Bangladesh Seeks Death Penalty for Islamist Convicted of War Crimes

By Ruma Paul 13 January 2016

DHAKA — The Bangladesh government on Tuesday filed a review petition with the Supreme Court seeking the death penalty for a top Islamist leader convicted of war crimes during the country’s independence war in 1971.

A war crimes tribunal set up in 2010 has sparked violence and drawn criticism from opposition politicians, including leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, that it is victimizing Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s political opponents.

Four opposition politicians, including three leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami, have been convicted by the tribunal and executed since late 2013.

The Supreme Court in 2014 commuted to life imprisonment a death sentence handed down to top Jamaat-e-Islami member Delwar Hossain Sayedee, 76, for atrocities committed during the nine-month war to break away from Pakistan.

State prosecutors are challenging that decision.

“We have sought the highest punishment for him,” Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told reporters, after his office filed the petition.

Sayedee’s initial conviction in 2013 on charges of genocide, rape, torture and the persecution of Hindus triggered protests in which about 60 people were killed.

About 3 million people were killed, according to official figures, and thousands of women were raped, during the war in which some factions, including the Jamaat-e-Islami, opposed the breakaway from what was then called West Pakistan.

But the party denies that its leaders committed any atrocities.

Anger over the tribunal’s convictions and the executions has come amid a surge in militant violence in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, with militant groups claiming the murder of two foreigners and four secular writers and a publisher last year.

The government has blamed the increase in Islamist violence on the Jamaat-e-Islami, which is an important ally of the main opposition party, but it denies any link to the attacks.