Bangladesh upholds opposition politician's death sentence

Bangladesh upholds opposition politician's death sentence
Bangladeshi policemen escorting Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) member, Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury, to a court in Jan 2007.

DHAKA - Bangladesh's highest court on Wednesday upheld the death sentence handed down to a top opposition politician for war crimes during the country's 1971 independence conflict against Pakistan.

The Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice S.K. Sinha, dismissed Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury's appeal against a death sentence handed down by a controversial war crimes tribunal two years ago, an AFP correspondent at the court said.

In a brief judgement Sinha said the court "maintained" the death sentence for genocide and torture against 66-year-old Chowdhury, who is a senior member of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

Chowdhury was originally found guilty by the International Crimes Tribunal, a domestic war crimes court, of nine charges including genocide, torture and rape.

It was the first time a BNP politician had been sentenced for his role in the conflict, which saw what was then East Pakistan secede from Islamabad.

Previous verdicts against Islamist politicians have sparked deadly violence, and security has been stepped up in Dhaka and the southern port city of Chittagong, which Chowdhury has represented as a lawmaker for three decades.

Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told reporters that he was "satisfied" with the verdict.

But defence lawyer Khandaker Mahbub Hossain said Chowdhury's legal team was disappointed and would seek a review of the judgement at the same court.

Prosecutors said Chowdhury would be sent to the gallows within a matter of months unless his case is reviewed by the same court or he is granted clemency by the president.

Hundreds of protesters including ruling party activists staged "victory processions" as news of the verdict reached the capital's Shahbagh Square where they had been massing since dawn.

Prosecutors described Chowdhury, a minister in the previous BNP-led government, as a merciless killer who murdered more than 200 Hindus, including the owner of a well-known herbal medicine company.

His trial was told that Chowdhury had dragged owner Nutan Chandra Sinha out of his prayer room and Pakistani soldiers had then shot him.

"Chowdhury then shot him again to make sure he was dead," prosecutor Zead Al Malum had told AFP after the original verdict.

The BNP and its Islamist allies have said the tribunal is a tool for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's Awami League to silence its opponents.

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