DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A Bangladesh tribunal convicted a top Islamic party politician Thursday of atrocities stemming from the nation's 1971 independence war and sentenced him to death, triggering fears of another wave of deadly street violence between party supporters and security forces.
The verdict against Muhammad Kamaruzzaman was the fourth verdict in Bangladesh's war crimes tribunals since January. Dozens of people have been killed in the riots that followed the earlier cases.
There were clashes in at least two cities Thursday but no immediate reports of injuries. In northwestern Rajshahi, police fired tear gas to disperse dozens of supporters of Kamaruzzaman who tried to block roads and attack vehicles, private NTV television station reported. Protesters smashed several vehicles in northeastern Sylhet city, local police official Rezaul Karim said.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has called the trials a long-overdue effort at obtaining justice against war criminals four decades after Bangladesh split from Pakistan. Critics accuse Hasina of using the tribunals to decimate the country's opposition parties ahead of elections scheduled for next year.
Kamaruzzaman, 61, was convicted in a packed courtroom of five counts of mass killings, rape, torture and kidnapping, Attorney General Mahbubey Alam said.
Kamaruzzaman was found guilty of leading his followers to kill at least 183 people in his home district of Sherpur in northern Bangladesh. The prosecution said he formed the group Al-Badr to collaborate with the Pakistani army and led them to kill unarmed people and rape women.
Bangladesh says the war left 3 million people dead, 200,000 women raped and forced millions to flee to neighboring India.
Obaidul Hassan, the head of the three-judge tribunal, said the charges had been proved beyond a doubt and sentenced him to death.
Defense lawyer Ehsan Siddiky said justice was denied to his client and he promised to appeal.
During the trial, Kamaruzzaman denied the allegations and said the prosecution was politically motivated.