Tensions are simmering in Bangladesh as an Islamist leader has been sentenced to death. Motiur Rahman Nizami has been found guilty of arms smuggling and sentenced to hang. Mr. Nizami also faces charges of war crimes dating back to the independence war in 1971. With tensions already high in Bangladesh, many fear that this could lead to further unrest.
Thirteen other co-conspirators were also sentenced to hang. Mr. Nizami was the industry minister in 2004 when an arms cache was found in the port city of Chittagong. Prosecutors claim that Mr. Nizami was smuggling these weapons in to Assamese rebels in India.
Long history as leading Islamist
Mr. Nizami is the president of Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest Islamist party in Bangladesh. Previously, the party had held seats in the national parliament, but a Supreme Court ruling in August of 2013 declared that the party was unfit to stand election.
Jamaat-e-Islami was originally banned in Bangladesh after independence in 1971. Some of its leaders went into exile to Pakistan including Mr. Nizami. He was latter indicted by the International Crimes Tribunal for crimes committed during the liberation war, however, international observers believed that the charges could have been for political, not criminal reasons as all those charged were from opposition parties.
Mr. Nizami eventually returned to Bangladesh and was elected to the parliament in 1991. He would later lose his seat in the 1996 elections, but remained a powerful political force and leader of the conservative Islamist community within the country.
Mr. Nizami has since fallen from grace over charges of corruption, and his alleged past war crimes. In 2008, the Anti-Corruption Commission of Bangledesh issued a warrant for the arrest of Mr. Nizami. In March of 2011 he was again arrested, this time to face charges over the weapons smuggling case in which he has now been convicted.
Tensions may boil over; Bangladesh already on edge
Bangladesh wrapped up a highly controversial election just a few weeks ago, with protesters taking to the streets for various reasons. There were widespread reports of clashes between competing political parties, the police, and other activists. Now, Bangladesh may face another period of turbulence.
Islamists have taken to the streets various times in support of Mr. Nizami. With the leader now facing death, supporters may once again try to take to the streets to secure his release, or at least a reprieve from the impending hanging. With human rights groups claiming that the trial did not adhere to international standards, Bangladesh may also face international pressure.