UNITED NATIONS - Hundreds of Bangladeshis staged an angry demonstration in front the UN building on Thursday to protest war crimes trials linked to the country’s 1971 war, and denounced the death sentences handed down to Islamic leaders for siding with Pakistan.

Braving cold weather, Bangladeshi men, women and children called the tribunals, set up by Sheikh Hasina’s government to try Jamaat-e-Islami and other Islamic party leaders on charges of atrocities during the war, as totally ‘discredited and politically biased’.

Speakers at the gathering urged UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to intervene in order to prevent further killings of their compatriots by Bangladeshi security forces, whom they accused of firing indiscriminately to quell peaceful protests.

A spokesman for the secretary-general said he had no immediate comments on the situation in Bangladesh that the UN is closely monitoring.

But UN’s independent experts have already voiced concern over the trials, saying the recent sentences, including the death penalty, handed down in cases that did not ensure due process.

During nearly two-hour demonstration, the Bangladeshis shouted slogans of “Allah-o-Akbar”, and urged fellow Muslims to join them in their struggle to seek justice in their country.

They carried large banners and portraits of the Bangladeshi political leaders who have been targeted by the government, pointing out that Delwar Hossain Sayedee, 73, vice-president of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, was on Thursday found guilty by Bangladesh’s war crimes.

The tribunal has also been criticized by rights groups for failing to adhere to international standards. Human Rights Watch said lawyers, witnesses and investigators reported they had been threatened.

On January 21, the tribunal sentenced Abul Kalam Azad, a former Jamaat member, to death in absentia after he was found guilty of torture, rape and genocide during the independence war. In its second verdict, on February 5, the tribunal sentenced another senior Jamaat member, Abdul Quader Mollah, 64, to life in prison after he was found guilty of murder, rape, torture and arson. Both verdicts triggered protests in Bangladesh by Jamaat supporters, in which many people were killed.