A Bangladesh war crimes tribunal on Tuesday awarded death penalty to Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, a top ranking opposition leader, for murder and genocide during the country’s Liberation War in 1971.

Nine of the 23 charges levelled against Chowdhury (64) were proved “beyond doubt”. He was a leading youth activist of Muslim League then, became Minister later and is now a presidium member of main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP),

A firebrand critic of the liberation war and secular politics, Chowdhury received death penalty for four charges, including genocide; 20-years for three charges; and five-years each for two other charges.

The convict’s family and counsels said they would appeal against the verdict before the Supreme Court in accordance with the law that Parliament had passed in 1973, two years after independence, to try those committed crimes against humanity as cohorts of the Pakistan army.

In a jam-packed courtroom, a three-member International Crimes Tribunal-1 led by Justice ATM Fazle Kabir, pronounced the verdict.

First MP convicted

Chowdhury is the first sitting MP to be convicted at the war crime tribunals. Six others, convicted earlier, so were from the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) party.

The prosecution produced 41 witnesses, including an eyewitness to prove the charges against Chowdhury. The court said the prosecution has failed to prove eight charges levelled against Chowdhury, who is the son of late Fazlul Quader Chowdhury, a prominent Muslim League leader who became Speaker of Pakistan Parliament.

While the BNP kept silent on the judgment, the ruling Awami League said rule of law had been established. The freedom fighters and scores of “pro-Liberation” organisations including civil society leaders have welcomed the judgment.