Bangladesh: Opposition Figures May Soon Be Executed

Kamran Reza Chowdhury

151119-BD-executionfolo-620 Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojahid waves from a police vehicle as he is transported to the central jail in Dhaka, July 17, 2013. He and Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury face capital punishment for their roles in war crimes from 44 years ago.

The families of two Bangladeshi opposition figures on death row visited the condemned men on Thursday, signifying they could be executed any day now, according to a former corrections official.

Relatives of Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury and Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojahid stopped by to see them in their cells at the Dhaka Central Jail, a day after Bangladesh’s Supreme Court upheld their death sentences for committing crimes during the country’s war of independence from Pakistan in 1971.

“Usually, we call the family members of the condemned prisoners when all formalities for execution are almost finished. So, you can assume that the executions may be imminent – in a day or two,” Maj. Shamsul Haider Siddiqui, the ex-deputy inspector general of prisons, told BenarNews.

Under Bangladeshi’s penal code, death row convicts have seven days to seek clemency from the country’s president, following a final ruling from the Supreme Court. But so far, since Wednesday’s court ruling, neither Chowdhury or Mojahid have made such a move, Mohammad Joynal Abedin, the presidential press secretary, told BenarNews.

“We have yet to get any mercy petition from any of them,” he said Thursday evening.

Chowdhury is a former MP with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the country’s main opposition party, and Mojahid is secretary general of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, a faith-based party allied with the BNP. Mojahid is also a former minister.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told reporters that the executions of the two condemned men were a just matter of time.

Chowdhury and Mojahid are the third and fourth men convicted of crimes committed during the war in 1971 to be sentenced to death. The last two, Abdul Kader Molla and M. Kamaruzzaman, were sent to the gallows in December 2013 and April 2015, respectively, within 36 hours of visits by their relatives.

“All legal formalities for the execution have been finished,” Food Minister Quamrul Islam, who usually divulges to the public the decisions taken by the ruling Awami League, said Thursday.

Jail receives death warrants

After handing down its decision, the Supreme Court sent death warrants for Mojahid and Chowdhury to the war crimes tribunal, known in Bangladesh as the International Crimes Tribunal, Jakir Hossain, the registrar of the appellate division, told journalists.

The tribunal, which tries people accused of crimes committed during the war of independence 44 years ago, is the body that sentenced the two to death. The war crimes tribunal, in turn, sent the warrants to the authorities at Dhaka Central Jail.

According to the constitution, the jail authorities are to read the death warrants to the condemned prisoners, and then the authorities will be asked whether the convicts will seek clemency from the president. Article 49 of the constitution allows the head of state, subject to the prime minister’s consent, to pardon any convicts on death row.

After visiting Mojahid on Thursday, his relatives did not say whether he would seek clemency from President Abdul Hamid.

“What is mercy?” Chowdhury’s brother, Jamaluddin Quader Chowdhury, told reporters after visiting his condemned sibling at the jail.

‘They must die’

Meanwhile, activists and politicians with the ruling party rallied across the country, demanding the immediate executions of Chowdhury and Mojahid.

“I think the government will not spare them. They must die for the crimes against humanity they committed in 1971,” Atiur Rahman Atik, an Awami League whip, told BenarNews.

Bangladesh media reported that Jamaat’s call for a 12-hour strike in Dhaka on Thursday seemed to have little effect on the city. Traffic appeared to be lighter over fears of vandalism.

Anticipating violence around the pending executions, the government has deployed police, the elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) force, and the paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) around the Dhaka Central Jail.

A government blackout on social media services including Facebook, WhatsApp and Viber remained in effect on Thursday.  On Nov. 11, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina warned that her government might shut down these services to prevent terrorists and criminals from communicating while plotting mischief.

Ruling party members indicated that the government might wait until after Friday to execute the prisoners, because Jamaat members may gather at mosques for Friday prayers. Others have speculated that executing the two on a Friday could elevate them to martyrs.

According to the Islamic calendar, Friday begins after sundown on Thursday.

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