The verdict brings the first and perhaps the most sensational war crimes case to an end after 16 months since the charges had been framed against the person best known across Bangladesh for his sermons.
The sentencing triggered immediate violence in some parts of Bangladesh, mostly in northern districts, killing at least 35 people until midnight Thursday.
The 72-year-old was driven to the tribunal in a microbus 30 minutes before the judges met to deliver the verdict.
The three-member International Crimes Tribunal -1, set up on Mar 25, 2010 to try crimes against humanity during the 1971 Liberation War, met at 11:10am with Sayedee already in the dock.
The court began with presiding judge ATM Fazle Kabir making a few statements to set the mood of the court before reading out a summary of the 120-page verdict.
“You know him (Sayedee). He is a prominent Maulana whose sermons draw huge crowds of believers,” said Justice Kabir. “Another identity of him is that he is a Jamaat-e-Islami Leader.”
“But we have sat here not to hold trial of any Maulana or Jamaat leader. We are here to try the Sayedee who was known as Delu Razakar during 1971.”
Sayedee appeared tense throughout, dressed in a white Panjabi with a black vest on it, as Justice Anwarul Hoque started reading the verdict with permission from the tribunal Chairman.
Sayedee was indicted for 20 charges on Oct 3, 2011, was arrested and brought before the tribunal for the first time on Nov 2, 2010.
The Nayeb-e-Amir of Jamaat, with his trademark hennaed beard, and his case at the ICT-1, have been the subject of much attention.
Justice Hoque said prosecution has successfully established Sayedee’s role as the leader of the local Razakar unit in Perozpur, which was involved in many crimes against humanity.
In the tribunal, the orders passed in this case settled precedents for other cases at both the war crimes tribunals. The second tribunal was set up to expedite war crimes trials on Mar 23, 2012.
One of the largest Islamist parties in the sub-continent, Jamaat is now facing the heat in Bangladesh, with almost its entire top leadership behind the bars and up on the docks on war crimes charges.
Those facing trial include the party’s former chief, its current chief, the secretary general and an assistant secretary general.
One assistant secretary general, Abdul Quader Molla, was sentenced to life for his war crimes on Feb 5 which sparked off mass protests demanding the death penalty.
Since his arrest, the tribunal disposed of a number of bail petitions.
Responding to a prayer by Sayedee’s counsel, the court directed the authorities to ensure better treatment of the accused in the hospital and for providing him with “health friendly” transport during his movement between the jail, the tribunal and the hospital.
The prosecution proposed formal charges on Jul 11, 2011 alleging that Sayedee was a member and leader of the local Razakar unit, a vigilante militia, committed crimes against humanity.
The tribunal took cognisance of the charges on Jul 14, 2011.
The prosecution’s case is that Sayedee was a minor road side vendor at Parerhat before the Liberation War when he was known by the surname of Shikdar. He, however, became a member of the local Peace Committee, an infamous social platform mobilised centrally by right-wing political parties opposed to Bangladesh’s independence.
Sayedee came to prominence, apparently, because of his fluency in Urdu and went on to lead the local Razakar units on a number of raids.
Soon after the war, Sayedee went into hiding fearing reprisals by freedom fighters, only to emerge much later with a changed surname.
Sayedee’s 20 charges included genocide, murder, rape, arson, loot and persecution.
The defence, however, argued that this was a case of mistaken identity saying that the notorious Delwar Hossain Shikdar had been apprehended and executed by freedom fighters after the war.
Sayedee, the man being charged, the defence said, used to reside in Jessore during and before 1971 and was even engaged in giving sermons back then.
He, and his family, had fled Jessore looking for safety and stayed at the house of a ‘Peer’ for about two weeks from around Apr 1, 1971. Thereafter the Sayedee family took refuge in another village, Mohiron, under Bagharpara in Jessore at one Roushan Ali’s house.
The Sayedee family, the defence argued, stayed there for two months and a half. They then went to their village home.
The Jamaat leader has lost his eldest son and his mother during the trial.
He himself suffered a heart attack as well, on his return from son Rafique Sayedee’s funeral. The following surgery, administering three stents, forced him to stay away from the trial for almost a month around mid-2012.
There have been 28 witnesses for the prosecution and 16 for the defence.
In addition, the tribunal received 16 witness statements given to the investigator after the prosecution argued that those witnesses were either dead, or that producing them before the tribunal would incur unreasonable delay or expenditure.
The investigator, Mohammad Helal Uddin, an additional superintendent of police, was grilled for almost 50 days between Apr 8 and Aug 13 last year. The investigator first deposed for eight days and then faced cross-examination for more than 40 days.
Together with his deposition and cross-examination the court recorded a little less than 153,000 words, enough to fill 38 pages of broadsheet newspaper.