Bangladesh has executed a senior politician of an Islamist opposition party for crimes against humanity committed during the south Asian nation’s bloody war of independence in 1971.
Muhammad Kamaruzzaman was hanged in the capital Dhaka, following a prolonged and controversial judicial process that has evoked fierce debate and at times violence in the nation of 157m people.
The Islamist leader lost his final appeal on Monday when the supreme court dismissed a review petition. Kamaruzzaman did not seek presidential clemency. Kamaruzzaman’s son, Hasan Iqbal, said: “Only Allah can give or take life, not a president.”
The 62 year old was a member of the Al-Badr brigade, an auxiliary militia that fought alongside Pakistani troops as they attempted to prevent the breakaway of what was then East Pakistan in 1971.
A journalist, he rose to senior assistant general secretary of Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh’s largest Islamist political party and a long-time electoral ally of the current centre-right opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist party.
Kamaruzzaman was found guilty in May 2013 of crimes against humanity by Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal, a body set up by the ruling Awami League party in 2009 to investigate and prosecute crimes committed during the 1971 war. In spite of its name, the court is a domestic body, and is deeply entwined in the nation’s politics.
The tribunal was a key election promise of the ruling Awami League party, which returned to power in 2008.
The court found Kamaruzzaman to have led Pakistani troops in a massacre in a town that later became known as the “village of widows”. According to the ICT judgment, Kamaruzzaman and his men lined up and shot 120 men in the central Bangladeshi village of Sohagpur before they “committed rape upon women of the said village”.
Prosecutors at the trial produced contemporary reports from a newspaper Kamaruzzaman edited, the Daily Sangram, as evidence for his command of the militia. The reports suggested that Al Badr and Pakistani forces deliberately targeted Hindus and intellectuals after the pro-separatist Awami League party triumphed in the first Pakistani general election in 1970.
However, the tribunal process and Kamaruzzaman’s trial have been heavily criticised.
Defence lawyers contend that the courts were under political pressure from the government, that they were allowed fewer witnesses than the prosecution and that Mr Kamaruzzaman’s detention, which began in July 2010, was arbitrary.
Opposition figures say the trials were a means for the ruling Awami League to remove political rivals. Jamaat is a key coalition partner of the opposition BNP, which has been locked in a deadly effort to force the government to hold fresh elections since polls they boycotted in January 2014.
As a result, some international bodies have expressed their own concerns, including the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. “Given serious concerns about the fairness of trials conducted before the tribunal, the government of Bangladesh should not implement death penalty sentences,” officials stated.
Paramilitary border guards were deployed hours before the execution around the second city and major port in Chittagong. Jamaat party sympathisers and its student wing have conducted violent protests in response to the trial process in the past and have called a general strike for Monday.
Source: Financial Times