Bangladesh's war crimes tribunal has sentenced popular Islamic cleric Abul Kalam Azad to death for committing war crimes in 1971. Protesters accuse the tribunal of violating international standards.
63-year-old cleric Abul Kalam Azad, a former member of Bangladesh's biggest Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami and founder of a major Islamic charity, was found guilty Monday of torture, rape and genocide committed during the independence struggle in 1971.
The judges accused him of having collaborated with Pakistani forces in the murder of Hindus, who are a minority in majority-Muslim Bangladesh.
"It's a historic day for the country. It's a victory for humanity," said Attorney General Mahbubey Alam following the trial, which had drawn a large crowd outside the court in Dhaka amid tight security.
Azad was convicted in absentia because he reportedly fled to Pakistan upon being charged last year.
This was the first verdict handed down by Bangladesh's controversial International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), a domestic court with no international oversight.
The court was set up by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in 2010 to probe abuses during the conflict that claimed about 3 million lives.
The Bangladeshi opposition has accused the tribunal of being biased and of serving only as the prime minister's instrument against her opponents in the country's two biggest opposition parties, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the Jamaat-e-Islami.
Another 11 people (from Jamaat-e-Islami and two from the BNP) are awaiting trial.
The ICC has also been criticized by international rights groups for violating standards of international law. Human Rights Watch has said the tribunal operates under legal provisions that fall short of international standards. The NGO said defense lawyers, witnesses and investigators claim they had been threatened during the trial.
Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan with India's support in December 1971 following nine months of fighting.
rg/dr (AFP, Reuters)