Bangladesh Islamist leader to be hanged


One of Bangladesh's leading Islamist politicians yelled "it's injustice" and recited a verse from the Koran as a judge ordered him "hanged by the neck".

A Bangladesh court has sentenced a leading Islamist politician to death for war crimes including murder, torture and kidnapping, as religious hardliners imposed a nationwide strike over the verdict.

Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid, 65, the second-highest ranked official of the country's largest Islamic party, was found guilty of five of seven charges by the much-criticised International Crimes Tribunal.

Mujahid yelled "it's injustice" and recited a verse from the Koran as Justice Obaidul Hassan ordered him "hanged by the neck" after the verdict was read out to a packed courtroom in the capital Dhaka on Wednesday.

The verdict is the second this week by the tribunal, set up by the secular government in 2010, which has been hearing cases of alleged atrocities committed during the 1971 war of independence against Pakistan.

The spiritual leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, 90-year-old Ghulam Azam, was convicted on Monday and sentenced to 90 years in prison for masterminding atrocities during the war.

Violence erupted over that verdict, with five people killed when police clashed with Jamaat supporters, who imposed a nationwide strike from Monday.

The trials have divided the country and sparked deadly protests, with Jamaat supporters branding them a sham aimed at eliminating their leaders.

Secularists have demanded the execution of all those accused.

Unlike other such courts, the Bangladesh tribunal is not endorsed by the United Nations. Human Rights Watch has said its procedures fall short of international standards.

On Wednesday, scores of Jamaat activists took to the streets in the western city of Rajshahi to protest the latest verdict.

Police fired rubber bullets at supporters who were burning wood in an attempt to block a highway, local police chief Ziaur Rahman said.

Mujahid, the secretary general of Jamaat, was a former minister in a previous government and is also an influential leader in the 18-party opposition alliance.

The judge said Wednesday that Mujahid had been the commander of Al Badr, a notorious militia that carried out "extermination of intellectuals" towards the end of the war.

When it became clear that Pakistan was losing the war, dozens of intellectuals were abducted from their homes and murdered in December 1971 in the most gruesome chapter of the war.

Their bodies were found blindfolded with hands tied in a marsh on the outskirts of the capital.

Defence lawyer Tajul islam said his client would appeal the ruling.

"It's a perverse judgment. There was no iota of evidence against him. The case is politically motivated," he said.

Mujahid is the sixth Islamist to be sentenced by the war crimes court since January. Previous sentences plunged the country into widespread violence that has killed more than 150 people.

The government maintains the trials are needed to heal the wounds of the 1971 war in which it says three million died. Independent estimates put the death toll at between 300,000 and 500,000.

Source: AAP