Motiur Rahman Nizami, the chief of Bangladesh’s largest faith-based party, is a step closer to the gallows after the Supreme Court on Thursday rejected his appeal of a death sentence on a war-crime conviction.
The head of the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) party lost his last legal bid to avoid execution when a four-member panel of the court’s appellate division turned down Nizami’s claim of innocence over crimes committed during the war of independence in 1971.
“Motiur Rahman Nizami’s review appeal has been rejected and the court upheld his death sentence. This verdict ends legal procedures. The only option left for him is to seek presidential clemency,” Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told reporters after the court’s ruling.
Alam said the jail authorities would read out the death warrant to Nizami and ask him whether he would submit a petition for clemency.
“He would get the time to file the petition,” the attorney general said without specifying a time for execution. Previously, hangings have been carried out within days of similar rulings.
Nizami’s lawyer, Khandker Mahbub Hossain, told BenarNews that he was not sure what the next step would be.
“My client will decide whether he wants to seek presidential clemency,” Hosain said.
JeI, which is aligned with the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), has called a nationwide three-day protest against the ruling, including a general strike on Sunday, according to a statement posted on JeI’s website.
Starting on Wednesday afternoon, police were deployed around the courthouse and other government buildings in anticipation of potential violence around the Supreme Court’s decision. On Thursday officers manned checkpoints throughout Dhaka.
Two other JeI leaders, Abdul Kader Molla and Mohammad Kamaruzzaman, went to the gallows without seeking clemency.
JeI’s secretary general, Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojahid, and the BNP’s Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury, who were executed in November 2015, sent letters to the president questioning the fairness of their trials. The government claimed both had sought clemency through their letters – but their families rejected that claim.
Following their executions, the country remained on a heightened state of alert for days 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 trouble makers could communicate with each other or foment violence.
A litany of alleged crimes
A war crimes tribunal on Oct. 29, 2014, sentenced Nizami to death.
Sixteen war-crimes charges had been brought against Nizami, who during the war headed an auxiliary armed force, Al-Badr, which allegedly killed civilians and intellectuals while siding with the Pakistans army. The tribunal ruled that eight charges were proven, including four that carried the death penalty.
Alam said the apex court upheld three of the tribunal’s death penalty verdicts and two life sentences. It dismissed one of the death penalty and three other convictions.
Nizami was charged with crimes including the indiscriminate rape and murder of 450 people in Baushgari and Demra villages in Pabna; the killing of 10 people and the raping of three women in Koromja village; the murder of 52 people in Dhulauri village and a plan to massacre intellectuals.
‘A historic day’
Pro-independence groups rejoiced Thursday at news of the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“This is a historic day for us. The whole nation is satisfied with the court judgment. The family members of the victims would get some solace if the verdict is implemented,” Fazlur Rahman, a member of the Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee, which calls for the executions of war criminals and their accomplices, told BenarNews.
However, acting JeI chief Moqbul Hossain and acting secretary general Shafiqur Rahman accused the government of bringing false charges against Nizami.
The two issued a statement saying that JeI leaders and activists would offer prayers for Nizami on Friday and hold peaceful demonstrations across the country against the verdict. The statement urged people to participate in a 12-hour hartal (strike) on Sunday.