Dhaka, Oct 29 (IANS) Motiur Rahman Nizami, the chief of Bangladesh’s largest Islamist party, was sentenced to death Wednesday for crimes during the 1971 Liberation War, prompting his supporters to call nationwide protests.
A special tribunal ruled that the 71-year-old leader was guilty on eight of the 16 charges levelled against him in a historic trial that began four decades after Bangladesh became an independent nation.
The Jamaat-e-Islami chief led the Pakistan Army’s vigilante militia outfit Al-Badr during the 1971 war in a bid to foil Pakistan’s break up and to abort Bangladesh’s birth.
Nizami’s party called for a country-wide shutdown, media reports said.
The announcement was made on the party’s website after the International Crimes Tribunal-1 in Dhaka found Nizami guilty of leading the execution of intellectuals, mass killings, rape and looting during the nine months of Liberation War, the Daily Star reported.
The Liberation War culminated in the December 1971 India-Pakistan war. Pakistan lost East Pakistan and thousands of its soldiers surrendered to the Indian military.
Rejecting the court’s verdict, the party claimed that the government filed motivated and baseless cases against Jamaat leaders to strip the party of its leaders. It announced a shutdown from Thursday 6 a.m. to Friday 6 a.m. and from Sunday 6 a.m. to Tuesday 6 a.m.
“Charges brought against Nizami are totally false, fabricated and politically motivated,” it said.
Nizami asked his supporters to remain calm, saying he would battle the death verdict awarded to him “legally”. He dubbed the allegations against him as lies.
But a section of Jamaat supporters resorted to violence in some areas.
Nizami was blamed for the June 1971 killing of a schoolteacher, Kasim Uddin, one of the millions in then East Pakistan who favoured separation from West Pakistan as an independent nation Bangladesh.
Nizami was accused of guiding the Pakistan Army into arresting Kasim Uddin, who was tortured and shot with two others in Nizami’s presence.
Earlier, on May 10, Nizami invited residents of Baushbarhi village to a school for a meeting. But Pakistani troops reached the site and massacred 450 people of Baushbarhi and Demra villages.
The soldiers also raped 30-40 women.
On Tuesday night, the Jammat leader was brought to Dhaka from Gazipur’s Kahsimpur Central Jail and taken to the tribunal Wednesday morning.
He sat forlorn in the court’s lock-up. With his trademark Jinnah cap, clad in a white kurta and brown vest, Nizami looked about blankly, bdnews24.com reported.
Justice Rahim began with preliminary remarks before reading out a summary of the 204-page judgment shortly after 11 a.m.
Two other judges — Jahangir Hossain and Mohammad Anwarul Haque — were present in the heavily-guarded court crowded with lawyers, journalists and observers, Bangladeshi media reported.
Nizami served as the minister of agriculture from 2001 to 2003, then as the minister of industry from 2003 to 2006 in the four-party government of Khaleda Zia.
Hordes of 1971 war veterans as well as young men opposed to Islamist politics greeted the capital punishment, bdnews24.com said. Similar scenes were reported from other parts of Bangladesh too.
But the sentence was denounced by Nizami’s defence team as a breach of justice. His lawyers vowed to appeal against the verdict.
The government has beefed up security across Bangladesh.