Bangladesh's Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence of Jamaat-e-Islami's chief financier, imposed for war crimes, in a major blow to the country's biggest Islamist party.
Mir Quasem Ali, a shipping and real estate tycoon, was convicted in 2014 of abducting and murdering a young fighter during Bangladesh's 1971 war of independence against Pakistan. Three senior Jamaat officials and a leader of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) have been executed since December 2013 for war crimes, despite global criticism of their trials by a controversial tribunal.
The trials have divided the country and sparked deadly protests, with supporters of Jamaat and the BNP branding them a sham aimed at eliminating their leaders.
"The court upheld his death sentence for the abduction and murder of a young freedom fighter whose body was dumped in a river," Attorney-General Mahbubey Alam said yesterday.
The 63-year-old senior party leader faces the gallows within months unless his case is reviewed by the same court or he is granted clemency by the Bangladeshi president.
Dr Abdur Rob, professor of political science at the North South University in Dhaka, said the ruling was a big setback for Jamaat. "He was the main financier of the party," he said. "He also ran Jamaat's social and business enterprises and had very good connections across the world, especially in the Middle East."
The executions and convictions of Jamaat officials plunged the country into one of its worst crises in 2013 when tens of thousands of Islamist activists clashed with police in nationwide protests that left some 500 people dead.
The latest verdict is expected to widen the divide between secular groups and Islamic hardliners in the Muslim-majority nation, which has seen recent killings of secular bloggers, religious minorities and foreigners.
Opposition parties say the trials are politically motivated, aimed at weakening rivals to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's secular government. The government maintains the trials are needed to heal the wounds of the conflict, which it says left three million people dead.
Jamaat called for a nationwide strike today to protest against the verdict. The party opposed the wartime struggle for independence, and sided with the military regime in Islamabad. Independent researchers estimate that between 300,000 and 500,000 people died in the 1971 conflict.