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Bangladesh confirms death sentence for opposition chief

July 29, 2015

Bangladesh's Supreme Court has upheld the death penalty for one of the top opposition leaders, Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury, for wartime atrocities. Pro-government groups greeted the news with celebration.

Bangladesh Urteil Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury
Image: Getty Images/AFP/M. Uz Zaman

The court announced its decision on Wednesday, upholding the sentence passed by a Bangladeshi war tribunal two years ago.

Chowdhury, from the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) had been convicted on several accounts of genocide, as well as other charges including torture and rape. Among other crimes, Chowdhury was found guilty of ordering the killings of at least 200 people, mostly minority Hindus, in the country's Chittagong region.

The crimes allegedly took place during the 1971 independence war against Pakistan, with Chowdhury reportedly collaborating with the Pakistani army.

The 66-year-old Chowdhury was an influential politician and aide to the former prime minister, Khaleda Zia, the leader of the BNP.

The BNP said on Tuesday they were "shocked and aggrieved" by the Supreme Court ruling.

"Chowdhury became a victim of political vengeance," party spokesman Asaduzzaman Ripon told reporters.

Many government opponents claim that the authorities use the war crimes tribunal as a tool to silence dissent.

The court, whose goal is to prosecute war criminals from the 1971 war, was only established in 2010. Most of the defendants come from the ranks of Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamist party allied with the BNP. The Islamists had openly campaigned against independence for Bangladesh.

The court has so far sentenced 17 people to death, and two of the defendants have already been executed.

Plea to the president

Previous convictions by the tribunal have sparked deadly violence in the country. However, major protests against the Wednesday ruling appear unlikely.

Instead, hundreds of people came out to the streets in support of the court decision both in the capital Dhaka and in Chittagong, with pro-government groups holding "victory processions" and handing out sweets.

Chowdhury is expected to file another appeal, according to his lawyer, Khandaker Mahbub Hossain.

"We will file the review petition after getting the copy of the Supreme Court verdict," Hossain said.

Chowdhury can also request clemency from the president.

If these attempts fail, the BNP politician could be executed within months, according to prosecutors.

dj/kms (AP, AFP, dpa)

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