Uproar as top Bangladesh Islamist jailed for 90 years for war crimes

Term for ex-chief of Bangladesh Islamic party enrages both sides; opponents seek execution

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 July, 2013, 2:47pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 July, 2013, 1:37am

A special Bangladesh court on Monday sentenced a top Islamist to 90 years in prison for masterminding atrocities during the 1971 war of independence against Pakistan.

Ghulam Azam, 90, the wartime head of the largest Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami, and now its spiritual leader, was found guilty of all five charges by the controversial International Crimes Tribunal.

“He has been sentenced to 90 years in prison or until his death for the charges,” prosecutor Sultan Mahmud said.

The sentence came amid violent clashes in cities across Bangladesh between his supporters and police.

Bangladesh police fired rubber bullets at protesters on Monday, as violence erupted across the country ahead of the verdict.

Activists of the Jamaat-e-Islami party threw homemade bombs at police, after taking to the streets in several cities in support of the Islamist, the officials said.

Journalists were among those injured after they were caught in the clashes in Dhalpur district of the capital Dhaka, local police chief Rafiqul Islam said.

“One of the journalists was hit by (shrapnel),” he said, adding the protesters hurled at least five small home-made bombs at police who retaliated with rubber bullets.

Police also fired rubber bullets at protesters in the cities of Bogra, Comilla and Rajshahi after activists went on the rampage, attacking and torching dozens of vehicles, police officials said.

Jamaat, the country’s largest Islamic party and a key member of the opposition, called a nationwide strike on Monday to protest the impending verdict, saying the war crimes trials are aimed at eliminating its leaders.

Azam is no longer politically active but is seen as Jamaat’s spiritual leader. 

Violence broke out in several cities on Sunday immediately after the tribunal announced its decision to pass the judgment on Monday.

Azam’s lawyer Tajul Islam said the charges were based on newspaper reports of speeches Azam gave during the war, which led to the creation of Bangladesh.

“The prosecution has completely failed to prove any of the charges,” he said.