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A fugitive Islamic cleric linked to the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami party, who is believed to be in Pakistan, was today handed down death penalty by a special Bangladesh court for crimes like murdering six Hindus and raping several women during the 1971 Liberation War.
In its maiden verdict, the three-member International Crimes Tribunal-2 sentenced 63-year-old Abul Kalam Azad, an anchor of Islamic programmes at a private TV channel, to death.
"Abul Kalam Azad (alias Bacchu Razakar) will be hanged by neck till his death," the tribunal's Chairman, Justice Obaidul Hassan, pronounced at a crowed courtroom in downtown Dhaka after the trial in absentia.
Azad, a former member of fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami party, fled the country in April last year as he was charged with "crimes against humanity" during Bangladesh's India-backed Liberation War when he sided with Pakistani troops in 1971.
The court said Azad, who also heads an Islamic charity, was awarded capital punishment as seven of the eight charges of murder, mass killing, abduction, rape and torture against him were "proved beyond doubt."
It said it was proved from witnesses' testimonies that the accused directly carried out the crimes as an armed member of 'Razakar' force, an auxiliary unit comprising Bengali-speaking collaborators of the Pakistani army in 1971.
"The accused cannot be considered merely an absentee accused. He is an absconded accused. Evading trial for the offences of which he has been charged with signifies his culpability too."
Prosecutors earlier said Azad himself had shot dead six Hindus and raped several women, the charges which were proved during the trial.
Media reports, quoting police sources, had said that Azad is believed to be hiding in Pakistan.
Lawyers said under the International Crimes Tribunal Act, Azad could avail a chance to get his verdict reviewed by the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court if he surrenders or is arrested in next 30 days, on expiry of which it would depend on the apex court to decide if his trial would be reviewed.