Bangladesh executed a top leader of the country’s biggest Islamic party for war crimes that took place four decades ago, sparking violence in Asia’s fifth-most populous country.
Abdul Quader Mollah, assistant secretary-general of Jamaat-e-Islami, was hanged at Dhaka Central Jail, Maqbul Ahmed, the party’s acting chief, said in a statement. The 65-year-old’s execution is the first stemming from a war crimes tribunal established in 2009, the year after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina returned to power.
Her government’s “collapse and ultimate ruin is inevitable,” Ahmed said. “It has invited its own doom.”
Mollah’s death threatens to exacerbate tribunal-related violence that has killed more than 150 people this year, clouding the investment climate in the world’s second-biggest garment exporter after China. Hasina’s refusal to follow past practice in allowing a caretaker administration to oversee Jan. 5 elections, in which Jamaat is banned from participating, has also led to clashes.
Hasina’s ruling Awami League, which campaigned to set up the tribunals in winning the last election in 2008, has the backing of many Hindus and other religious minorities. Muslims account for about 90 percent of the country’s 164 million people, with Hindus accounting for most of the rest, according to the CIA World Factbook.
“The country is on a razor’s edge at the moment with pre-election tensions running high and almost non-stop street protests,” Abbas Faiz, a Bangladesh researcher with London-based human-rights group Amnesty International, said in a statement. “Mollah’s execution could trigger more violence, with the Hindu community bearing the brunt.”
Mollah was buried in Faridpur, his birthplace in central Bangladesh, according to ATN News, a private television station. After his death, unidentified attackers blocked a highway with tree logs, set fire to commercial trucks, vandalized bank branches and torched the houses of eight Awami League supporters, Channel 24 reported, without citing anyone.
Two Awami League supporters were stabbed to death in Satkhira, a district in southwestern Bangladesh, Shahdara Khan, a police inspector, said by phone. Police suspect Jamaat has links to at least one of the killings, he said.
The tribunal has reopened wounds over Bangladesh’s founding in 1971, a time when Jamaat sided with Pakistan’s army in a bid to prevent the country from forming. In August, a court banned Jamaat from standing in the general election in response to a 2009 petition claiming that the party, now a key ally of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, doesn’t believe in democracy or the country’s sovereignty.
On Dec. 10, a judge halted the planned execution hours before Mollah was scheduled to hang at Dhaka Central Jail. Television footage showed Mollah’s chief defense lawyer Abdur Razzaq driving down a narrow alley to the jail in the capital’s old quarters to save his client with the judge’s order.
Yesterday a five-member Supreme Court panel led by Chief Justice Muzammel Hossain turned down Mollah’s appeal for a review of the death sentence. Thousands of Mollah’s opponents who streamed into the capital’s Shahbag Square to celebrate the order shouted for him to be killed immediately.
The tribunal found Mollah guilty of murder, rape and torture during the nation’s independence struggle from Pakistan. The court is investigating atrocities during that time, when an estimated 3 million people were killed and more than 200,000 women were raped, according to documents submitted during the trials.
Mollah is among 10 people convicted for war crimes, while seven are still on trial, according to court documents. More than 150 people have died in clashes between activists of opposition parties and security forces since the first sentence was announced in January.
A fresh wave of violence has erupted recently over the electoral system, as the opposition BNP and its allies call for a non-partisan caretaker administration to oversee the election. In 2011, parliament overturned the 15-year-old requirement.
At least 52 people have died in political violence stemming from shutdowns and blockades since October over the caretaker system and elections, according to the Daily Star, the nation’s top-selling English language newspaper.