South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Friday urged the Bangladesh government to halt the executions of two opposition leaders convicted of war crimes.

Bangladesh’s Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected the final appeals by two opposition leaders, Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid and Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury, against the death penalty for atrocities committed during the 1971 war of independence.

“Justice and accountability for the terrible crimes committed during Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence are crucial, but trials need to meet international fair trial standards,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director.

“Unfair trials can’t provide real justice, especially when the death penalty is imposed,” he said in a statement, adding the sentences should be suspended immediately.Mujahid, secretary general of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, was found guilty of charges including torture and the murders of intellectuals and minority Hindus while he commanded Al Badr, an auxiliary force of the Pakistani army, during the war to break away from Pakistan.

Chowdhury, former legislator from ex-premier Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), was convicted in 2013 on charges of genocide, religious persecution, abduction and torture during the war.

The rulings mean the men, who say they are innocent, could be hanged at any time unless they seek mercy from the president. Two Jamaat leaders have been executed so far, one in December 2013 and another in April. They declined to seek clemency.

The condemned men’s families repeated accusations by opposition parties that the trials are being used as a political tool by the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who opened an inquiry in 2010 into abuses committed during the war.

The government denies the accusations.

“We did not get justice. We are the victims of repression and intentional harassment,” Ali Ahmad Mabrur, a son of Mujahid, told Reuters by email.

Mujahid, social welfare minister from 2001 to 2006 under Khaleda, would be the first former minister to be hanged for war crimes in Bangladesh, while Chowdhury would be the first BNP leader to go to the gallows.

“It is up to them whether they want to seek mercy or not,” defence counsel Khandaker Mahbub Hossain told reporters.

Ganajagoron Mancha, a group of youth activists who vocally support the war crimes trials, on Friday called for the swift implementation of the verdict.

“We will not go home until they are hanged,” said Imran H. Sarker, a spokesman.

Hours before the ruling on Wednesday, an Italian priest was wounded in the latest assault on a foreigner in Bangladesh.

Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for that attack and the murders of two other foreigners in recent months.

The government, however, rejected Islamic State’s claim and blamed the growing violence in Bangladesh on domestic political opponents linked to Islamist parties.

East Pakistan broke away to become independent Bangladesh after the war between India and Pakistan. About three million people were killed.

Updated On: Nov 20, 2015