Zee Media Bureau
Dhaka: Bangladesh war crimes tribunal on Tuesday sentenced an opposition lawmaker to death for his role in 1971 war crimes.
Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, a 64 year-old MP from the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), was found guilty of torture, rape and genocide during the 1971 war of independence with Pakistan.
Found guilty on nine out of 23 charges, Chowdhury was charged with killing some 200 civilians and collaborating with Pakistan`s army to kill and torture unarmed people, as well as other crimes.
Security was beefed up in Dhaka and Chittangong- home town of Chowdhury, as protests were feared against the verdict.
The opposition parties have been slamming the war tribunal’s verdicts as political vendetta.
The process has been denounced by opposition parties as politically motivated ahead of polls due by January and more than 100 people have been killed in protests against the war crimes verdicts since the start of this year.
The war crimes tribunal was set up by the Awami League-led government in 2010.
Chowdhury is one of two BNP leaders to be tried for 1971 war crimes, but the main opposition party was yet to react to the verdict, which came 17 months after the high-powered tribunal indicted him on 23 charges of crimes against humanity committed along with Pakistani troops.
The charges included killing directly around 200 people, collaborating with the Pakistan Army to kill and torture unarmed people, looting of valuables and torching of houses and other properties and persecuting people on religious and political grounds.
"The verdict is justified...He was given death penalty on four charges which were heinous genocides," Attorney General Mahbubey Alam said, emerging from the courtroom.
A son of Chowdhury, however, said the judgement would be challenged in the Supreme Court. He claimed the verdict was prepared by the law ministry instead of the tribunal as it was leaked on the internet.
Hundreds of 1971 veterans and youths, who earlier rallied at nearby Shahbagh intersection to enforce a vigil, celebrated the verdict by chanting `Joy Bangla`, the slogan of freedom fighters during the liberation war.
No reaction was available immediately from BNP.
Chowdhury is a member of its highest policy-making standing commitee.
The son of former acting president and parliamentary speaker of Pakistan, Fazlul Quader Chowdhury, Chowdhury served as the adviser of parliamentary affairs to Khaleda Zia when she was premier during 2001-06.
Chowdhury, who served as a Member of the Parliament for six terms, hit the headlines for his ridiculing gestures and arrogant comments during his trial. His actions even resulted in the hearing being halted several times.
During the trial, he questioned the authority of the tribunal, ridiculed the court by comparing it to a circus, and twice fired his lawyers` panel but later reinstated them.
He also examined prosecution witnesses at times, discarding his counsel.
Witnesses said the tribunal described Chowdhury`s attitude towards the law as unbecoming for a lawmaker who was elected to parliament six times, but added that the panel did not consider his behaviour while finalising the verdict.
Chowdhury was arrested on the eve of Victory Day celebrations on December 16, 2010, in line with the tribunal`s order. He was the second accused to be indicted since the war crimes trials began three years ago.
He was suspected of masterminding the 1971 killing of Nutun Chandra Singha, a respected philanthropist and industrialist in Chittagong. He was also accused of running a "torture cell" at his paternal house in the port city.
Witnesses alleged Chowdhury came to Singha?s residence with Pakistani troops. After talks with Singha, the Pakistani military officers intended to return, leaving him unhurt when Chowdhury shot him dead.
This was one of four charges for which the tribunal sentenced him to death.
Forty-one witnesses, including a former journalist, testified against Chowdhury during the trial while he could gather four defence witnesses who claimed the accused was out of the country during the war.
With PTI Inputs