Bangladesh gives death penalty to Islamist leader for war crimes
Motiur Rahman Nizami, chief of Bangladesh's fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami party, waves at students at a rally in Dhaka. Rafiquar Rahman/Reuters file photo

Bangladesh's war tribunal has sentenced the Islamist leader Motiur Rahman Nizami to death under charges of genocide, murder, torture and rape during the country's 1971 war of independence.

The 71-year-old leader of Jamaat-e-Islami - who is accused of having led Pakistani army's vigilante militia group known as al-Badr during Bangladesh's independence war four decades ago - was given the death sentence by a special court presided by a three-judge panel.

The judges announced the unanimous verdict in a packed courtroom in capital Dhaka after he was found guilty of eight of the 16 charges levelled against him.

"Considering the gravity of the crimes, the tribunal punished him with the death sentence," state prosecutor Mohammad Ali told reporters.

The charges include mass killing, execution of intellectuals and rape during the nine-month-long bloodshed in 1971.

The Jamaat has called for a nation-wide shutdown shortly after the tribunal's verdict.

"We are very unhappy with the judgment and the tribunal's observation," defence prosecutor Tajul Islam said of the outcome, adding that they would appeal against it.

The government has been accused of using the tribunal to settle scores with its political opponents.

Security was beefed up ahead of the verdict in Dhaka with scores of police personnel deployed to prevent clashes.

On earlier occasions, rights groups have questioned the standards of the tribunal which delivered the sentence.