Ten Bangladesh convicts on death row won the right to a final appeal against their conviction and sentence for war crimes, the country’s top legal official said Tuesday.
The Supreme Court ruled that the seven religious leaders and three other convicts were eligible to seek review of their sentences, delivered by a controversial tribunal probing Bangladesh’s 1971 independence war against Pakistan.
Prosecutors had argued that convicts did not qualify for the additional appeal because they were convicted under the country’s special war crimes laws.
“They will be allowed to seek review,” Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told reporters of the court’s ruling handed down earlier Tuesday.
One convict, a senior figure of the country’s largest Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami, was executed late last year following his conviction for mass murder and rape during the war.
The tribunal has convicted and sentenced 14 people since it was set up in 2010 by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s secular government in a bid, it says, to heal the wounds of the conflict.
Eleven of those received the death penalty including five who are top officials of the Jamaat, which claims the war crimes charges are politically motivated, aimed at eradicating its leaders.
The convictions have sparked deadly violence in Bangladesh, with thousands of Jamaat activists taking to the streets in protest and clashing with security forces.
Defence lawyers hailed the ruling, saying the 10 convicts would have a fresh chance to overturn their final appeals verdict.
“The Supreme Court said that a convict can seek a review of the appeals verdict within 15 days after the publication of the judgement,” said Tajul Islam, a lawyer who represents Mohammad Kamaruzzaman, who was facing execution for war crimes.
The Supreme Court last month rejected Kamaruzzaman’s appeal and upheld his death sentence. But Islam said Kamaruzzaman, convicted of heading a pro-Pakistani milita, had now been given another chance.