DHAKA: Bangladesh’s top court, on Monday, upheld a life sentence for an Islamist preacher convicted of war crimes, rejecting calls for him to be hanged.

The Supreme Court stood by its 2014 decision to jail Delwar Hossain Sayeedi for life over atrocities committed during Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence against Pakistan.

Sayeedi’s lawyers wanted the prominent member of Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh’s largest Islamist party, acquitted while government attorneys sought capital punishment for the 77-year-old cleric.

“The court rejected the review appeals by both sides,” Sayeedi’s lawyer Tanvir Al Amin told AFP.

Five Jamaat leaders, including Motiur Rahman Nizami, have been executed for their alleged part in bloody crimes during the war of independence.

Sayeedi was sentenced to death in 2013 by a war crimes tribunal, despite criticism by human rights groups that the proceedings failed to meet international norms.

The verdict triggered some of the worst political violence in years in the Muslim-majority nation, with scores left dead as tens of thousands clashed with police.

Support for the radical preacher — whose sermons could draw hundreds of thousands — swelled even further after rumours that his image was seen in the moon, a perceived sign of his innocence.

The Supreme Court in 2014 commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment, angering secularists who had fought for decades for top Jamaat-e-Islami members to be punished for war crimes.

Sayeedi and other members of the party were implicated in the murder, rape and torture of Hindus and pro-independence Bangladeshis seeking a secular nation free from Pakistani rule.

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The court decision in Sayeedi’s case comes as Bangladesh grapples with a rise in extremism, as the moderate Islam worshipped for generations gives way to a more conservative interpretation of the scriptures.

The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has ordered a crackdown on homegrown extremists after a series of bloody attacks, but has more recently made concessions to try to woo support.