Updated: September 17, 2014 3:01:51 pm
Bangladesh Supreme Court on Wednesday commuted the death sentence of Delwar Hossain Sayedee, a key 1971 war criminal and fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami leader, saying he would now have to serve in prison “until his death”.
“He shall serve in prison for the rest of his natural life,” Chief Justice M Muzammel Hossain pronounced in a crowded courtroom in a surprise ruling. A five-member bench of the apex court, headed by Hossain, pronounced the verdict by “majority view” but did not elaborate how many of the judges gave different opinions over the sentence of Sayedee, who was handed down death penalty by International Crimes Tribunal in February last year.
The Tribunal’s ruling triggered the deadliest political violence in the country’s history. Sayedee is a stalwart of Jamaat, which was opposed to Bangladesh’s 1971 independence siding with the then Pakistani junta, forming notorious militia groups like Al-Badr ad Al-Shams as auxiliary forces of the Pakistani troops.
The Tribunal earlier found Sayedee guilty of six major charges while the apex found valid three of those including killing, rapes and forceful conversion of a number of Hindus to Islam and relieved him of charges of mass killings. In an instant reaction, Attorney General Mahbubey Alam said the verdict of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court “saddened” him as he expected the ape court to uphold the tribunal judgment.
“My expectation was that his death penalty would be upheld, which has not been fulfilled…so I feel bad,” he said. He said that he now await the delivery of the full verdict for his detailed analysis. Alam said the verdict unmasked Sayeedi’s image as an ardent servant of Islam as allegations of forceful conversion of several Hindus was proved against him.
“Islam never allows forceful conversion to Islam which he (Sayeedi) did it in 1971,” he said. A son of the Islamist leader also said he was deprived of justice as the apex court should have “acquitted my father and we would like to get it reviewed” but Alam said under the law there is no scope for such review for the cases of war crimes convicts.
Authorities earlier called out paramilitary troops to guard the capital and other major cities fearing outbreak of violence following the Supreme Court ruling. Nearly 100 people, including policemen, were killed as Jamaat activists went on rampage in different parts of the country when the Tribunal sentenced Sayedee to death last year.
The apex court on April 16 wrapped up the appeal hearing against the special tribunal judgment on Sayedee. The tribunal last year said it found valid eight of the 18 charges including mass killings, arson, lootings and forceful conversion non-Muslims to Islam against the Islamist leader, who is a former lawmaker and Islamic orator. Chief defence counsel Khondker Mahbubuddin earlier claimed they successfully pointed out that a “wrong man” was tried and sentenced to death as another person with Sayedee’s namesake actually carried out the atrocities during the 1971 Liberation War.
The defence had raised the same argument during Sayedee’strial at the Tribunal but it observed the claim baseless and sentenced him to death on charges of “crimes against humanity” siding with Pakistani troops. “Rather we tried Delwar Hossain Sayedee who was a 30-year old young man during the 1971 Liberation War…who was an active member of the Peace Committee and… earned goodwill among the Pakistani occupation forces,” the tribunal had said.
On March 28 last year, Sayedee filed an appeal with the apex court seeking acquittal from all the charges. The same day, the government submitted a separate appeal to it, demanding capital punishment on all eight charges. TV channels today showed non-partisan Ganajagaran Mancha activists on the streets at Shahbagh Square.
“We are not satisfied, we reject this verdict…We wanted him to be hanged,” Mancha spokesman Imran H Sarkar said as the protestors chanted slogans. The Tribunal has handed down death penalties to eight people on 1971 war crime charges and ordered two others including Alim to languish in jail until their death as they so far completed the trial of 11 war crimes key-accused.
Only one of them, Jamaat’s joint secretary general Abdul Quader Mollah has been executed while two of the convicts were now living in the US and Britain and the other cases were now pending before the apex Supreme Court for review. Of the 10 convicts, eight are Jamaat stalwarts and the rest two are leaders of its crucial ally Bangladesh Nationalist Party of ex-prime minister Khaleda Zia.
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