Jamaat-e-Islami riot, May 2013
Jamaat-e-Islami riot, May 2013 Reuters

In a controversial ruling that is bound to anger Bangladeshi Islamists, the country's Supreme Court has sentenced a leading Islamist figure to death by hanging, for crimes he committed during the Bangladesh's struggle for independence against Pakistan.

65 year-old Abdul Quader Molla is the fourth-highest leader of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party and had originally been sentenced to life in prison by Bangladesh's war crimes tribunal.

But a retrial was called after that original sentence was slammed by both secularist groups (for being too lenient) and Islamists (for being too harsh) - and triggered riots in which at least 100 people were killed.

The Supreme Court rejected an appeal to acquit Molla of all charges.

The decision has been celebrated by secularist groups, who accuse Molla of being the notorious "Butcher of Mirpur," and demanded his execution over the murder of hundreds of innocent villagers in a suburb of the country's capital, Dhaka, during the "Liberation War" of 1971.

His defense lawyers, however, described his shock at the verdict.

"We are stunned by the verdict. This is the first time in South Asian judicial history that a trial court sentence has been enhanced by a supreme court," said Defense lawyer Tajul Islam.

The sentencing is likely to trigger an angry response from Islamist supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami, as security forces prepare for violence.

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