DHAKA, Bangladesh – Hundreds of thousands of people rallied in Bangladesh's capital on Friday to demand executions for people convicted of war crimes involving the nation's independence war in 1971.
The protesters in Dhaka urged Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to review a verdict sentencing a senior leader of Bangladesh's largest Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami, to life in prison for killings and other crimes.
The protesters said the life term was not enough since a tribunal had found Abdul Quader Mollah guilty of five charges, including playing a role in the killing of 381 unarmed civilians.
The government will appeal the sentence. A lawyer said the defense would also appeal, seeking an acquittal for Mollah, whose verdict is the second after Hasina came to power through a 2008 election and formed a tribunal to try those suspected of war crimes. Both sides have 30 days to appeal to the Supreme Court.
The life sentence comes after a former party member was sentenced to death last month.
The exact number of protesters was difficult to know, but streets near Dhaka University were filled with 1971 fighters, students, political activists, teachers and people from other walks of life. Some organizers put the number at up to 200,000, and Anjan Roy, a television talk show moderator who lost more than a dozen family members and relatives in the 1971 war, told The Associated Press that more than 100,000 people had joined the rally.
Hours after Tuesday's verdict by an International Crimes Tribunal, protesters burst into the street, denouncing the verdict. They protested nonstop since while planning for Friday's mass rally.
Many of the younger protesters said they were not happy with the verdict.
"We will not return home unless we get justice, complete justice," said Shakil Ahmed, a college student. "I did not see 1971, but those who killed our people and helped Pakistani troops in their effort to halt the creation of Bangladesh should be hanged."
Hasina's government initiated a process in 2010 of trying those accused of committing crimes against humanity during the war.
Jamaat-e-Islami — a partner in a former Bangladeshi government — says the charges are politically motivated, but authorities deny the claim.
Jamaat campaigned against Bangladesh's independence war and stands accused of forming several groups to help Pakistani troops in killing, rape and arson. Until it gained independence in 1971, Bangladesh was the eastern wing of Pakistan, and Bangladesh says Pakistani troops aided by local collaborators killed 3 million people and raped 200,000 women. The war forced 10 million people to seek shelter at refugee camps in neighboring India.
Last month, the tribunal sentenced former party member Abul Kalam Azad to death in the first war crimes trial verdict.
International human rights groups have raised questions about the conduct of the tribunals, including the disappearance of a defense witness outside the courthouse gates.
Jamaat-e-Islami was a partner in the former government of Khaleda Zia, a longtime political rival of Hasina. Zia has called the tribunal a farce, while Hasina has urged Zia to stop backing those she says fought against independence.
Five other leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami have been accused of committing atrocities during the nine-month war.