DHAKA, Feb. 5 (Xinhua) -- A high-ranking leader of Bangladesh's largest Islamic party was sentenced to life in prison by a " controversial" tribunal in capital Dhaka Tuesday for war crimes including mass killings.
The International Crimes Tribunal(ICT)-2, set up to try those allegedly involved in war crimes during the South Asian country's nine-month liberation war in 1971, pronounced the verdict on crimes against humanity case awarding life imprisonment to Assistant Secretary General of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami party Abdul Quader Mollah.
Chief Justice of the ICT-2 Obaidul Hassan read the summary of the 132-page verdict at a jam-packed court room in the presence of a huge crowd of people particularly journalists and lawyers amid beefed up security measures in and around the tribunal and across the capital city, specially at key points.
Mollah, who is now behind the bar, was indicted in May last year with six specific charges for his alleged involvement in murders and mass killings in 1971.
It's the second verdict of the ICT-2 which delivered its maiden verdict against expelled Jamaat leader Abul Kalam Azad on Jan. 21. The fugitive Azad was sentenced to death.
AKM Nasiruddin Mahmud, tribunal registrar, Monday told reporters that there was ample evidence of genocide, murder, rape, arson, loot, abduction, deportation and persecution against Mollah.
"We expected death penalty. But unfortunately we haven't got the desired verdict," Bangladesh Attorney General Mahbub-e-Alam told reporters.
He said they may consider to appeal against the verdict. According to law, one can appeal to the country's apex court against a verdict within a month.
In protest against the verdict, however, Jamaat Monday called a nationwide dawn-to-dusk hartal for Tuesday. A passenger was burnt to death after unidentified miscreants set a bus on fire in Dhaka on Monday night. In the pre-hartal violence in the capital and elsewhere, around 100 vehicles, mostly buses, were also reportedly damaged and crude bombs exploded.
The party, which has long been demonstrating against the efforts of the government to try war criminals, last week also enforced a daylong hartal demanding the release of nine of its top high-ups detained, including its spiritual leader Ghulam Azam.
Apart from Jamaat high-ups, a few leaders of ex-prime minister Khaleda Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) are also facing trials.
Both BNP and Jamaat, which allegedly collaborated with the Pakistani forces in 1971 to prevent an independent Bangladesh, have already dismissed the court as a government "show trial" and said it is a domestic set-up with no United Nations oversight or involvement.
Jamaat, which recently showed its huge muscle power against the law enforcement agencies, threatened to escalate the armed struggle if the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government does not immediately free its leaders who face charges of war crimes.
"There is no scope to give verdict from a controversial tribunal to save the country from the civil war," said senior Jamaat leader Selim Uddin while addressing a mass rally Monday. " Don't push the country towards a civil war by creating discord."
Bangladesh's Minister of State for Home Shamsul Haque Tuku Monday told reporters that the law enforcers will go tough against Jamaat men if they try to create anarchy after the pronouncement of verdict.
At least five people, including a policeman and three Jamaat men, were killed in violence triggered by last Thursday's hartal called by Jamaat.
After returning to power in January 2009, Hasina, the daughter of Bangladesh's independence hero Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, established the first tribunal in March 2010, almost forty years after the 1971 fight for independence from Pakistan, to castigate those committed crimes against humanity during the nine-month war.
Hasina's state machinery has been criticized widely by human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International which reportedly complained about flaws including the incident of a disappearance of a defense witness outside the courthouse gates.
The tribunal has suffered its big jolt when the judge presiding over the ICT-1 resigned last month after the British magazine The Economist reported that it received e-mails and Skype conversations between the judge and Ahmed Ziauddin, a Bengali citizen who resides in Belgium from an unknown source.
The e-mails and Skype calls reportedly showed that Ziauddin was playing an important role in the proceedings and that considerable pressure was being exerted by the Bangladeshi government to secure a quick verdict.
Muslim-majority Bangladesh was called East Pakistan until 1971. Hasina's government said about 3 million people were killed in the war although independent researchers think that between 300,000 and 500,000 died.