The death sentence against a leading opposition figure in Bangladesh for war crimes will not bring justice to the millions of victims of the independence war, Amnesty International said.

Additionally, the defence team has consistently raised concerns that trial proceedings have not followed fair trial standards.

Motiur Rahman Nizami, head of Jamaat-e-Islami, the third largest political party in Bangladesh, was sentenced to death for war crimes on Wednesday by the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), a Bangladeshi court established to investigate the events of Bangladesh’s 1971 independence war.

“Bangladesh must overturn the death sentence against Motiur Rahman Nizami and all others. The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and can never be a way to deliver justice,” said Abbas Faiz, Amnesty International’s Bangladesh Researcher.

Perpetuating violence

“The crimes committed during the independence war were horrific, and there is no question that victims deserve justice. But the death penalty only perpetuates the cycle of violence.”

“The death penalty is not only a violation of the right to life, but it is an irreversible punishment if it leads to execution, and leaves no room to correct any possible judgment errors or fair trial violations from the proceedings.”

All verdicts so far have come against individuals associated with the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami party. The ICT has faced allegations of unfair trials from rights groups since it was established – complaints echoed by Nizami’s defence team during the trial.

“The ICT is a unique opportunity for justice and reconciliation in Bangladesh. But in the face of consistent concerns raised by the defence team about the trials not being fair it will only have the opposite effect and create more resentment,” said Abbas Faiz.

Protests likely

Previous death sentences handed down by the ICT have led to large-scale street protests, and Jamaat-e-Islami have already called for a three-day national strike (hartal) to protest today’s verdict.

“The political situation in Bangladesh is extremely tense, and there is a real risk that any street demonstrations could erupt into violence. It is crucial that security forces ensure that people’s right to demonstrate peacefully is respected, and that leaders on all sides urge their supporters to not commit abuses,” said Abbas Faiz.

As of today, 140 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Bangladesh was one of only nine countries that carried out executions every year between 2009 and 2013.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime; guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual; or the method used by the state to carry out the execution. The organization calls on the Bangladeshi authorities to immediately establish a moratorium on executions as a first step towards abolition and commute all death sentences.