A Bangladesh tribunal sentenced an Islamic cleric formerly tied to a fundamentalist party to death on Monday for crimes against humanity for his actions during the country’s 1971 independence war.

First of its kind

The conviction of Abul Kalam Azad was the first verdict handed down by a controversial tribunal trying people accused of committing crimes during the war.

Azad, a former senior member of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, was tried in absentia after he reportedly fled to Pakistan last April upon being charged. He was expelled from the party.

Jamaat-e-Islami campaigned in 1971 against Bangladesh’s war of separation from Pakistan. The party stands accused of supporting or in some cases taking part in atrocities committed by Pakistani troops.The government has appointed a defense counsel for Azad.

Background

Bangladesh says that during the nine-month war, Pakistani troops, aided by their local collaborators, killed 3 million people and raped about 200,000 women.

International human rights groups have raised questions about the conduct of the tribunals set up by the government to prosecute those accused of war crimes.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has complained about flaws in the process including the disappearance of a defense witness outside the courthouse gates.

The judge presiding over another tribunal resigned last month after the British publication The Economist reported that it had conversations of Skype and email conversations between him and a Belgium-based Bangladeshi lawyer that raised serious questions about the workings of the tribunal.

The courtroom was packed on Monday as Obaidul Hassan, the head judge of a separate, three-member tribunal, pronounced Azad guilty of crimes including murder, abduction and looting.

A former chief of Jamaat-e-Islami and its other top leaders also face prosecution.AP