Bangladesh hangs opposition leader convicted for war crimes

Abdul Quader Molla's son said his father was 'proud to be a martyr for the cause of Islamic movement'

Abdul Quader Molla, a leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, flashes a victory sign at the central Dhaka jail in February.
2013 AFP

Bangladesh has hanged a senior opposition leader described by prosecutors as the "Butcher of Mirpur,” making him the first person to be put to death for massacres committed during the country's bloody 1971 war of independence.

Abdul Quader Molla, 65, a senior leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, was hanged at 10 p.m. ( EST) Thursday in a jail in the capital Dhaka, the country’s deputy law minister told AFP.

The hanging took place just hours after the country's Supreme Court dismissed Molla's appeal for a final review of his death sentence, removing the last legal option against his execution which some see as evidence of how events of 42 years ago still resonate in Bangladesh, a impoverished, divided nation of 160 million people.

Molla's wife and children met the Jamaat-e-Islami leader at a jail in Dhaka for one last time hours before the execution, and found him to be "calm."

"He has told us that he is proud to be a martyr for the cause of Islamic movement in the country," Molla's son Hasan Jamil told AFP after meeting his father.

Prosecutors found Molla was a senior leader of the pro-Pakistan militia which fought against the country's independence and killed some of Bangladesh's most prominent professors, doctors, writers and journalists.

The court convicted Molla, a key opposition official, on charges of rape, murder and mass murder, including the killing of more than 350 unarmed civilians. Prosecutors described him as the "Butcher of Mirpur,” a Dhaka suburb where he committed most of the atrocities.

Prior to the execution, the government deployed paramiltary border guards throughout Dhaka and outside the jail.

The legal case against Mollah has heightened political tension in Bangladesh less than a month before elections. The Jamaat-e-Islami party has been barred from contesting elections but it continues to play a key role in the opposition movement led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

Al Jazeera's Tanvir Chowdhury, reporting from Dhaka, said that after the decision, crowds attacked the judges' ancestral homes.

"It has been a very tense atmosphere in which this review is going on," Chowdhury said. "People are worried, it's almost like a micro-level civil war."  

Chowdhury reported that six people have died in clashes across the country in the immediate aftermath of the execution and that there's "no letting up" after 50 people died in political violence over the past three weeks. 

While many expected a strong reaction from of Jamaat-e-Islami supporters in Dhaka to the decision to execute Molla, the city remained mostly calm.

Elsewhere, however, party activists clashed with police, torching or smashing vehicles and exploding homemade bombs on Thursday in Chittagong, Sylhet and Rajshahi, TV stations reported.

Scores of people were injured in the latest violence to hit the South Asian country, which has seen weeks of escalating tension as it struggles to overcome extreme poverty and rancorous politics.

In eastern Bangladesh, security officials opened fire to disperse opposition activists, leaving at least three people dead and 15 others wounded, according to reports from Dhaka's leading Bengali-language newspaper, Prothom Alo.

The violence broke out in Laxmipur district, about 60 miles east of Dhaka, during a nationwide opposition blockade after elite security forces raided and searched the home of an opposition leader, the report said.


3 million people killed

Molla’s original life sentence had been overturned by the Supreme Court in September, after mass protests called for him to be hanged.

The court reviewed Molla’s case, eventually giving him the death penalty for his wartime offenses.

Although his original execution had been scheduled for Tuesday, the court delayed it to consider his petition, his lawyer said.

A panel of five judges led by Chief Justice Mohammad Mojammel Hossain rejected the petition after hearing arguments on the appeal against the death penalty, a state prosecutor said.

Mollah is one of five opposition leaders condemned to death by Bangladesh's International Crimes Tribunal, set up in 2010 to investigate atrocities perpetrated during the 1971 conflict.

The government says Pakistani soldiers, aided by local collaborators, killed 3 million people during the war. Prior to the war, the country now known as Bangladesh was part of Pakistan and referred to as East Pakistan, a designation applied after the collapse of the British Empire, which had ruled the region.

Critics of the tribunal say it has been used as a political tool by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is locked in a political feud with BNP leader Begum Khaleda Zia, as a way of weakening the opposition ahead of elections scheduled for Jan. 5.

Islamists and opposition protesters armed with crude bombs and rocks clashed with police in riots in several cities across the country after the Supreme Court announced the brief verdict paving the way for the execution.

But many Bangladeshis support the court, believing that those convicted of war crimes should be punished. Hundreds of secular protesters had  camped at Shahbagh square in Dhaka since Tuesday night, shouting slogans including: "Hang Quader Molla, hang war criminals.”

Al Jazeera and wire services 

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