DHAKA, Bangladesh — A 91-year-old former chief of an Islamist party in Bangladesh was sentenced Monday to 90 years in jail for crimes against humanity during the country’s 1971 independence war, angering both supporters who said the trial was politically motivated and opponents who said he should be executed.
A special tribunal of three judges announced the decision against Ghulam Azam in a packed courtroom in Dhaka, the capital. The panel said the former leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party deserved capital punishment but received a jail sentence because of his advanced age and poor health.
Azam was in the dock when the verdict was delivered while protesters rallied outside to demand his execution. The defense and the prosecution said they will appeal.
Azam led Jamaat-e-Islami in then-East Pakistan during the bloody 1971 war for an independent Bangladesh. He is among several Jamaat-e-Islami leaders convicted by the tribunal, formed in 2010 by the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to try those accused of collaborating with the Pakistani army in the war.
Bangladesh says the Pakistani army killed 3 million people and raped 200,000 women during the nine-month war, and about 10 million people took shelter across the border in India.
Azam led the party until 2000 and is still considered to be its spiritual leader. Jamaat-e-Islami says his trial and those of the others were politically motivated, an accusation that authorities deny. The party called for a nationwide shutdown after the tribunal announced Sunday that it would deliver the verdict Monday.
Violence has followed previous verdicts, and news outlets, including the Daily Star newspaper, said that at least three Jamaat-e-Islami activists were killed in parts of Bangladesh on Monday. Two were beaten to death by opposition activists in southwestern Kushtia district as they tried to block a road. One was killed in northwestern Chapainawabganj district when paramilitary border guards opened fire after a bomb was thrown at police.
Police clashed with Jamaat-e-
Islami supporters in parts of Dhaka while party activists set fire to a few vehicles whose drivers tried to defy the strike call, the Bengali-
language Prothom Alo newspaper reported.
Police fired rubber bullets to disperse an opposition procession in Dhaka’s Jatrabari area, and some photographers and camera operators were injured in the chaos, the newspaper said.