B’desh upholds death sentence for opposition leader

DHAKA, July 29

Bangladesh’s top court on Wednesday upheld the death sentence on a top opposition politician for atrocities committed during the 1971 independence war, including the slaughter of around 200 Hindus.

The Supreme Court dismissed Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury’s appeal against the sentence passed by a controversial war crimes tribunal two years ago.

It was the first time a senior politician of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) had been sentenced for his role in the conflict, which saw what was then East Pakistan secede from Islamabad.

The 66-year-old was originally found guilty by the International Crimes Tribunal, a domestic war crimes court, of nine charges including genocide, torture and rape.

Chowdhury, whose father was a former Speaker of Pakistan and also served as its acting president, has previously served as an adviser to BNP leader and two-times former premier Khaleda Zia.

Police stepped up security in Dhaka and Chowdhury’s home city of Chittagong before the judgment.

Although the BNP had condemned the war crimes trials as politically motivated, major protests against the verdict were seen as unlikely.

The party was weakened by a major crackdown earlier this year when it launched a futile three-month nationwide transport blockade to try to topple the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Previous verdicts against Islamist politicians have sparked the country’s deadliest political violence since independence. Hundreds of people were killed as police brutally suppressed tens of thousands of rioting Islamists.

“We have boosted security in key places in Dhaka and Chittagong,” assistant commissioner of Dhaka police Shibly Noman told AFP.

Hundreds of police have been deployed in the Hindu-dominated areas in Chittagong, the country’s second largest city, to prevent ‘untoward incidents and anarchy’, said Police commissioner Abdul Jalil Mondal.

Prosecutors said Chowdhury would go to the gallows within months unless his case is reviewed by the same court or he is granted clemency by the president.

All previous attempts to review war crimes cases or obtain a presidential reprieve have failed.

Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told reporters he was “satisfied” with the verdict.

But defence lawyer Khandaker Mahbub Hossain said Chowdhury’s legal team was disappointed and would seek a review of the judgement at the same court.

“My father is innocent. One day it will be proved to the people of Bangladesh,” Chowdhury’s son Hummam Q Chowdhury told AFP.

Hundreds of people staged “victory processions” as news of the verdict reached the capital’s Shahbagh Square, where they had been massing since dawn.

Hundreds more joined celebrations in Chittagong, where pro-government groups held victory marches and handed out sweets.

Pradip Kumar Das, police chief of Chittagong constituency said there were no protests against the verdict.

Prosecutors had described Chowdhury as a merciless killer who murdered more than 200 Hindus, including the owner of a herbal medicine company.