Bangladesh top court orders senior Islamist to hang

DHAKA (AFP) - Bangladesh's top court on Tuesday sentenced to death a senior Islamist opposition official for murder during the 1971 liberation war against Pakistan.

Abdul Quader Molla, 65, the fourth-highest leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, is the first politician to be found guilty by the country's Supreme Court after it rejected an appeal to acquit him of all charges.

The court, led by chief justice Muzammel Hossain, strengthened the original sentence handed down by the country's controversial war crimes tribunal of life in prison, and imposed the death penalty.

"The court enhanced his life sentence to (the) death penalty," prosecutor Ziad Al Malum told AFP, adding that the order was a four-one majority decision of the Supreme Court.

Defence lawyer Tajul Islam said: "We are stunned by the verdict. This is the first time in South Asian judicial history that a trial court sentence has been enhanced by a supreme court."

The original life sentence delivered in February triggered widespread protests including by secular protesters angry over the apparent leniency of the sentence. That decision and
subsequent ones by the International Crimes Tribunal led to months of unrest by Islamists and secular groups that left at least 100 people dead.

Tens of thousands of secularists massed at a square in Dhaka for weeks early this year, demanding the execution of Molla, describing him as the notorious Butcher of Mirpur, responsible for the murder of hundreds of innocent villagers in a Dhaka
suburb during the war.

The protests forced parliament to change the war crimes laws, allowing the prosecution to appeal against the verdict and seek the death penalty in the Supreme Court.

Islamists, in turn, also held rival demonstrations across the country, calling the sentence politically charged, and sparking violent clashes between police and supporters of Jamaat.

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