overall, according to the AP. The country blames Pakistani soldiers along with local collaborators for the deaths of 3 million people during the course of the nine-month war.
The tribunals have been a source of intense friction since they were instituted by the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in 2010, with many Islamists calling them a politically motivated attempt to persecute the leadership of Jamaat-e-Islami, according to Reuters. More than 200 people have been killed in the violent protests that have erupted against the tribunals and their decisions, with the majority of the casualties from Islamist party activists and members of the country’s security forces.
Jamaat is organizing nationwide strikes on Wednesday and Thursday to protest against the verdict, with the head of the Islamist group urging all of its members to participate and to seek the assistance of all countrymen, according to a statement on its website.