Fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami leader Abdul Quader Mollah, infamous as the "butcher of Mirpur", was today sentenced to death for 1971 war crimes by Bangladesh Supreme Court, eight months after a special tribunal awarded him life imprisonment.
"He is being handed down the capital punishment," ruled Chief Justice M Muzammel Hossain, as the five member-bench headed by him reviewed the first case of the "crimes against humanity" during the 1971 liberation war against Pakistan.
Mollah, 65, the fourth-highest Jamaat leader, is the first politician to be found guilty by the Supreme Court after it rejected an appeal to acquit him of all charges.
Reviewing two appeals of the verdict handed down by International Crimes Tribunal, the top appeals court sentenced the Jamaat leader to death with a 4-1 majority.
The bench delivered the judgment on appeals against the tribunal verdict which in February this year handed down life sentence to Mollah, the assistant secretary general of Jamaat.
Mollah was arrested on July 13, 2010, while the tribunal indicted him on May 28, 2012 on six specific charges for actively participating, facilitating, aiding and substantially contributing to the attacks on unarmed civilians, "causing commission of the horrific genocides, murders and rapes".
The witnesses earlier testified that he led the literal slaughtering of several families entirely and in one such incidents his assassin group preferred to thump to death a two-year child while shooting dead the other inmates of the house at Mirpur area of Dhaka while the atrocities earned him the repute of being the "butcher of Mirpur" in Bangladesh.
Mollah's lawyers said they would seek to the judgment reviewed again by the apex court itself as it appeared "unacceptable and surprising" as "there is no instance in the country's judicial history when the apex court enhanced the trial court sentence".
The prosecution said under the law the defence might file a review petition within next one month but the apex court might dispose it within a day if it found no merit in it.
"The Appellate Division today had no scope to deliver any judgment other than the death penalty since all the charges were proved," Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told reporters.
The February verdict triggered massive controversies and protracted street protests by 1971 veterans and youngsters who believed the punishment was too lenient compared to his crimes. However, Jamaat countered them with violent protests across the country and in pockets known to be its stronghold, leading to deaths of 150 people.
Alam said he believed that the defence's review plea would not be entertained by the apex court since the special law under which the war crimes trial were being held did not point out whether the convicts would get such opportunity like convicts of other ordinary crimes or not.
Jamaat earlier hinted they might go for strikes if the verdict was found unacceptable though no such announcement came yet but its activists attacked policemen in the southeastern port city of Chittagong, injuring two officers and setting a police car and a private vehicle on fire.
Tight security was enforced in the national capital where Jamaat activists staged brief street protests in different areas damaging a number of vehicles.
On the other hand, hundreds of youngsters who rallied at the Shahbagh Square in the capital celebrated the verdict, saying Mollah deserved it for the atrocities he carried out in 1971 siding with the Pakistani troops.
Legal experts and officials said the apex court was now expected to issue the full text of the verdict in next few days and after receiving the "death warrant" to be channelled through the original tribunal, the jail authorities would take steps to execute the sentence anytime in between 20 and 27 days of the receipt of the order.
But the counting of days for executing the verdict will be halted for the period when the apex court will review the defence petition, if it is granted for hearing.
During the hearing, the court appointed seven senior lawyers as amici curiae or "impartial advisers to a court in a particular case" to suggest if the recent amendment related to the war crimes trial would be applicable in Mollah's case since the revised law came after he was tried by the tribunal.
Five of the seven jurists observed that the recent amendment to the International Crimes Tribunal Act giving the government the right to appeal against any verdict should be applicable in Mollah's case also.
Bangladesh witnessed the launch of the war crimes trial in 2010 in line with ruling Awami League's election pledges and so far two International Crimes Tribunals indicted over a dozen people, mostly Jamaat leaders.
The two tribunals have already handed down death penalty to four and long term or life imprisonments to two others.
Officially three million people were killed in 1971 liberation war against Pakistan during which Jamaat allegedly masterminded the murders of the country's leading intelligentsia including professors, doctors and journalists.
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