Bangladesh Hangs Opposition Figures

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
151122-BD-executions-620 Imran H. Sarker (center), spokesman for the Gonojagoron Moncho (Mass Awakening Platform) movement, addresses reporters in Dhaka soon after two senior Bangladeshi opposition figures were executed, Nov. 22, 2015.

Updated at 6:17 p.m. ET on 2015-11-21

Two Bangladeshi opposition figures and convicted war criminals were put to death early Sunday amid heightened security, hours after President Abdul Hamid rejected their pleas for clemency, officials said.

Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury and Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojahid were hanged simultaneously at Dhaka Central Jail at 12:55 a.m. Sunday (local time), Police Inspector-General A.K.M. Shahidul Haque said.

“We have executed the verdict (of the Supreme Court) according to the expectation of the people,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told BenarNews, confirming that the executions were carried out at around that hour.

Chowdhury, 66, was a former MP with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and a member of its highest policy-making standing committee. Mojahid, 67, was secretary general of Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh’s largest Islamist party that is allied with the BNP against the ruling Awami League. Mojahid had also served as social welfare minister when a BNP-led coalition ruled the country from 2001 to 2006.

The condemned men were executed under a heavy security presence.

Many members of the elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) force were deployed around the jail, and nearby streets were sealed off, while 20 platoons of paramilitaries were deployed elsewhere in Dhaka, officials said.

Extra units of the paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) also were deployed in Chittagong, the country’s second largest city, and other major cities, as a safeguard against anticipated violent reactions to the executions from Jamaat and BNP supporters.

Late Saturday, the home minister told reporters that President Hamid had turned down pleas for clemency, which were submitted to the Law Ministry hours earlier by lawyers representing the condemned men.

Relatives of Chowdhury and Mujahid arrived at the jail after authorities invited them to bid goodbye to their loved ones, Reuters reported.

“The prison authorities have called us to meet our father. Definitely, that’s the last meeting,” Ali Ahmad Mabrur, Mujahid’s youngest son, told Agence France-Presse.

“This is the end,” Hoatul Islam, a lawyer for Chowdhury, said during the final hours before the executions.

The prospect of presidential clemency was the last legal step standing between the gallows and the two men on death row.

Before they walked to the gallows, the condemned prisoners were allowed to bathe, and an imam read verses from the Quran to them in accordance with the country’s prison code. Physicians also checked their health.

‘A victory for the people’

The two were executed less than four days after Bangladesh’s Supreme Court rejected their appeals of death sentences handed down by a war crimes tribunal. In 2013, the tribunal convicted them of heinous crimes committed during the country’s war of independence from Pakistan in 1971. Bangladesh was then East Pakistan.

“This is a victory for the people. All war criminals must be executed to end the culture of impunity in Bangladesh,” Imran H. Sarker, spokesman for the Gonojagoron Moncho (Mass Awakening Platform) movement told reporters moments after the news came out that Chowdhury and Mojahid had been put to death. The grassroots movement had staged rallies calling for the executions of alleged war criminals.

Moncho activists waved Bangladeshi flags and broke out into chants of “Joy Bangla” (“Bangladesh’s victory”).

Long road to the gallows

Sunday’s executions ended a five-year legal battle that began with the arrests of Chowdhury and Mojahid in 2010 on charges of having committed war crimes as pro-Pakistani fighters during Bangladesh’s war of independence from Pakistan in 1971.

Their hangings brought to four the number of opposition leaders convicted and executed on war-crime charges since December 2013. The two others, Abdul Kader Molla and Mohammad Kamaruzzaman, were senior Jamaat officials.

The Awami League, which backed the country’s pro-independence forces, estimates that the Pakistan army and local militias, which included many Jamaat supporters, killed 3 million people and raped 300,000 women during the war that lasted nine months.

In 2010, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina established a war crimes tribunal to bring to justice perpetrators of atrocities committed 44 years ago, but critics have accused the tribunal of being selective in who it prosecutes and not going after Awami members and supporters.

For his part, Mujahid was convicted on charges of killing top Bangladeshi intellectuals during the war, according to AFP. Chowdhury was sentenced to death for taking part in wartime atrocities such as genocide.

During their trial, both defendants denied the charges.

“They should have been hanged immediately after the war. Their execution will bring minimum solace for the souls of the martyrs. Why should we wait for 44 years to try a war criminal like Salahuddin,” wartime survivor Nizamuddin Ahmed told BenarNews.

He alleged that Chowdhury had personally tortured him in Chittagong during the conflict.Pro-Pakistan forces had tortured him and other men for days at Pakistani army camps in the area, Ahmed said.

Fair trial?

Meanwhile, Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal, as the war crimes tribunal is known, has come under criticism from opposition activists who have accused Hasina of using war-crime allegations as a pretext for eliminating her enemies in Jamaat and the BJP.

Criticism of the tribunal’s handling of such cases has also come from abroad. U.S. lawmakers who oversee foreign policy described the tribunal as very flawed and as a vehicle for political retribution, the Associated Press reported Saturday.

And in a statement issued on Friday, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on Bangladesh to put off the executions of Chowdhury and Mojahid, pending an independent and impartial review of their cases. The rights watchdog questioned whether the two men were given a fair opportunity to call enough witnesses to testify in their defense.

“Justice and accountability for the terrible crimes committed during Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence are crucial, but trials need to meet international fair trial standards,” HRW Asia Director Brad Adams said. “Unfair trials can’t provide real justice, especially when the death penalty is imposed.”

Shahriar Sharif contributed to this report.


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