Bangladesh\’s Supreme Court has sentenced a leader of an opposition political party to death for committing crimes against humanity during the nation\’s independence war against Pakistan in 1971.
Abdul Quader Molla, 65, the fourth-highest-ranked leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, is the first politician to be found guilty by the country\’s Supreme Court after it overturned an appeal to acquit him of all charges.
"The court enhanced his life sentence to the death penalty," prosecutor Mohammad Ali said on Tuesday.
Official estimates say more than three million people were killed in the war.
Prosecutor Ziad Al Malum told AFP news agency that the decision to enhance the sentence was approved by four to one at the court.
Defence lawyer Tajul Islam told the agency he was "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," he said.
The original life sentence delivered in February triggered widespread protests including by secular protesters angry over the apparent leniency of the sentence.
Tens of thousands of secularists massed at a square in Dhaka for weeks, demanding the execution of Molla, describing him as the notorious Butcher of Mirpur, responsible for the murder of hundreds of innocent villagers in a Dhaka suburb during the war.
The protests forced parliament to change the war crimes laws, allowing the prosecution to appeal against the verdict and seek the death penalty in the Supreme Court.
In August, Bangladesh\’s High Court declared the registration of Jamaat-e-Islami illegal, banning it from contesting January\’s general election.
Secular protesters have long demanded that Jamaat be banned from public office for its role in the 1971 war of independence, during which it opposed Bangladesh\’s breakaway from Pakistan.
Islamists, in turn, also held rival demonstrations across the country, calling the sentence politically charged, and sparking violent clashes between police and supporters of Jamaat. Some 150 people have been killed across the country in sporadic spells of violence.
Bangladesh government figures estimate more than three million people were killed during the independence war, although some researchers put the figure at between 300,000 and 500,000.