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Former head of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party, Ghulam Azam  (C), is escorted by security personnel and lawyers as he emerges from the Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal in Dhaka.—Photo by AP
Former head of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party, Ghulam Azam (C), is escorted by security personnel and lawyers as he emerges from the Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal in Dhaka.—Photo by AP

DHAKA: A Bangladeshi court on Monday found a top Jamaat-e-Islaami (JI) leader guilty of masterminding atrocities during the 1971 war of independence against Pakistan and sentenced him to life imprisonment, as violence broke out across the country between police and his supporters.

The decision angered both supporters who said the trial was politically motivated and opponents who said he should be executed.

A special tribunal of three judges announced the decision against Ghulam Azam in a packed courtroom in Dhaka, the capital.

The panel said the former leader of the Jamaat-e-Islaami party deserved capital punishment, but received a jail sentence instead because of his advanced age and poor health.

Azam was in the dock when the verdict was delivered while protesters outside rallied to demand his execution.

Both the defense and the prosecution said they will appeal.

Azam led Jamaat-e-Islaami in then-east Pakistan in 1971 when Bangladesh became independent through a bloody war.

He is among several Jamaat leaders convicted by a tribunal formed in 2010 by the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to try those accused of collaborating with the Pakistani army in the war.

Bangladesh says the Pakistani army killed 3 million people and raped 200,000 women during the nine-month war, and some 10 million people took shelter across the border in India.

Azam led the party until 2000 and is still considered to be its spiritual leader.

Jamaat-e-Islami claims his trial and others were politically motivated, which authorities deny.

The party called for a nationwide shutdown after the tribunal announced Sunday it would have the verdict Monday. Protests stemming from previous verdicts have sometimes turned deadly.

On Monday, police clashed with party supporters in parts of Dhaka while party activists set fire to a few vehicles that tried to defy the strike call, the Bengali-language Prothom Alo newspaper reported.

Police fired rubber bullets to disperse an opposition procession in Dhaka's Jatrabari area, and some photographers and cameramen were injured in the chaos, the newspaper said.

Similar violence was also reported in some other parts of the country, several TV stations said.

The tribunal said Azam was guilty of all 61 charges under five categories: conspiracy, incitement, planning, abetment and failure to prevent killing.

He and his party were accused of forming citizens' brigades to commit genocide and other serious crimes against the pro-independence fighters during the war.

Azam had openly campaigned against the creation of Bangladesh and toured the Middle East to get support in favor of Pakistan.

He routinely met with Pakistan authorities during the war.

A mouthpiece of the party routinely published statements by Azam and his associates calling for crushing the fighters who fought against the Pakistani military in 1971.

The prosecution in the trial said Azam must take ''command responsibility'' for months of atrocities perpetrated by his supporters. Mahbubul Alam Hanif, a leader of the ruling Awami League, said he had expected capital punishment for Azam, but still he was happy that he was finally tried.

The verdict created resentment among the family members of those killed in 1971.

''Our wait for last 42 years has gone in vain. It's extremely frustrating,'' said Shyamoli Nasrin Chowdhury, the widow of a physician who was killed in 1971. ''This verdict has just increased our pain.''

Earlier in the morning, Azam was taken to the tribunal from a prison cell in a government hospital, where he was being treated for various complications, amid tight security as his party enforced the nationwide general strike to denounce the verdict.

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, has criticised the tribunal, saying it is intended to weaken the opposition.

Jamaat-e-Islami is the main political ally of Zia's party.

Hasina's government says it had pledged before the 2008 election, which it won in a landslide, to prosecute those responsible for war crimes.

Comments (25) Closed

Khan Jul 15, 2013 01:02pm

They should be tried in Pakistan also for promoting religious extremism and fighting American war in Afghanistan for an unspecified sum of US dollars paid by Americans. Due to these religious parties Pakistan is in its current state.

Khan Jul 15, 2013 01:15pm

They should be tries in Pakistan also for fighting American war in Afghanistan on American payroll due to which religious extremism increases in Pakistan. Most of the Al Qaeda operatives were captured from JI office bearers in Pakistan. Well done Bangladesh you guys are lucky for not being part of a Pakistan else you be suffering like we do from quota system and religious extremists.

Imran Kiyani Jul 15, 2013 01:55pm

I am happy he did not get death sentence, he might have got prison but he will be out by next year.

He is a true Bangladeshi and a Pakistani.

akbar afridi Jul 15, 2013 02:12pm

Well done Bangladesh , they have the courage to put these terrorists in the jail, I wish Pakistan should follow Bangladesh, Its a shame for Pakistanis to be scared of these uneducated extremist mullahs

Mullah Brother Jul 15, 2013 02:58pm

Credit to Bangladesh for having the courage to punish these extremists. While in Pakistan murderers such as Malik Ishaq of Lashkar Jhangvi can walk around in broad daylight, preach hatred and plan the cold blooded murders of innocents, whilst getting a monthly stipend from the Punjab Government! And where murdering savages such as Hakeemullah Mehsud of the TTP can organise press conferences! Only in a country like Pakistan can the government and judiciary take such a soft stance on such murderers and enemies of the state. Pakistan should take a leaf out of Bangladesh's book and clamp down hard on the JI, JUI and other mouthpieces for the terrorists who are destroying the country. But these spineless cowards never will!

pakiboy Jul 15, 2013 03:02pm

check the current ones too .. dont hang them after the damage is done !!

Uza Syed Jul 15, 2013 03:26pm

Good thing to see this mullah brought to justice. All who mix up politics & religion and use religion, any religion, for political purpose, especially inciting a group against another invoking religion must be punished and such manner. Let's hope that we have learnt a valuable lesson here, religion becomes a dogma when used for political goals and such attempts must be avloided and condemned.

Siyalkotia Jul 15, 2013 03:30pm

Finally, this butcher of humanity is exposed.

Jamshed Khan Jul 15, 2013 04:06pm

War of separation, not independence.

Deepak Jul 15, 2013 04:27pm

Good judgment by BL Court.

ZX Jul 15, 2013 05:32pm

Bangali Govt has totally lost it. They are trying to forcefully change their own history .....or perhaps someone else is making them do it.

Masud Khan Jul 15, 2013 05:45pm

It's nice to know that after so many years, finally, the justice has been served. Too bad that this 91 year old man wouldn't be able to live with his family in the final years of his life.

Abbasi Jul 15, 2013 06:45pm

Justice served, Now people of remaining Pakistan should open their eyes.

Syeed Jul 15, 2013 06:53pm

Many more truth about the Bangladesh war need to come out. People in both Pakistan & Bangladesh need to know the truth about the formation of Bangladesh.

Ahmed Jul 15, 2013 07:14pm

Good example for Pakistan. One day I hope they will punish the thousands of Imran Khans and "religious party" members of Pakistan who are directly responsible for the deaths of 50,000 Pakistanis by spreading disinformation about these killings and thus weakening the will of the nation to crush the taliban.

Azhar Hussain Jul 15, 2013 07:39pm

When are we going to punish traitors among us?

Zalim singh Jul 15, 2013 08:03pm

what a shame. He stays in Bangladesh and calls for killing of Bangladeshis.

Syed Jul 15, 2013 08:14pm

Finally the Justice is done. When are we going to try the JI in Pakistan and hange them for the same crimes.

Qaiser Bakhtiari Jul 15, 2013 08:23pm

Good job, Now can we start prosecuting our own Religious fanatics in Pakistan so that we can finally bring peace to this country.

BRR Jul 15, 2013 09:06pm

The long beard and topi does not mask the hatred for others in his eyes.

Abbastoronto Jul 16, 2013 01:08am

Can we now try the past and current leaders of JI Pakistan to have opposed the Independence Movement?

Zak Jul 16, 2013 02:32am

Killing old and feeble men will not heal wounds but create them. India benefits from hasina's actions. A murderous woman.

Nurul Alam Jul 16, 2013 11:38am

The should him sentence to death

Muslim Jul 17, 2013 03:17pm

@Mullah Brother: 100% agree.

Dr. Vimal Raina Jul 18, 2013 08:40am

I wish him a very very long life.