Bangladesh’s war crimes tribunal has sentenced the former head of the Jamaat-e-Islami party to life imprisonment for masterminding atrocities during the 1971 war of independence against Pakistan.

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It was the fifth such conviction since January.

 

Bangladesh has been hit in recent months by a wave of violent protests related to the war crime convictions.

 

The related unrest presents a challenge to the government, which is preparing for elections early next year.

 

Peggy Giakoumelos has the details.

 

“Professor Golam Azam, the then Amir (Chief) Est Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami, for his alleged involvement in crimes against humanity, he has been tried for five charges and all the five charges have been proved. He has been found guilty of all the five charges and the tribunal came to a conclusion that he deserves highest penalty of death. But considering his age and ailments in prison he has been awarded different terms of sentence totalling a sentence of 90 years or unto death in prison.”

 

That’s the additional Attorney General of Bangladesh , M.K. Rahman reading out the verdict in the case of Ghulam Azam the former head of the Jamaat-e-Islami party.

 

He was found guilty on charges of planning, conspiracy, incitement and complicity to commit genocide and crimes against humanity during the 1971 war for independence for Bangladesh from Pakistan.

 

Crowds gathered outside the court welcomed the verdict against the wheelchair-bound Mr Azam, who opposed the independence of Bangladesh,

 

One man who fought in the 1971 war had hoped for the death penalty.

 

“I am Bichu Jalal, as a freedom fighter I am happy with this verdict as he was the number one war criminal, but I would be much happier if he would get the death penalty. But considering his age the court has given him 90 years in prison.”

 

In 2010, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government launched an inquiry into atrocities committed during the war.

 

The tribunal has so far convicted three other Jamaat leaders to death and sentenced one to life.

 

Six more Jamaat leaders and two from the Bangladesh Nationalist Party are also on trial at the war crimes tribunal.

 

Unlike other war crime courts, the tribunal is not endorsed by the United Nations and has been criticised by human rights groups.

 

Jamaat-e-Islami has called a nationwide strike to protest the verdict, saying the war crimes trials are aimed at eliminating its leaders.

 

Ghulam Azam’s son, Salam al-Azami, has told the BBC the trial and the verdict were entirely politically motivated.

 

“If you can see the verdict, the judge clearly said that the prosecution has not been able to prove his direct involvement with any of the attrocities but here they come up with a ridiculous sentence of 90 years. This court has once again proved that it’s a political showtrial by a political party which has no legitimacy, no international recognition and we have been deprived of fair justice.”

 

When British colonial rule of India ended in 1947, the sub-continent was split into three parts – India, and East and West Pakistan.

 

Bangladesh was formerly East Pakistan.

 

It’s believed the independence war claimed about 3 million lives.

 

Some factions in Bangladesh opposed the break with Pakistan, including Jamaat and its leaders have denied involvement in abuses.

 

More than 100 people have been killed in protests over tribunal verdicts since January.

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