DHAKA - Bangladesh's war crimes tribunal sentenced the chief of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party to death on Wednesday for crimes against humanity, including genocide, torture and rape, during the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan. The sentence passed on Motiur Rahman Nizami, a 71-year-old former legislator and minister, provoked protests, some violent, by supporters of his party who say the government has used the tribunal to weaken its political opponents. Defense lawyer Tajul Islam told reporters his client would appeal to the Supreme Court.
"Considering the gravity of the crimes, the tribunal punished him with the death sentence," state prosecutor Mohammad Ali said. Jamaat-e-Islami said in a statement that the people of Bangladesh were "surprised, stunned and deeply sad" at Wednesday's sentence and called for a 24-hour general strike from Thursday and a 48-hour national stoppage from Sunday.
Police said Jamaat activists protested soon after the ruling and about 90 of them were detained in Nizami's home district. Police also fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse activists of Jamaat and Shibir, the student wing of the party, in northeastern Sylhet, 174 miles from the capital, Dhaka. They vandalized around 20 vehicles and more than a dozen people were wounded in clashes with police. Additional police and paramilitary forces have been deployed across the country.