Bangladesh Islamist sentenced to death for war crimes

A special Bangladeshi court sentenced a senior Islamist opposition official to death Thursday for crimes such as murder, rape and religious persecution during the 1971 liberation war against Pakistan.

Delwar Hossain Sayedee, the vice-president of the Jamaat-e-Islami party and a fiery Islamic preacher, is the third person to be found guilty by the International Crimes Tribunal, a much-criticised domestic court based in Dhaka.

"He has been sentenced to death. It's a victory for the people," said prosecutor Syed Haider Ali, adding Sayedee was found guilty of eight charges including murder, arson, rape and forceful conversion of Hindus to Islam.

"The nation is now free of stigma," he said, adding the verdict would bring justice to the people who lost hundreds of thousands of their relatives at the hands of pro-Pakistani militias which included Sayedee and other Jamaat leaders.

Sayedee who was in the packed court amid huge security protested the judgement saying it was influenced by "atheists" and pro-government protesters, thousands of whom have been demanding his execution and that of other war criminals for weeks.

Protesters at a central Dhaka intersection erupted in cheers as news of Sayedee's sentence filtered through. "We've been waiting for this day for the last four decades," a protester told Somoy TV.

There was no immediate reaction from Jamaat to the verdict, but the party has enforced a nationwide strike demanding a halt to what it dismisses as politically motivated trials of its entire leadership.

Police fired live rounds at scores of Jamaat protesters Thursday morning, leaving five people injured, deputy commissioner of Dhaka police Biplob Sarker told AFP, adding they reacted after the Islamists attacked them.

Security was tight in the Bangladeshi capital on Thursday, with around 10,000 policemen on patrol. The government has also deployed border guards as reinforcement to prevent violence.

Earlier this month the tribunal, a local court with no international oversight, sentenced Jamaat's assistant secretary general Abdul Quader Molla to life imprisonment, sparking protests by Islamists that left 16 people dead.

The verdict also enraged secular protesters and bloggers, tens of thousands of whom have since poured onto the Shahbag intersection in central Dhaka to reject the "lighter sentence" and demand the execution of Jamaat leaders.

In January the tribunal handed down its first verdict when it sentenced fugitive Muslim TV preacher Maolana Abul Kalam Azad to death.

The tribunal has been tainted by controversies and allegations it is targeting only the opposition with trumped-up charges. Rights groups say its legal procedures fall short of international standards.

The government rejects the accusations, saying the trials are needed to heal the wounds of the war that it says killed three million people.

It accuses Jamaat leaders of being part of pro-Pakistani militias blamed for much of the 1971 carnage.