Today, the Bangladesh Supreme Court rejected Abdul Kader Mullah’s appeal against his life-term sentence for war crimes, instead issuing a death sentence. The former assistant secretary general of Jamaat-e-Islami party was previously found guilty of war crimes committed during the war for independence from Pakistan in 1971 and was sentenced to a term of life imprisonment on February 5, 2013 by the Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal. Mullah has always denied the charges.
The February 2013 sentencing decision sparked widespread protests in Dhaka and other cities in Bangladesh by both supporters of the accused who demanded his release and opposition activists who demanded that he receive the death penalty. The protests led the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to amend the law to allow prosecutors to appeal against any verdict issued by the court. Prior to that amendment, prosecutors could only appeal verdicts that resulted in the acquittal of the defendant.
Tuesday’s decision was issued by a five-member panel headed by chief justice M. Muzammel Hossain, and effectively overturns the February 5, 2013 sentence. According to Prosecutor Ziad Al Mulam, the sentencing holding was approved by four to one of the Supreme Court justices.
The sentencing decision has not been met without criticism. Mullah’s defence lawyers claim that it falls foul of political influence, with one of Mullah’s lawyers stating that: “The trial process has been shown to be nothing short of a political show trial aimed at removing an Islamist political party, suppressing the opposition and securing the next election for the present Awami League government. [...] The language of the trial judgement clearly demonstrates that it had little to do with individual criminal liability and more about demonizing a political opponent”.
Although local media sources report Mullah’s lawyers saying that they intend to submit a petition for review of the decision, the attorney general has said that no appeals against a Supreme Court verdict are allowed.