DHAKA – Bangladesh’s Supreme Court on Tuesday sentenced a senior Islamist leader to death for mass murder, toughening the sentence originally handed down by the country’s war crimes tribunal and sparking fresh violence.
Abdul Quader Molla, 65, the fourth-highest leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, had been given a life sentence in February by Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal.
The tribunal has since January convicted six Islamists of crimes related to the 1971 war, in which pro-independence fighters battled Pakistani forces that were helped by local Islamist leaders.
Molla’s life sentence had sparked deadly protests and widespread riots and fresh unrest erupted Tuesday as he was sentenced to hang, with Jamaat supporters torching vehicles in the southeastern port city of Chittagong.
“There were about 2,000 Jamaat protesters. They rioted, torching a police van and a private car,” local police Chief Mohammad Mohiuddin said, adding police fired rubber bullets and tear gas.
Molla was convicted of rape, murder and mass murder, including the killing of more than 350 unarmed Bengali civilians, a poet and a top journalist during the war when he was a physics student at Dhaka University.
The conflict led to the creation of Bangladesh from what was then East Pakistan.
Defense lawyer Tajul Islam said: “We are stunned by the verdict. This is the first time in South Asian judicial history that a trial court sentence has been enhanced by a Supreme Court.”
Islam said the defense would seek a review of the verdict in their final attempt to avoid hanging, which the prosecution said could be carried out later this year once all legal appeals have been exhausted.
Jamaat has accused the country’s secular government of trying to execute its entire leadership, three of whom have been sentenced to death by the war crimes court.