Bangladesh sentences war collaborator to death

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DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A special tribunal in Bangladesh sentenced a senior Islamist party leader to death Tuesday after convicting him of leading a militia that committed mass killings and rape during the country's 1971 independence war against Pakistan.

Judge M. Enayetur Rahim found A.T.M. Azharul Islam, assistant secretary general of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, guilty on five out of six charges, including killing unarmed civilians.

Islam was the leader of Al-Badr, a militia group in the country's northern region that collaborated with Pakistan's military in confronting fighters who fought for Bangladesh's independence. He is the eighth convicted leader from Jamaat-e-Islami, which openly campaigned against independence and worked as the core political force in favor of West Pakistan, now Pakistan.

Two separate tribunals in Bangladesh have been handling war crimes trials since 2010, and 16 people have been convicted overall.

Islam's lawyers said they would appeal. Jamaat-e-Islami called for a general strike to be held across the country on Wednesday and Thursday to denounce the verdict.

Bangladesh blames Pakistani soldiers and local collaborators for the deaths of 3 million people during the nine-month war. An estimated 200,000 women were raped and about 10 million people were forced to take shelter in refugee camps in neighboring India.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina set up the special tribunals in 2010, reviving a halted process in line with a pledge she made before 2008 elections. She has called the trials a long-overdue effort to ensure justice for the victims' families, four decades after Bangladesh split from Pakistan. But Jamaat-e-Islami says the trials are politically motivated.

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