Bangladesh's Supreme Court on Wednesday commuted the death sentence of Delwar Hossain Sayedee, a top Islamist preacher whose sentencing last year triggered the deadliest political violence in the country's history.
In a surprise ruling, the court said Sayedee should spend "the rest of his natural life" in jail, attorney general Mahbubey Alam said.
"We had expected that the court would uphold his death sentence," Alam told reporters.
Lawyers for Sayedee said they were not satisfied with the court's ruling on the 74-year-old, who was convicted last year on eight counts including murder, rape and persecution of the country's minority Hindu community.
"He should have been acquitted of all charges as the case was tainted by a number controversies," Khandaker Mahbub Hossain told reporters.
Last February's judgement by a war crimes court triggered weeks of bloody protests left more than 100 people dead and plunged the impoverished nation into a major crisis.
Security was tightened nationwide ahead of Wednesday's ruling, with thousands of police, the elite security force, Rapid Action Battalion, and the paramilitary border guards being deployed in major cities and towns.
Sayedee, vice-president of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, was one the country's most popular Islamic preachers with millions of followers.
In his heyday he would draw hundreds of thousands to his preaching sessions, and CDs of his speeches were top sellers.
He has said the original judgement was influenced by "atheists" and pro-government protesters who wanted to see him executed.