Dhaka: Bangladesh on Thursday hanged a senior Islamist leader known 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.
“The execution has been carried out,” deputy law minister Quamrul Islam told AFP, adding that Abdul Quader Molla, 65, a senior leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, was hanged at 10.01 pm (1601 GMT) in a jail in the capital Dhaka. 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.
The wife and children of Molla 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.
Security has also been tightened outside the jail gate and in the capital Dhaka, with the authorities deploying paramilitary border guards in key flashpoints.
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.
Molla was originally set to be hanged on Tuesday night after he refused to seek presidential clemency.
But in a night of high drama a judge stayed the hanging just 90 minutes before the scheduled execution, amid international concern over the fairness of the war crime trials of mainly opposition leaders.
Molla was found to have been a leader of a pro-Pakistan militia which fought against the country’s independence and killed some of Bangladesh’s top professors, doctors, writers and journalists.
A key opposition official, he was convicted 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.
Hundreds of secular protesters erupted in celebration hearing the news of the execution. They have been camping at Shahbagh square in Dhaka since Tuesday night, shouting slogans including: “Hang Quader Molla, hang war criminals”.
Butcher of Mirpur hanged
Mollah first to walk gallows for war crimes 42 years back, to be buried at Faridpur village home under police protection
Wasim Bin Habib and Tuhin Shubhra Adhikary
He didn’t wince once, neither did his heart skip a beat when he led his men to thrash a two-year-old child to death and slit the throats of a pregnant woman and two minor girls.
Around 42 years later, Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Mollah finally had to pay for these acts of cold-blooded savagery, as he walked the gallows at 10:01pm in the first-ever execution in a war crimes case.
The hanging of Mollah, 65, who earned the nickname Mirpurer Koshai (butcher of Mirpur) for his sinister role during the Liberation War, represents a watershed in the nation’s pursuit of a closure on the wounds inflicted in 1971.
Mollah’s body would be taken to his ancestral home at Sadarpur upazila in Faridpur for burial under police protection, Abu Hena Morshed Zaman, deputy commissioner of Faridpur, told The Daily Star at 10:15pm.
He was executed at the Dhaka Central Jail hours after the Supreme Court rejected his petition to review the death sentence, bringing an end to the drama that played out for two days since Tuesday evening.
Mollah’s counsels took out an order from the SC chamber judge to stay his execution on Tuesday night, only one and a half hours before the convicted war criminal was to hang at 12:01am.
The SC yesterday rejected Mollah’s plea for reviewing his death sentence, clearing the way for executing the condemned war criminal.
In his instant reaction after the execution, Shafiuddin Mollah, who testified against the Jamaat leader, told The Daily Star, “We are very happy. The grief and agony that have haunted us for the last 42 years will go away to a great extent.”
Shafiuddin, who lost his paternal uncle in a massacre at Alubdi village in Mirpur, said they would feel happier when all 1971 war criminals will get their due punishment.
He thanked the prime minister and all pro-Liberation War forces for their continuous efforts to bring the war criminals to justice.
Mollah, who was then a leader of Islami Chhatra Sangha, later renamed Islami Chhatra Shibir, never repented of the war crimes he committed 42 years ago. His party also never regretted its role during the Liberation War.
Driven by his deep political conviction that Pakistan should remain united even at the cost of one of the worst genocides in the world, he had targeted freedom-loving Bangalees and led his gang in at least two mass killings in Keraniganj near Dhaka and Mirpur, taking the lives of around 400 unarmed Bangalees. Mollah, assistant general secretary of Jamaat-e-Islami, was finally shown arrested in a war crimes case on August 2, 2010 after enjoying impunity under the auspices of the Jamaat and the BNP. He was then put on trial and awarded life term by the International Crimes Tribunal-2 on February 5 this year.
But the “lenient” sentencing gave birth to the never-seen-before Shahbagh movement that demanded maximum punishment for the war criminals. The movement prompted the government to amend the relevant act to ensure the state’s right to appeal on behalf of the victims of the 1971 war crimes.
As the government appealed against the verdict, the Supreme Court on September 17 sentenced Mollah to death, overruling the ICT-2 judgment. The countdown to Mollah’s execution started soon after the ICT-2 sent the death warrant to the authorities of Dhaka Central Jail on December 8. But confusion arose over the date of execution as the defence lawyers claimed that their client had the right to seek review of the SC verdict.
On Tuesday, State Minister for Law Qamrul Islam said according to the constitution, Mollah had no right to file any review petition, since he had been convicted and sentenced to death under the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973.
Things started to change quickly on Tuesday evening when the jail authorities asked Mollah’s family members to meet him at 8:00pm, giving rise to speculations that the Jamaat leader would be hanged that night.
Mollah’s counsels then rushed to the residence of Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain, chamber judge of the SC, who stayed Mollah’s execution.
A five-member SC bench headed by Chief Justice Md Muzammel Hossain, dismissed Mollah’s review petition yesterday on completion of a hearing on the maintainability of the petition. Unhappy at the ruling, pro-Jamaat lawyers demonstrated at the SC premises, while pro-Awami League lawyers chanted slogans hailing the decision.
Hundreds of people, especially youths, rushed to Gonojagoron Manch at Shahbagh to celebrate the court ruling.
Mollah’s nine family members, including his wife Sanowara Jahan, met him inside the Dhaka Central Jail around 6:25pm yesterday on permission from the jail authorities.
On December 17, 2007, freedom fighter Mozaffar Ahmad Khan of Keraniganj filed a case against nine Jamaat leaders, including Mollah, on the charge of killing two freedom fighters in 1971.
But the justice seekers had to wait until the Awami League-led government formed the ICT on March 25 in 2010 as part of its electoral pledges.
On May 28, last year, the tribunal framed six charges that include: the killing of Mirpur Bangla College student Pallab; the killing of the poet Meherunesa, her mother and two brothers; the killing of journalist Khandker Abu Taleb; a mass killing in Ghatarchar of Keraniganj; the killing of 344 people in Alubdi village in Mirpur; and the killing of Hazrat Ali Laskar, his wife, three daughters and two-year-old son.
The ICT-2 found Mollah guilty on five charges and acquitted him on one charge related to the Ghatarchar killing, and sentenced him to life imprisonment. But the Supreme Court found him guilty on all charges and awarded him death for killing Hazrat Laskar and his family members.