Bangladesh Islamic party leader loses final appeal against death sentence

DHAKA (AFP) - Bangladesh's highest court on Monday rejected a final appeal by an Islamist leader to overturn his death sentence for atrocities committed during the 1971 independence war, clearing the last legal hurdle to his execution.

The review petition is "dismissed", Chief Justice S.K. Sinha ruled at the Supreme Court, upholding Mohammad Kamaruzzaman's original death sentence.

Lawyers for Kamaruzzaman, who is the third-most senior member of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, had argued that there were "serious discrepancies" in the testimonies of prosecution witnesses at his trial.

Kamaruzzaman's only chance of now avoiding the gallows will be if he is granted clemency by the country's president.

In December 2013, Bangladesh executed Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Molla for war crimes, just hours after his review petition was rejected by the Supreme Court.

The upholding of Kamaruzzaman's execution order could worsen the ongoing unrest in the country, which has been hit by deadly protests over the opposition's bid to topple the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Bangladesh suffered its deadliest chapter of political violence in 2013 after a special war crimes court handed down a series of death sentences to Jamaat leaders for their role in the 1971 conflict, which saw the then east Pakistan secede from the regime in Islamabad.

Opposition parties say the war crimes trials are politically-motivated and aimed at settling scores, while rights groups say the trials have fallen short of international standards.

Ms Hasina's secular government maintains they are needed to heal the wounds of the conflict, which it says left three million people dead. Independent experts put the death toll much lower.