DHAKA (AFP) - A media tycoon who is a key figure in Bangladesh's largest Islamist party was sentenced to death on Sunday for war crimes, just days after its leader was ordered hanged for similar offences.
The war crimes court found wealthy businessman Mir Quasem Ali, an official of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, guilty of 10 charges including murder and abduction during Bangladesh's 1971 war of independence against Pakistan.
Ali, 63, stood up and loudly protested as the chief judge announced the sentence in a packed court. “It’s a motivated judgement,” he said, adding it was handed down on the government’s orders.
Ali, who owns a television station and newspaper aligned with Jamaat, was convicted of running the torture cell of a militia during the conflict that carried out killings including that of a young independence fighter.
"The country and the affected people have finally got justice. Mir Quasem Ali has been sentenced to death for the murder of a teenage freedom fighter Jashim," prosecutor Ziad Al Malum told reporters.
"The young boy was abducted and his body was thrown in the Karnaphuli river," he said.
Jamaat's top leader Motiur Rahman Nizami was sentenced on Wednesday to death for heading a pro-Pakistan militia in 1971, a decision that sparked protests by supporters.
Jamaat called a nationwide strike following Nizami's verdict. The stoppage was still in effect Sunday, with many schools and businesses closed and traffic thin.
The party announced plans for a new strike on Thursday in protest at Ali’s death sentence.
Similar judgements against other Jamaat officials last year plunged the country into one of its worst crises. Tens of thousands of Jaamat activists clashed with police in various protests that left some 500 people dead.
Ali became the eight Islamist sentenced to death by the controversial war crimes court, set up by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's secular government in 2010.
Ali, a former leader of Jamaat's student wing, helped revive the party by setting up charities, businesses and trusts linked to it after it was allowed to operate in the late 1970s.
Ali, who was arrested in 2012 on 14 war crimes charges, heads the Diganta Media Corporation which owns a pro-Jamaat daily and a television station.
The government shut down the television station last year for inciting religious tension.
Jamaat and the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party have accused the government of using the court to target their leaders through phoney charges.
Rights groups have also criticised the trials, saying they fall short of international standards and lack any international oversight.
Hasina's government maintains the trials are needed to heal the wounds of the conflict, which it says left three million people dead.
Independent researchers estimate that between 300,000 and 500,000 people died in the 1971 war.