The three-judge tribunal unanimously pronounced the verdict finding him guilty of murder and other serious crimes in a packed courtroom at the High Court premises in presence of Molla, who wore a gloomy look.
Molla was indicted for six war crimes charges on May 28 last year including mass murder, conspiracy and instigation in 1971.
This is the second verdict since the Sheikh Hasina government in 2010 initiated the process of trying those who committed crimes against humanity during the Liberation War under an amended 1973 law.
The Jamaat leader was sentenced to life in prison for murder and rape in two cases. He was acquitted of one charge.
The court also sentenced Molla to 15 years in prison for complicity in three charges of murder.
Reading out the part of the 135-page judgment, tribunal Chairman Justice Obaidul Hassan said the lesser sentences would naturally converge ‘with the life sentence’.
All three judges took turns reading out the 35-page summary for about an hour-and-a-half at the end of which Quader Molla stood up with a loud, ‘Allahu Akbar’.
He had appealed to the judge for allowing to speak, but Justice Hassan asked him, “Please take your seat.”
Molla said after the judgement that it was unjust. “They have given a verdict like executioners.”
Molla continued to say that he was innocent and that he was not even in Dhaka during the crimes for which he was being punished.
Junior Law Minister Qamrul Islam, however, said he was ‘frustrated’ with the verdict handing down life sentence to Molla and hinted that the prosecution could appeal against it.
”The verdict did not reflect the expectations of the people, who had expected otherwise. We are frustrated,” he said.
But Law Minister Shafique Ahmed left it to the prosecution to decide.
“There is scope for both sides to appeal against the verdict. If the prosecution thinks they can appeal. It depends on them,” he said.
Ahmed said the government did not look at the verdict from a partisan standpoint.
“The tribunals are working independently,” he said.
Attorney General Mahbubey Alam said they would decide later whether to appeal against the verdict.
Mohammad Ali, the prosecutor handling the case from the beginning, said he was not satisfied with the judgement. “I had expected capital punishment.”
He said for at least two of the charges Molla should have been ‘sentenced to death’.
Reacting immediately to the verdict, defence lawyer Abdur Razzaq said they would appeal against the verdict as the charges of crimes against Molla had not been ‘established’.
“The sentence manifestly is a perverse judgment. We will certainly appeal,” he said.
The first of the charges brought against him was that he had allegedly ordered the shooting of a Mirpur Bangla College student, Pallab, on Apr 5 1971.
The Second charge said the Jamaat leader had killed poet Meherunnisa, her mother and two brothers on Mar 27 at their Mirpur residence.
He had allegedly picked up journalist Khandkar Abu Taleb from Arambagh area and slaughtered him in the Jalladkhana Pump House on Mar 29, according to the third charge.
The fourth charge stated Molla had led a group of Razakars and killed hundreds of unarmed villagers in Keraniganj’s Bhawl Khanbari and Ghatarchar areas. The prosecution could not prove this charge, the verdict said.
The fifth charge alleged that the Jamaat leader went to Alokdi village on Apr 24, along with the Pakistan army and a band of Razakars, and went on a killing spree. Over 344 residents of the village were killed in the massacre.
The last charge alleged Molla of directing a band of men with him to shoot Hazrat Ali Lashkar, slaughter his pregnant wife and youngest daughter, and slam his two-year-old son against the ground and kill him on Mar 26 at their Mirpur Section 12 residence. One of Lashkar’s daughters was also raped.
Despite stiff resistance from the Jamaat-e-Islami, which wants repeal of the war crimes tribunals and claims that their leaders are victims of vendetta, the government has vowed to go ahead with the trial, saying it is justice delayed but not denied for the people who suffered so much during the war.
Opposition leader and BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia had earlier said the trials were a ‘farce’, but the party on Monday said they did not support its key political partner Jamaat-e-Islami’s demand for repeal of the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT).
The Awami League had promised war crimes trials before the 2008 parliament elections and apparently received overwhelming response from both young and old alike.
The tribunal's maiden verdict on Jan 21 handed down death sentence to a former Jamaat leader Abul Kalam Azad, popularly known as Bachchu Razakar.
The Jamaat supported the cause of undivided Pakistan and opposed the Bengali struggle for independence. It formed armed support groups like Razakars, Al Badr and Al Shams to back the Pakistani war to thwart the liberation movement. These groups were allegedly responsible for some of the horrendous atrocities during the Liberation War.
Official estimates suggest 3 million people were killed and 200,000 women raped during the nine-month war.
Many have expressed their frustration over a relatively ‘mild verdict’.
'Butcher' of Bengalis
The prosecution presented seven charges against Molla on Mar 7 as the indictment hearing began at ICT-1. The case was later shifted to the second tribunal on Apr 16 following a prosecution petition.
A case was filed with Keraniganj police on Dec 17, 2007 against a number of Jamaat leaders including Molla for killing a person named Mostofa during the Liberation War. Another case was filed against him with Pallabi police in 2008. He was arrested on July 13, 2010 over the second case.
The prosecution brought crimes against humanity charges including murder, rape and arson in its probe report placed at the tribunal on Nov 1, 2011. The court took it into cognisance on Dec 28 the same year.
The prosecution report said that the Jamaat leader operated in Mirpur and Mohammadpur areas of Dhaka during the Liberation War and started killing Bengalis from March 25, 1971 midnight. Local Biharis assisted Molla in his killing and he also took part in the genocide at Mirpur's Alokdi village and was named the 'butcher' for his atrocities.
In league with the Urdu-speaking Biharis and other non-Bengalis, he is said to have unleashed a killing spree even before the crackdown on Bengalis by Pakistani forces on the night of March 25, 1971, known as ‘Operation Searchlight’.