By RICHARD S. EHRLICH ( c)2013 Religion News Service
A court in Muslim-majority Bangladesh sentenced an Islamist member of Parliament to death for genocide and other crimes against Hindus during the country’s 1971 war for independence.
Salahuddin Chowdhury is the first opposition party member of Parliament to be convicted by the Dhaka-based International Crimes Tribunal. Prosecutors accused him of committing atrocities against Hindus and forcefully converting a number of Hindus to Islam, the British Broadcasting Corporation reported.
“We are of the unanimous view that the accused deserves the highest punishment for committing such crimes that tremble the collective conscience of mankind,” said the tribunal’s chairman, Justice Fazle Kabir.
Chowdhury, 64, must “hang until death,” Kabir told the court on October 1.
After Chowdhury was sentenced, his supporters rampaged in the capital, Dhaka, and in the port of Chittagong, his hometown, assaulting government party officials and smashing and burning vehicles, police said. Chowdhury’s lawyers said they would appeal to the Supreme Court.
In 1971, Muslim-majority Bangladesh was known as East Pakistan and ruled by West Pakistan, which also had a Muslim majority but was more than 1,000 miles away and separated by Hindu-dominated India.
An estimated 500,000 to 3 million people, mostly Muslims in East Pakistan, perished during the war, which included West Pakistani troops fighting for nine months in the east supported by local militias. Finally, in a 13-day blitz to support Bangladesh’s independence, India invaded East Pakistan and simultaneously bombed West Pakistan into surrendering.
Traumatized Bangladesh needed decades to stabilize before starting the trials in 2010.