Bangladesh Islamist loses final appeal against hanging
A Bangladeshi Islamist leader lost his final appeal Monday against a death sentence for overseeing a massacre during the 1971 independence war, sparking protests by his supporters that left one dead.
Mohammad Kamaruzzaman, the third most senior figure in the Jamaat-e-Islami party, could now be hanged within days for the slaughter at the so-called “Village of Widows”.
Police opened fire on around a dozen Jamaat supporters in the southern coastal town of Noakhali after they took to the streets to protest at the decision.
“We fired in self-defence after they hurled rocks at us,” local police chief Anwar Hossain told AFP, saying one protester was killed during the live firing and another injured.
In a brief session at the Supreme Court in Dhaka, Chief Justice S.K. Sinha ruled that a review petition filed by Kamaruzzaman’s lawyers had been dismissed and a death sentence passed in 2013 should stand.
The 62-year-old’s only chance of avoiding the gallows will be if he is granted clemency by President Abdul Hamid.
But analysts say this prospect is remote because the ruling effectively confirms allegations that he was one of the chief organisers of a pro-Pakistan militia which killed thousands of people.
A controversial domestic war crimes tribunal convicted Kamaruzzaman in May 2013 on charges of torture, abduction and mass killings in his role as a leader of the al-Badr militia during the war.
The conflict led to the creation of an independent Bangladesh from what was then East Pakistan.
Prosecutors said he presided over the massacre of at least 120 unarmed farmers who were lined up and gunned down in the remote northern village of Sohagpur.
Three women who lost their husbands in the massacre testified against Kamaruzzaman in one of the most emotive of all the war crimes trials.
– Testimony challenged –
Kamaruzzaman’s lawyers had tried to convince the Supreme Court there were “serious discrepancies” in the witness testimonies.
Kamaruzzaman would be only the second Islamist so far to be hanged for war crimes if the sentence is carried out. Another Jamaat leader, Abdul Quader Molla, was executed in December 2013.
Defence attorney Shishir Monir said relatives of Kamaruzzaman would meet him later Monday to determine whether to seek clemency.
Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told AFP that prison authorities would also now ask Kamaruzzaman whether he would seek clemency from the president.
“If he refuses, he could be hanged any moment,” he said.
Molla was executed just hours after his review petition was rejected by the Supreme Court.
Jamaat, the country’s largest Islamist party, is an ally of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), whose leader Khaleda Zia is trying to topple Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s secular government.
Jamaat’s members have been accused of being behind a number of deadly firebomb attacks since the start of the year, including on buses.
The party branded Monday’s ruling a “government conspiracy to murder” its leader and called a nationwide strike on Tuesday and Wednesday in protest.
Jamaat and the BNP have previously charged that the war crimes trials are mainly aimed at silencing Hasina’s opponents rather than delivering justice.
Hasina’s government says the trials — which lack any international oversight — are needed to heal the wounds of the conflict.
– ‘Show him no mercy’ –
Widows and relatives of the Sohagpur victims welcomed the verdict, along with secular activists.
“Our only demand is that he is executed in the quickest possible time. There should be no mercy for him,” said Mohammad Jalal Uddin, a Sohagpur farmer who lost seven members of his extended family in the killing.
“I’ve spoken to the widows. Thirty-two of them are still alive. They are very happy hearing the news of the verdict,” said Uddin, who leads a charity supporting the widows.
Bangladesh suffered its deadliest chapter of political violence in 2013 after the war crimes court handed down a series of death sentences on Jamaat leaders for their role in the 1971 conflict.
Hasina, whose late father was regarded as the leader of the independence movement, says three million people were killed in the war although independent experts put the death toll much lower
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