A former leader of Bangladesh's largest Islamist
opposition party was sentenced to 90 years in jail Monday for war
crimes, as his party called for a nationwide strike in protest.
Ghulam Azam, former chief of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami party, was tried by a special war crimes tribunal investigating alleged crimes by several of the party's leaders during the country's 1971 war of independence against Pakistan.
"Allegations of war crimes against Azam were proved beyond doubt, and the court sentenced him to 90 years in prison or in prison until his death," Additional Attorney General MK Rahman said.
Azam, 90, was convicted of involvement in the genocide, murder and torture of civilians, and other crimes against humanity during the nine-month war, which left around 3 million people dead, 200,000 women raped and thousands of homes torched according to Bangladesh government estimates.
He was also found guilty of colluding with Pakistani forces' attacks on civilians during the conflict.
"The genocide in Bangladesh could only be compared with the mass killings by the Nazis," the tribunal said in its ruling.
The court considered Azam deserving of the death penalty, but mitigated the sentence in light of his age and health, Public Prosecutor Ziad Al Malum said.
Judge ATM Fazle Kabir pronounced the verdict amid tight security, Rahman said, as Jamaat-e-Islami had called for a strike Monday, demanding the release of Azam and other of its former leaders facing war crimes charges, which the party has called politically motivated.
Several thousand anti-Jamaat demonstrators gathered in central Dhaka demanding the death penalty for Azam.
It was the fifth verdict, all guilty, handed down by the International Crimes Tribunal, set up by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed in 2010 to prosecute alleged crimes committed during the 1971 conflict.
Nationwide violent demonstrations from both sides left nearly 100 people dead in February after the court sentenced Delwar Hossain Sayedee, vice president of Jamaat-e-Islami, to death on similar charges.
Investigators said that all members of Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing, Islami Chhatra Sangha, opposed Bangladesh's liberation movement during the war.
"At that time Jamaat-e-Islami became an auxiliary force of the Pakistan army," Azam's indictment order said.
As party chief, Azam had a role in the activities of all of its branches, including several vigilante groups acting against civilians, it alleged.
Bangladesh revoked Azam's citizenship when he moved to Pakistan after the war. In 1972 he formed the East Pakistan Restoration Committee, using the name Bangladesh previously had as a state under Pakistani rule.
He returned to Bangladesh as a Pakistani national in 1978. He led the Jamaat-e-Islami party from then until 2000, and remains its ideological leader.
The Islamic party has rejected the trials as politically motivated, and said it would appeal Azam's conviction.
"The prosecution lawyers failed to prove any of the allegations," spokesman Shafiqul Islam Masud said.
Law Minister Shafique Ahmed told reporters the verdict "was pronounced considering all related aspects and maintaining international standards."
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