The war crimes tribunal trying those accused of committing atrocities during the Bangladesh liberation war in 1971 pronounced its first verdict on Monday, awarding death sentence to a former Jamaat-e-Islami leader, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.

Maulana Azad, best known as ‘Bachchu Razakar’, was the leader of Islami Chhatra Sangha, the then student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami. He went into hiding a few hours before the war crimes tribunal issued an arrest warrant against him on April 3 last year. On November 4, Azad was indicted on eight charges based on eight incidents that left at least 12 people, mostly minority Hindus, dead and in which several Hindu women were raped, during the 1971 war. He was convicted on seven of the charges and sentenced to death by hanging.

The much-awaited verdict by the International Crimes Tribunal-2 was passed by chairman of the three-member panel Justice Obaidul Hassan. The summary of the 112-page verdict was pronounced in a packed court amid tight security.

The tribunal chairman said though Azad’s lesser crimes warranted only imprisonment, the judges had been unanimous in awarding a single death sentence for his major crimes like murder. “We have taken due notice of the intrinsic gravity of the offence of ‘genocide’ and murders as ‘crimes against humanity’, being offences which are particularly shocking to the conscience of mankind,” read the verdict. The order said though Azad had been sighted at an army torture camp, the charge of abduction, confinement and torture had not been proven beyond doubt.

The court order said the order would be “executed after causing his arrest or when he surrenders before the tribunal, whichever is earlier”. According to law, convicts can appeal in the appellate division of the Bangladesh Supreme Court within a month of the verdict. But Azad will not get the chance if he does not surrender or is arrested. “The historic verdict has fulfilled the nation’s aspirations,” tribunal prosecutor Saidur Rahman told journalists after the verdict.

Trying the war criminals was an electoral commitment of the ruling Awami League led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The government set up the first tribunal on March 25, 2009 and the second tribunal was set up three years later to expedite the trials.

Liberation War veterans have expressed satisfaction over the verdict and National Human Rights Commission Chairman Mizanur Rahman called for early execution of the order. “We were eagerly waiting for this verdict. I am happy over the death sentence being given for crimes against humanity,” said Mr. Rahman.

He was happy as this verdict had started the culture of accountability, and he was somewhat frustrated since Bachchu Razakar was still out of law’s reach.

Several other top Jamaat leaders who allegedly sided with the Pakistan army to oppose Bangladesh’s independence are facing trial in the two tribunals for war crimes and crimes against humanity charges.

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