Bangladesh upholds death penalty for Jamaat leader for 1971 war crimes

DHAKA (Reuters) - Bangladesh’s Supreme Court upheld on Tuesday the death sentence imposed on leading opposition politician Mir Quasem Ali for crimes including murder and torture committed during the country’s 1971 war of independence.

Protesters, some of whom participated in the 1971 war of independence, rally outside the Supreme Court in Dhaka during the court's verdict on appeals by two opposition leaders November 18, 2015. REUTERS/Ashikur Rahman

Chief state lawyer Mahbubey Alam told reporters immediately after the verdict that an appeal by 63-year-old Quasem against the death sentence imposed in 2014 had been rejected.

Critics have accused a war crimes tribunal set up by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government in 2010 of victimizing her political opponents. Four opposition politicians, including three leaders of Quasem’s Jamaat-e-Islami party, have been convicted by the tribunal and executed since late 2013.

Quasem is a member of central executive committee and is believed to be the main financier for Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest Islamist party in Bangladesh. He is also a leading businessman, running firms ranging from print and electronic media to hospitals.

According to official figures, about 3 million people were killed and thousands of women raped during the independence war, in which Jamaat-e-Islami was among factions opposing the breakaway by what was then known as East Pakistan.

The party denies that its leaders committed any atrocities.

Quasem went into hiding after Pakistan occupation forces and their local allies surrendered on Dec. 16, 1971, and reappeared years later as a Jamaat-e-Islami leader.

He was arrested on June 17, 2012 and convicted of war crimes and sentenced to death on Nov. 2, 2014.

Principal defense lawyer Khandker Mahbub Hossain told reporters that after receiving a copy of the full verdict he will consult Quasem and his family.

Shafiqur Rahman, the acting secretary general of Jamaat said Quasem had been denied justice and called for supporters to strike in protest, prompting the government to deploy the paramilitary Bangladesh Border Guard in the capital.

“To protest this decision we called a peaceful general strike on Wednesday across the country from dawn to dusk,” Shafiqur said in a statement.

Reporting By Serajul Quadir; Editing by Catherine Evans