Death penalty to top Jamaat-e-Islami leader

published on September 17, 2013
Bangladesh Supreme Court today handed down death penalty to fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami stalwart Abdul Quader Mollah for 1971 war crimes, revising a special tribunal verdict which had sentenced him to life imprisonment.
“He is being handed down the capital punishment,” said Chief Justice M Muzammel Hossain, as the apex court reviewed the first ever case of the “crimes against humanity” during the 1971 liberation war against Pakistan.

Mollah, 65, the fourth-highest Jamaat leader, is the first politician to be found guilty by the Supreme Court after it rejected an appeal to acquit him of all charges.

According to the judgment, Mollah was not found guilty in only one of the six charges while the apex court upheld the sentences handed down earlier by the country’s International Crimes Tribunal for other four charges and sentenced him to death for the sixth charge.

The tribunal verdict against Mollah, an assistant secretary general of the fundamentalist party which was opposed to Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan, triggered massive controversies and protracted street protests by 1971 veterans and youngsters who believed the punishment was too lenient compared to his crimes.

The virtual uprising of the youths, who staged round the clock sit-in vigil for weeks at the Shahbagh in the capital and protested in other major cities, prompted the government to amend a law on war crimes trial which earlier allowed the defense alone to challenge the verdicts.

But Mollah’s lawyers too challenged the amendment before the apex court, saying it would not be applicable in their client’s case as it was made after the tribunal handed down its judgment.

The tribunal verdict was delivered amidst violent street campaigns by Jamaat across the country and in pockets known to be its stronghold leading to violence that left over 150 people dead since February.

Security Authorities have deployed elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion to guard the apex court premises and hundreds of policemen in riot gears at other major city corners to prevent violence.

Alam said he believed that the defence’s review plea would not be entertained by the apex court since the special law under which the war crimes trial were being held did not point out whether the convicts would get such opportunity like convicts of other ordinary crimes or not.

Jamaat earlier hinted they might go for strikes if the verdict was found unacceptable though no such announcement came yet but its activists attacked policemen in the southeastern port city of Chittagong, injuring two officers and setting a police car and a private vehicle on fire.

Tight security was enforced in the national capital where Jamaat activists staged brief street protests in different areas damaging a number of vehicles.

On the other hand, hundreds of youngsters who rallied at the Shahbagh Square in the capital celebrated the verdict, saying Mollah deserved it for the atrocities he carried out in 1971 siding with the Pakistani troops.

Legal experts and officials said the apex court was now expected to issue the full text of the verdict in next few days and after receiving the death warrant to be channeled through the original tribunal, the jail authorities would take steps to execute the sentence anytime in between 20 and 27 days of the receipt of the order.

But the counting of days for executing the verdict will be halted for the period when the apex court will review the defense petition, if it is granted for hearing.

During the hearing, the court appointed seven senior lawyers as amici curiae or “impartial advisers to a court in a particular case” to suggest if the recent amendment related to the war crimes trial would be applicable in Mollah’s case since the revised law came after he was tried by the tribunal.

Five of the seven jurists observed that the recent amendment to the International Crimes Tribunal Act giving the government the right to appeal against any verdict should be applicable in Mollah’s case also.

Bangladesh witnessed the launch of the war crimes trial in 2010 in line with ruling Awami League’s election pledges and so far two International Crimes Tribunals indicted over a dozen people, mostly Jamaat leaders.

The two tribunals have already handed down death penalty to four and long term or life imprisonments to two others.

Officially three million people were killed in 1971 liberation war against Pakistan during which Jamaat allegedly masterminded the murders of the country’s leading intelligentsia including professors, doctors and journalists.

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