Abdul Quader Molla, 65, the fourth-highest-ranked leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, is the first politician to be found guilty by the country’s Supreme Court after it overturned an appeal to acquit him of all charges.
“The court enhanced his life sentence to the death penalty,” prosecutor Mohammad Ali said on Tuesday.
Lawyers said a five-strong Appellate Division bench threw away the defense appeal for acquittal of the Jamaat-e-Islami’s Assistant Secretary General.
The defense lawyer Tajul Islam said: “We are stunned by the verdict. This is the first time in South Asian judicial history that a trial court sentence has been enhanced by a Supreme Court.”
Jamaat-e-Islami has called for a 48-hour general strike to start on Wednesday. The original life sentence delivered in February triggered widespread protests including by secular protesters angry over the apparent leniency of the sentence.
Tens of thousands of secularists massed at a square in Dhaka for weeks, demanding the execution of Molla, describing him as the notorious Butcher of Mirpur, responsible for the murder of hundreds of innocent villagers in a Dhaka suburb during the war.
The protests forced parliament to change the war crimes laws, allowing the prosecution to appeal against the verdict and seek the death penalty in the Supreme Court.
International Crimes Tribunals
Bangladesh has been in upheaval since the current government set up two war crimes tribunals to try those suspected of links to excesses during the liberation war.
About 300,000 people were said to have been killed during the war, though the current government puts the death toll at 3 million. More than 2,50,000 women were also allegedly raped during the period.
Jamaat sided with Pakistan during the liberation war, but denies any role in the crimes. Several of its top leaders are being tried for crimes during the war and four of them have already been sentenced to death for mass murder, rape and religious persecution
In August, Bangladesh’s High Court declared the registration of Jamaat-e-Islami illegal, banning it from contesting January’s general election.
Secular protesters have long demanded that Jamaat be banned from public office for its role in the 1971 war of independence, during which it opposed Bangladesh’s breakaway from Pakistan.
rebels, in turn, also held rival demonstrations across the country, calling the sentence politically charged, and sparking violent clashes between police and supporters of Jamaat. About 150 people have been killed across the country in sporadic spells of violence.