[JURIST] A former Bangladeshi Islamist party leader, who was imprisoned for war crimes last year, died on Thursday of a heart attack in a prison cell of a government hospital. Ghulam Azam was 91 when his life support was removed [AP report] at the Bangabandhu Sehikh Mujib Medical University. Azam was sentenced last year to 90 years in prison on 61 charges of war crimes during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War [Bangladesh News backgrounder]. Azam led the Islamist party until 2000, but was still considered to be its spiritual leader.
Activists have long called for the banning of the country’s largest Islamist party. In September the Supreme Court of Bangladesh commuted the death sentence [JURIST report] of top Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) [party website; Global Security backgrounder] Vice President Delwar Hossain Sayedee, sentencing him to life behind bars for crimes committed during the 1971 war. In March Bangladeshi investigators moved the government [JURIST report] to ban Islamist party after evidence emerged indicating that JI formed armed groups to assist Pakistani forces in the commission of atrocities. On February 10 prominent JI leader AKM Yusuf, died [JURIST report] of cardiac arrest while in prison awaiting trial for his role in the 1971 conflict. He was accused of helping to train leaders of the pro-Pakistan paramilitary group called the “Razakars.” Another party leader, Abdus Subhan, was arrested in September 2013 and charged [JURIST report] by the tribunal in January for his alleged role. In December the Bangladeshi government executed [JURIST report] Abdul Quader Mullah for war crimes. Though originally sentenced to life in prison by the tribunal, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh in September sentenced him to death with no opportunity to appeal. The execution sparked widespread protests.