Bangladesh Supreme Court Upholds Death Sentence for Jamaat Chief

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
160106-BD-death-sentence-620 Bangladeshi activists celebrate after the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence against Jamaat-e-Islami leader Motiur Rahman Nizami, Jan. 6, 2016.

The Bangladeshi Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the death sentence on a war-crime conviction for the head of Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s largest faith-based party.

Chief Justice S.K. Sinha, who led a four-member bench of the Supreme Court’s appellate (apex) division, confirmed Motiur Rahman Nizami’s death sentence for war crimes committed in 1971, including complicity in rapes, murders of intellectuals and mass killings.

“Motiur Rahman Nizami’s death sentence is upheld. The state has got justice. We are satisfied,” Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told reporters after the court pronounced its verdict.

He said Nizami was only one legal step away from being sent to the gallows: filing a review petition before the Supreme Court to change the verdict.

“What I can say as a lawyer is that the disposal of the review petition will not take much time,” Law Minister Anisul Huq told reporters.

Nizami is the fifth alleged criminal from Bangladesh’s war of independence from Pakistan in 1971 to have his death sentence upheld by the Supreme Court. The other four – a trio of Jamaat leaders and a senior official from the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) – all were executed, including three in 2015.

Khandker Mahbub Hussain, Nizami’s chief lawyer, told reporters that his client would need to determine if he wanted to file a petition for a review.

Hussain represented Nizami before the court in early December, claiming his client had not received a fair trial because the evidence presented by the prosecution was dubious.

“He may snub seeking a review petition as all review petitions in the past did not change the Supreme Court judgment,” Hussain told BenarNews.

Nizami will have 15 days to file a petition after the Supreme Court publishes the full verdict. There is no timeline for the court to publish the full verdict – it can take a day or several months.

The review judgment which would follow the verdict’s publication and defendant’s petition, could take a day or two. Nizami’s last chance to escape the death sentence, if his appeal fails, would be to seek clemency from the president.

On Nov. 22, senior BNP leader Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury and Jamaat Secretary-General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojahid were hanged simultaneously, days after losing their appeals to the Supreme Court and hours after the president rejected their clemency bids.

Also on Wednesday, the apex court heard an appeal from another convicted war criminal and Jamaat leader, Mir Quasem Ali, who also faces execution. The court set Feb. 2 as the date for ruling on Ali’s verdict.

Jamaat calls for peace

On the eve of the Supreme Court ruling, Jamaat posted a message on its website saying the party would protest the expected decision in Nizami’s case but also calling for peace across Bangladesh on Wednesday.

The statement also accused the government of being out to eliminate the party’s leadership through war-crime trials and convictions.

Nizami was arrested on June 29, 2010, and was put on trial before the country’s so-called International Criminal Court – its war crimes tribunal in May 2012, on 16 charges. He was sentenced to death on Oct. 29, 2014, on three of the charges, leading to the appeal to the Supreme Court.

It upheld Nizami’s death sentence over his complicity with Pakistani forces in the killings of 450 people and rapes of at least 30 women in four villages in his home district Pabna, about 200 km (125 miles) north of Dhaka.

In 1971, Nizami headed Jamaat’s student wing, Islami Chhatra Sangha. It turned into an armed group, al-Badr, which was responsible for exterminating country’s top intellectuals two days before Pakistani forces surrendered on Dec. 16 of that year.

The ruling Awami League, headed by Bangladesh’s founding president, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, led the war against Pakistan 45 years ago, when Bangladesh was known as East Pakistan. Assassinated in 1975, Rahman was the father of Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister who rules Bangladesh today.

Jamaat and its front organizations opposed Bangladesh’s independence and recruited its party men to aid the Pakistani army.

Ruling hailed

Activists campaigning for death sentences for war criminals celebrated the latest judgment.

“The Supreme Court’s verdict has given relief to the people. We want to see quick his execution,” Imran H. Sarker, the spokesman for Gonojagoron Moncho (Mass Awakening Platform), told reporters.

The grassroots movement was established in 2013 to demand capital punishment for all war criminals.

Sarker also criticized Jamaat’s ally, BNP, for appointing Nizami to its cabinet when the party governed Bangladesh from 2001 to 2006.

“This is common knowledge in Pabna that Nizami is a razakar [war criminal]. It is funny that he was punished after 45 years,” sexagenarian Abdul Baten, a resident of Nizami’s constituency, the Bera sub-district of Pabna, told BenarNews.


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