DHAKA, Bangladesh — A 91-year-old former chief of an Islamic party in Bangladesh was sentenced to 90 years in jail on Monday for crimes against humanity during the country’s 1971 independence war, angering supporters who said the trial was politically motivated and opponents who said he should be executed.
A special tribunal of three judges announced the decision against Ghulam Azam in a packed courtroom in Dhaka. The panel said the former leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami Party deserved capital punishment, but received a jail sentence instead because of his advanced age and poor health.
Azam was in the dock when the verdict was delivered while protesters outside rallied to demand his execution. Both the defense and the prosecution said they will appeal.
Azam led Jamaat-e-Islami in then-East Pakistan in 1971 when Bangladesh became independent through a bloody war. He is among several Jamaat-e-Islami leaders convicted by a tribunal formed in 2010 by the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to try those accused of collaborating with the Pakistani Army in the war. Bangladesh says the Pakistani Army killed 3 million people and raped 200,000 women during the nine-month war, and some 10 million people took shelter across the border in India.
Azam led the party until 2000 and is still considered to be its spiritual leader. Jamaat-e-Islami claims his trial and others were politically motivated.
News outlets said at least three Jamaat-e-Islami activists were killed in parts of Bangladesh on Monday.
Azam had openly campaigned against the creation of Bangladesh and routinely met with Pakistan authorities during the war.