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Bangladesh Hangs Two Opposition Leaders for War Crimes

An ambulance carrying the body of Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, a leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, leaves the Dhaka Central Jail after his execution, Nov. 22, 2015.
An ambulance carrying the body of Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, a leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, leaves the Dhaka Central Jail after his execution, Nov. 22, 2015.

Bangladesh has executed two opposition party leaders convicted of war crimes committed during Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence.

Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid, a senior politician from the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) party, and Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, a leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), were hanged in Dhaka Central Jail early Sunday, Bangladesh’s national police chief AKM Shahidul Hoque confirmed.

Bangladesh’s International Crime Tribunal (ICT) convicted the two and sentenced them to death in 2013. Both had filed appeals, which were rejected by the court.

The executions took place hours after family members met with the two men in the prison and Bangladesh’s Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal announced that the presidential clemency — their final chance for reprieve — had been turned down.

JeI has called for a nationwide strike and claimed Mujahid was victim of a “farce trial” aimed at “eliminating opposition” forces in the country. Fearing unrest and violence by the supporters of the BNP-led opposition alliance, the government beefed up security across the country hours before the executions took place.

Soon after Mujahid, 67, and Chowdhury, 66, were hanged, their bodies were sent out to their relatives for burial.

ICT prosecutions

Mujahid, the second most senior leader of JeI, received a death sentence for killing top intellectuals during Bangladesh's war of independence from Pakistan in 1971.

Chowdhury, a six-time member of parliament and senior adviser to former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, was sentenced for his role in a genocide and other killings.

Set up in 2010 by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government, the ICT has prosecuted more than a dozen opposition leaders for war crimes. In all, four people have now been hanged.

Trials by the tribunal have been criticized by many global human and legal rights groups that say the proceedings do not meet international standards.

As soon as the review petitions of Mujahid and Chowdhury were rejected Wednesday, several international groups made appeals to Bangladesh not to go ahead with the executions.

One of those groups, the International Commission of Jurists, "expresses its solidarity with the victims and survivors of the human rights violations committed during the 1971 war, and believes the perpetrators of these atrocities must be brought to justice,” said Sam Zarifi, the commission's Asia-Pacific regional director. “However, the death penalty, especially following a deeply flawed trial, amounts to nothing more than vengeance and does not serve the interests of justice.”

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said also Bangladesh should not carry out the executions.

“The accused in all these cases were allowed a minuscule fraction of witnesses, counsels were regularly harassed and persecuted, defense witnesses faced physical threats, and witnesses were denied visas to enter the country to testify,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of HRW. “Unfair trials can’t provide real justice, especially when the death penalty is imposed.”

Alex Carlile, a lawyer and member of Britain's House of Lords, told VOA that the executions were "an outrage."

Bangladesh maintains all trials by the tribunal followed proper judicial procedure. Supporters of the ruling Awami League party welcomed the executions, chanting pro-independence slogans in the streets of Dhaka and other cities.

Clemency controversy

Sunday’s executions have been mired in a new controversy involving presidential clemency. Kamal, the home minister, said Mujahid and Chowdhury had filed the petitions to the president through a magistrate Saturday and that they were rejected Sunday.

But supporters and relatives of the two leaders said that no petition for presidential clemency had been filed before they were hanged.

An hour before the execution, in a statement from Dhaka, JeI said Mujahid had not admitted his guilt and had not sought mercy from the president.

Relatives of Chowdhury, too, said that he had not sought presidential clemency. His daughter, Farzeen Quader Chowdhury, told VOA, "My father did not file or sign any mercy petition. He has told us this when we met him."