Another death ruling puts Bangladesh into chaos | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 03.11.2014
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Another death ruling puts Bangladesh into chaos

Bangladesh’s highest court has upheld the death sentence of an Islamist leader for his role during 1971's Independence war. Recently, two other Islamist leaders were also sentenced to death, infuriating their supporters.

The Supreme Court on Monday upheld the death sentence of Mohammad Qamaruzzaman, for his role in mass killings during the independence war against Pakistan in 1971. The assistant secretary general of Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh’s largest Islamist party, was convicted last year by the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), set up by the Bangladesh government four years ago.

The tribunal also gave death sentences to two top leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami - Motiur Rahman Nizami and Mir Quasem Ali – for war crimes.

The ICT has so far convicted 12 people, mostly senior leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami, which had openly campaigned against independence but denied committing atrocities. Eight of those convicted were given the death penalty.

Mir Quasem Ali

Mir Quasem Ali was sentenced to the death penalty for his role in the 1971 Bangladesh Independence war

Politically motivated?

Tajul Islam, defense counsel at the ICT and a lawyer for Qamaruzzaman, told DW that the delivery of three rulings in just six days after a nine-month hiatus, had raised questions among many about the tribunal's autonomy.

Shamsuzzaman Dudu, a leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), one of the country’s two major political parties, is one of those seeking answers. Talking to DW, Dudu mentioned the now infamous Skype controversy. "This is an example of how the government is intervening in the acts of the tribunal," he said. In 2012, Skype conversations and emails between Mohammed Nizamul Huq, the then chairman of the ICT, and Ahmed Ziauddin, a Bangladeshi lawyer based in Brussels, were leaked. In the documents they were talking about the ongoing procedures of the tribunal. Following the scandal Huq resigned from his position.

However, political scientist and Dhaka University Professor Shantanu Majumder believes the reason for the long break before the verdicts were given was the Awami League-led government was trying to recover its image, after the disputed elections in January this year. "I think they (the government) were waiting for a better environment," he told DW.

More than half of the members of the parliament were elected unopposed, as the BNP and its allies did not take part in the January polls held under the Awami League-led interim government.

Violence spreads

Following Wednesday's guilty verdict against Motiur Rahman Nizami, Jamaat called for a three-day nationwide strike. A day-long strike was declared after Quasem's verdict on Sunday, and finally the party added another day of strikes after the latest ruling. Local media reported several instances of violence perpetrated by Jamaat supporters around the country during the action.

Majumder does not think that the violent activities will last long. "I have doubts about Jamaat’s capacity to continue the strikes," he said adding that the majority of citizens do not support the Islamic party.