MUMBAI -- Bangladesh's Supreme Court on Tuesday condemned a senior Islamist leader, Abdul Quader Mollah, to death by hanging – increasing his punishment for a mass murder conviction from the life sentence he received from a special tribunal in February, and sparking demonstrations.
The announcement prompted Islamist protesters to march in the capital, Dhaka, and to set off crude bombs and burn vehicles in the port city of Chittagong. About 30 people were injured in clashes, including some police officers, the authorities said.
Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamist opposition party, called for a 48-hour nationwide strike starting on Wednesday to protest the sentence.
Others hailed the new sentence handed down to Mr. Mollah, who was convicted on charges of committing atrocities during the country's 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.
"The nation's demands have been met and the stigma washed away through the verdict," said the country's attorney general, Mahbubey Alam.
Bangladesh has been prosecuting defendants accused of committing atrocities during the war for more than two years, and each turn in the major cases has sparked protests. When Mr. Mollah was sentenced on Feb. 5 to life in prison, thousands of secularists -- mostly young people -- took to the streets complaining that the sentence was too lenient, and demanding a change in the law so that it could be appealed. Over the next month, scores of people were killed in clashes between protesters and security forces.
Mr. Mollah's defense attorney, Abdur Razzaq, decried the decision on Tuesday to increase the sentence to death as unjust and wrong. He said the step by the Supreme Court had no precedent in Bangladesh.
The court's announcement sets the stage for a potentially violent election season, with opinion polls currently giving an edge to the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which is allied with Jamaat. Jamaat is barred from participating in the election by a Supreme Court ruling this summer that it was not legally registered.
An estimated 3 million people were killed and thousands of women were raped during the 1971 war, when Bangladesh, a largely Muslim country with roughly 160 million people, broke away from Pakistan. Jamaat-e-Islami opposed independence during the war, but its leaders have denied committing any atrocities against their countrymen.
The turmoil surrounding the country's war-crimes tribunal points to deep and unresolved tensions over the conflict. Human Rights Watch, an international rights group, criticized the tribunals, saying that cases were based on scant evidence and that judges colluded with prosecutors, leading to "the inescapable conclusion that there has been strong judicial bias towards the prosecution and grave violations of due process rights."
Julfikar Ali Manik contributed reporting from Dhaka, Bangladesh.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.