Bangladesh jails Islamic party leader to life

Associated Press
Bangladesh’s largest Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami leaders and activists participate in a demonstration in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Monday, Feb. 4, 2013. The party demanded for scrapping the International Crimes Tribunal in which top Jamaat leaders are facing trials on charges against humanity during the 1971 Independence of war crimes. (AP Photo/A.M. Ahad)
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DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A Bangladeshi tribunal sentenced a leader of the country's main Islamic party to life in jail Tuesday for his role during the independence war against Pakistan in 1971.

Judge Obaidul Hasan pronounced the verdict Tuesday against Abdul Quader Mollah in a packed courtroom at the High Court in Dhaka. His Jamaat-e-Islami party had already ordered a nationwide general strike to denounce the trial, shutting down schools and shops and halting most traffic in Dhaka.

Jamaat supporters exploded homemade bombs and clashed with police in parts of the capital, leaving several people injured, ATN News said. After the verdict was announced, the party denounced it and said it was extending the strike through Wednesday.

Mollah and five other leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami party have been on trial before Dhaka's International Crimes Tribunal. They have been accused of committing atrocities during the nine-month war against Pakistan more than 40 years ago. A former party member was sentenced to death last month.

The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in 2010 initiated the process of trying those accused of committing crimes against humanity during the war, under an amended 1973 law.

Jamaat-e-Islami — a key partner in a former Bangladeshi government — says the charges are politically motivated. Authorities deny the claim.

Though the sentence was the most serious the tribunal could have issued short of execution, a government official expressed disappointment.

"It did not reflect the people's expectation. We are frustrated," Junior Law Minister Qamrul Islam said.

Until it gained independence in 1971, Bangladesh was the eastern wing of Pakistan. Jamaat campaigned against Bangladesh's independence war and has been accused of forming several groups to help Pakistani troops in killing, rape and arson. The government says Pakistani troops aided by local collaborators killed 3 million people and raped 200,000 women.

Mollah was tried on six counts, including playing a role in the killing of 381 unarmed civilians, the prosecution says. He denied the charges and defense lawyer Abdur Razzaq said he will appeal the verdict.

Last month, the tribunal sentenced former party member Abul Kalam Azad to death in the first war-crimes trial verdict.

International human rights groups have raised questions about the conduct of the tribunals, including the disappearance of a defense witness outside the courthouse gates.

Jamaat-e-Islami was a key partner in the former government of Khaleda Zia, a longtime political rival of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Zia has called the tribunal a farce, while Hasina has urged Zia to stop backing those she says fought against independence.

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