Motiur Rahman Nizami, the chief of Bangladesh’s largest faith-based party, was hanged shortly after midnight on Tuesday for war crimes committed 45 years ago.
The 73-year-old leader of the opposition Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) was executed at Dhaka’s central jail less than three hours after family members were summoned there to see him for the last time.
Senior Jail Superintendent Jahangir Kabir told reporters that Nizami was put to death at 12:10 a.m. Wednesday (local time), and his body would be sent for burial to his village in Santhia, a sub-district of northwestern Pabna district.
Earlier, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal discussed events leading up to Nizami’s execution.
“We have exhausted all legal procedures before he was hanged. He was asked whether he would seek presidential mercy, and he said ‘no,’” Kamal told BenarNews. Under the Bangladeshi constitution, the president can pardon any person condemned to death.
Nizami was brought to Dhaka from Kashimpur jail on Sunday. By Tuesday, officials deployed army and police units around the central jail in anticipation of potential post-execution violence and hangmen were transported from the Kashimpur jail to carry out the execution.
Meanwhile, paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh forces were deployed throughout the Bangladeshi capital to counter any protests by Nizami supporters. Traffic on roads leading to the jail was brought to a standstill.
Gonojagoron Moncho (Mass Awakening Platform) activists gathered at the Shahbag Square in Dhaka to celebrate as authorities carried out final preparations.
“This execution will be earmarked as a milestone in our history. … This execution will tell our next generations that we have not spared the killers even after 45 years,” spokesman Imran H. Sarker told the gathering as activists hugged, chanted slogans and flashed the victory sign.
Nizami’s execution was the first one of a convicted criminal from Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence from Pakistan since November, when JeI Secretary General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojahid and Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury, a senior official from the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), were executed together.
For days afterward, the country remained on a heightened state of alert as thousands of police and paramilitary units were deployed in Dhaka and other major cities. The government shut down social media sites Facebook, Viber and WhatsApp for several days over fears that troublemakers could communicate with each other or foment violence.
‘Reign of terror’
Nizami was arrested on March 29, 2010, on a charge of “hurting religious sentiment,” and he was later arrested on war-crime charges.
On Oct. 29, 2014, Bangladesh’s war-crimes tribunal sentenced Nizami to death for four charges, including planning the massacre of intellectuals and other crimes committed during the war in 1971. He appealed to the appellate division of the Supreme Court, but on Jan. 6, 2016, it upheld his death sentence.
According to the Bangladeshi legal system, he was given the opportunity to petition before the apex court for a review of its verdict. Last week, the Supreme Court’s appellate division rejected his petition and ordered his execution, starting the countdown that led to his hanging just after midnight Wednesday.
Jamaat-e-Islami officially opposed Bangladesh’s birth and sided with the Pakistani army during the war. JeI formed auxiliary units to aid the Pakistani army in killing, torturing and raping civilians, the war-crimes tribunal observed in its verdicts.
Nizami was head of one of the auxiliary forces, Al-Badr. The war crimes tribunal said Al-Badr was behind the murder of Bangladesh’s leading intellectuals on Dec. 14, 1971 – two days before Pakistani forces surrendered in Dhaka.
The tribunal, known officially in Bangladesh as the International Criminal Court, also determined that the JeI chief perpetrated massacres in his hometown in Pabna – some 205 km (127 miles) northwest of Dhaka.
A group of pro-independence war veterans gathered at the Santhia Bazaar to remember the local victims of Nizami’s alleged torture.
“Nizami established a reign of terror in Bera and Santhia areas of Pabna. The Pakistan army and Nizami’s men encircled the whole village in Bausgari and killed innocent people indiscriminately. At least 600 people died there,” Johurul Haque, a Santhia resident who testified against Nizami, told BenarNews on Tuesday night.
“We are very happy with his execution.”
Nizami’s son, attorney Nazib Momen, told reporters that the allegations against his father were false.