The widows of Shohagpur village, in central Bangladesh, said they had waited decades for justice in the wartime mass killing of their husbands.
“We’ve been waiting for this day for 44 years. We’re happy that Kamaruzzaman was finally hanged,” Korfuli Begum told BenarNews after convicted 1971 war criminal Mohammad Kamaruzzaman was put to death at Dhaka Central Jail on Saturday night.
In May 2013, a domestic war crimes tribunal found Kamaruzzaman guilty of seven charges of crimes against humanity for atrocities during the nine-month war, when Bangladesh – then known as East Pakistan – broke away from Pakistan.
The most heinous of those crimes, the prosecution said, was the assault on Shohagpur village on July 25, 1971, in which the pro-Pakistan Al Badr auxiliary force of Sherpur district, under Kamaruzzaman’s command, killed 187 men and raped dozens of women.
Shohagpur is now infamously known as the “widows’ village.”
Korfuli lost eight members of her family, including her spouse.
“Allah has kept us live for this day. Finally, we’ve got justice,” added Hafiza Khatun, one of 57 women who became widows that day. Thirty-four are still alive today.
Kamaruzzaman, 62, was a senior leader of the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh’s largest Islamist party, which claims that the tribunals are politically motivated.
Two student activists were shot dead in north and western parts of the country, and fire-bombings of vehicles were reported, as Jamaat tried to enforce a nationwide strike to protest the execution, AFP reported.
Lawyers for Kamaruzzaman had argued that he was only 19 when the war broke out and could not have led a militia.
Last week, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights urged Bangladesh not to carry out the execution, saying the trial did not meet international standards, according to the Associated Press.
The U.S. State Department also asked Bangladesh to refrain from executing Kamaruzzaman.
Kamaruzzaman’s fate was sealed Friday evening after he refused to petition President Abdul Hamid for clemency.
“My father said he was not going to seek any favor from the infidels,” Hasan Iqbal, his elder son, told BenarNews.
“It was entirely his personal decision. He only discussed with us the legal provisions of the mercy petition,” Shisir Monir, Kamrauzzaman’s lawyer, said after visiting him in jail.
Many in Bangladesh support the war crime prosecutions, and capital punishment.
“It’s the victory of all the freedom-loving people. We’ll not allow any anti-liberation politics in the future here,” Imran H. Sarker, spokesman of the Gonojagoron Moncho (Mass-Awakening Platform), a movement born two years ago to demand the execution of war criminals, told BenarNews.
The Mancha said it would organize a ceremony at Shohagpur on Pohela Boishak, the Bengali New Year’s day (April 14), to honor the widows there.
Two executed, nine awaiting final review
So far, two convicted war criminals have been executed. On Dec. 12, 2013, another assistant secretary general of the Jamaat, Abdul Qader Molla, went to the gallows.
The final review of nine other war criminals is in the last stage.
Of them, five belong to the Jamaat, including its emir, Matiur Rahman Nizami, and secretary-general, Ali Ahsan Mohammad Muzahid.
A senior leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Salahuddin Kader Chowdhury, three members of the Jatya Party and a former Awami League local leader also are awaiting final review.
“We’re expecting to see the final result of the pending reviews for at least a few of the death-row convicts before the end of the year,” Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told BenarNews.
The daughter of a physician killed during the war expressed confidence that all war criminals would be punished under the ruling Awami League.
“It’s in their election manifesto and they’re promise-bound to try the criminals after all these years. That’s what gives us hope,” Nuzhat Chowdhury, daughter of Alim Chowdhury, a renowned eye doctor who was killed in 1971, told BenarNews.