Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Islamist Leader Sentenced to Death in Bangladesh ; Demonstrators Celebrate Punishment for Crimes in '71 Independence War

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Islamist Leader Sentenced to Death in Bangladesh ; Demonstrators Celebrate Punishment for Crimes in '71 Independence War

Article excerpt

The punishment for Delawar Hossain Sayedee of the Jamaat-e- Islami party led to celebrations after protesters had spent weeks demanding justice for the war crimes from 1971.

A top leader of a fundamentalist Islamist political party in Bangladesh was sentenced to death on Thursday by a special war crimes tribunal that convicted him of committing crimes against humanity during the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.

The death sentence against Delawar Hossain Sayedee, a leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, prompted celebration among thousands of people gathered in central Dhaka, the national capital. For weeks, large crowds of protesters, led by college students and ordinary citizens, have demanded justice against those accused of war crimes in what has morphed into a national movement.

The protests have convulsed Bangladeshi politics and offered a reminder of how the country has still not fully healed from the bloody conflict in 1971, when as many as three million people were killed and thousands of women were raped. Before the war, Bangladesh had been the detached, eastern half of Pakistan. The war pitted Bangladeshi freedom fighters against Pakistani soldiers and also their local collaborators, many of whom are now linked to Jamaat.

The International War Crimes Tribunal has now convicted three Jamaat leaders, with other cases under way. Mr. Sayadee is a prominent orator with a bright red beard who in the years after the war became a member of the Bangladeshi Parliament. He was convicted on multiple counts of crimes against humanity, including charges of looting, torching villages, raping women and forcing religious minorities to convert to Islam during the war. His defense lawyer scoffed at the verdict.

"Obviously, we will appeal, as he is innocent," Abdur Razzaq, a senior defense lawyer, said in Dhaka, according to the Bangladeshi Web site bdnews24.com. "He was supposed to be acquitted. Prosecution secured the verdict in their favor by producing false witnesses."

Jamaat leaders and other opposition politicians have criticized the war crimes tribunal, saying the proceedings are being manipulated by the government into a political witch hunt and have violated international legal norms. …

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