Bangladesh’s Supreme Court has commuted the death sentence of a top Islamist opposition leader convicted of war crimes committed during the country’s war of independence with Pakistan in 1971.
Last year’s sentencing of Delwar Hossain Sayedee, a leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, triggered weeks of protests and rioting that left more than 100 people dead.
In a surprise ruling Wednesday, Chief Justice Muzammel Hossain said Sayedee would remain imprisoned “for the rest of his natural life.”
The 74-year old Sayedee was convicted on eight charges including murder, rape and persecution of the country’s minority Hindu community.
Bangladesh, formerly known as East Pakistan, fought a nine-month war against Pakistan in 1971 to obtain its independence. Sayedee’s grouping, the Jamaat-e-Islami, was one of several factions in Bangladesh that opposed the break-up. At least 10 of its leaders have been convicted of war crimes, charges they deny.
The government says three million people died in the violence, although other estimates give a lower death toll.