, Dhaka October 1- A Bangladesh court on Tuesday sentenced to death a top opposition MP for genocide, the first lawmaker to be convicted of war crimes during the 1971 war of independence.
Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, a leader of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), was found guilty by the International Crimes Tribunal of nine charges including murder and religious persecution. The ruling is likely to trigger fresh unrest in the already tense country.
The 64 year old Chowdhury would be “hanged by the neck”, presiding judge A.T.M Fazle Kabir told a packed court in the capital Dhaka.
“We are happy with the verdict,” Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told AFP.
After the sentence was read out, a defiant Chowdhury accused the government of influencing the judge’s decision.
“This judgement came from the (law) ministry. The copy of the verdict has been available on the Internet since yesterday,” he said.
Since January, the much criticised International Crimes Tribunal has convicted seven people, including six Islamists, of crimes related to the nine-month war, in which pro independence fighters battled Pakistani forces who were helped by local collaborators.
Previous verdicts have sparked deadly violence, and security has been stepped up in Dhaka and the southern port city of Chittagong, which Chowdhury has represented as a lawmaker for three decades.
Police said two people were injured after opposition supporters hurled small home-made bombs at ruling party activists, who were celebrating the verdict outside Chittagong, local police chief Chandan Kumar Chakrabarty told AFP.
“We have deployed (paramilitary) border guards to combat further violence,” Chakrabarty said.
Hundreds of protesters including ruling party activists staged impromptu “victory processions” as news of the verdict reached the capital’s Shahbagh Square, where they had been massing since dawn.
A bus and several cars were torched in the capital and Chittagong, police said.
Prosecutors described Chowdhury, a minister in the previous BNP-led government, as a merciless killer who murdered more than 200 Hindus, including the owner of a well known herbal medicine company.
“Chowdhury dragged (owner) Nutan Chandra Sinha out of his prayer room and Pakistani soldiers shot him. Chowdhury then shot him again to make sure he was dead,” prosecutor Zead Al Malum told AFP.
Defence lawyer Fakhrul Islam said the trial was aimed at silencing one of the most vocal opponents of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
“He should have been acquited as he was not in Bangladesh during the war,” Islam said, adding that he would appeal.
The BNP and its Islamist allies have said the tribunal is a tool for the ruling Awami League to target its opponents ahead of general elections next January.
The opposition, which currently leads in opinion polls, called a strike in the Chittagong region for Wednesday to protest the ruling.
Bangladesh has struggled to come to terms with its violent birth, in which what was then East Pakistan split from Islamabad to become independent.
The government set up the tribunal in 2010, saying trials were needed to heal the wounds of the 1971 war, in which it says three million people were killed and 200,000 women raped.
Independent estimates put the toll at between 300,000 and 500,000.
The verdicts since January have sparked deadly protests and widespread riots killing more than 100 people, and plunging the country into its worst political violence since independence.
The riots have mainly pitted activists of the country’s largest Islamist party, Jamaat e Islami, against security forces as well as secular protesters. Jamaat activists have taken to the streets in large numbers after three of the six convicted Islamists were sentenced to death.
Unlike other war crime courts, the Bangladesh tribunal is not endorsed by the United Nations and the New York-based Human Rights Watch group has said its procedures fall short of international standards.