Bangladesh’s fundamentalist Jamaat-e- Islami chief Matiur Rahman Nizami was sentenced to death on Wednesday by a special tribunal for his role in the killing of thousands of people during the nation’s independence war against Pakistan in 1971, triggering fears of violence.
“He shall be hanged by neck until he is dead,” pronounced Enayetur Rahim, the chairman of the three-member panel of judges of Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal.
The verdict delivered in a packed court room amid tight security said 71-year-old Nizami deserved no punishment other than the death penalty for the gravity of crimes he had committed.
The court said in the unanimous verdict that eight of the 16 charges levelled against the Jamaat leader were proved beyond doubt.
The charges included leading the execution of intellectuals, mass killing, rape and loot during the nine months of bloodshed 43 years ago.
Witnesses said Nizami was present on the dock and looked indifferent as the judges read out the 204-page judgment in turns which took more than an hour to be delivered.
“It would be a failure of justice, unless he is handed down the death penalty,” the verdict said.
The tribunal said Nizami misinterpreted Islam in carrying out the atrocities and as the then president of Islami Chhatra Sangha — the student wing of Jamaat — he turned the organisation into infamous Al-Badr militia forces to carry out mass killings, particularly of the leading intelligentsia.
The panel convicted him of “superior responsibility” as the chief of Al-Badr militia for direct involvement in the killings and tortures in other charges.
Under the law for the war crimes trial, Nizami could challenge the verdict before the apex Supreme Court. Nizami’s lawyers said they planned to file an appeal before the apex court.
Nizami, a former minister in the BNP-led four party alliance government during its 2001-2006, was the last high-profile accused to be brought to justice on war crimes charges as the two special tribunals set up by the Awami League have so far pronounced verdicts in 10 cases of war crimes.
The charges against Nizami include the murder of 70 people and torching of 72 houses in Pabna’s Bera Upazila, killing 450 people in Demra and Baushia villages and killing many more in front of a Hindu temple in Santhiya Upazila.
The judgment ended a major phase in the war crimes trial during the liberation war.
Immediately after the judgment, Jamaat protested the verdict and issued a statement calling a three-day nationwide general strike to be observed tomorrow, Sunday and Monday.
The government ordered tight security vigil ahead of the verdict deploying paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) troops and elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) to guard the major cities and areas known to be Jamaat strongholds.
“Stern actions will be taken against those who would try to carryout subversive activities or cause law and order situation,” State Minster for Home Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal had said ahead of the verdict.
Meanwhile, hundreds of youngsters under a banner called “Ganojagaron Manch” and the 1971 freedom fighters expressed their satisfaction with the verdict as many of them were seen crying outside the court complex.
A special tribunal has already sentenced Nizami and 13 others, including a top leader of India’s separatist outfit ULFA, to death in the 2004 Chittagong arms cases.