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Executing the Butcher

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By S. Binodkumar Singh
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

In the first-ever execution in a war crimes case on December 12, 2013, Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) Assistant Secretary Abdul Quader Mollah (65), who earned the nickname ‘Mirpurer Koshai (Butcher of Mirpur)’ was hanged at 10:01pm (local time) at Dhaka Central Jail against his conviction on charges relating to his sinister role during the Liberation Wars of 1971. The JeI leader was executed hours after the Supreme Court rejected his petition to review the death sentence, bringing an end to the drama that had played out for two days since the evening of December 10.

Following a petition by his counsels, the Supreme Court stayed the execution of Quader Mollah on December 10, 2013, just one and a half hours before he was to be hanged. But two days after his hanging was dramatically put on hold, the Apex Court upheld the death sentence on December 12, 2013, rejecting his review plea and paving the way for his execution.

On February 5, 2013, the International Crimes Tribunal-2 (ICT-2) sentenced Quader Mollah to life imprisonment. However, on September 17, 2013, the Supreme Court overruled the judgment and enhanced his sentence to the death penalty. Subsequently, on December 8, 2013, ICT-2 had issued a warrant of execution for Quader Mollah after receiving the Supreme Court verdict on December 5, 2013.

Right after the execution, Gonojagoron Mancha (People's Resurgence Platform) activists burst into cheers and celebrations in Dhaka city’s Shahbagh, the location of sustained protests demanding justice for the War Crimes. Gonojagoron Manhca spokesperson Imran H. Sarker declared, “The execution of Quader Mollah is a tribute to the country’s three million martyrs.”

Post and Telecommunication Minister Rashed Khan Menon, also the president of the Worker’s Party (WP) observed, “The execution procedure of Abdul Quader Mollah is a proof of the highest rule of law; the nation is now freed from its stigma through the execution of Quader Mollah.” Information Minister Hasanul Haque Inu also noted that the execution of the war criminal was a major step in establishing rule of law in the country and cautioned that leaders and cadres of the JeI and its students' wing, the Islami Chatra Shiber (ICS) were likely to resort to violence in different areas.

Thus far, the International Crimes Tribunals (ICTs) conducting the War Crimes Trials that began on March 25, 2010, have indicted 15 leaders, including 12 JeI leaders and three Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leaders. Nine verdicts have already been delivered by the two ICTs, in which seven persons have been awarded the death sentence, while three have been given life imprisonment. 

Unsurprisingly, in a statement on December 12, 2013, JeI leader Makbul Ahmed announced, "People would take revenge on this killing by establishing Islam in Bangladesh, which is stained with the blood of Abdul Quader Mollah. I urge all the people who support the cause of the Islamic movement to show utmost patience to build a strong resistance."

As expected, street violence spearheaded by JeI-ICS cadres broke out on December 12, 2013, and nine persons were killed while another 120 were injured across 13 Districts. Again, on December 13, 2013, JeI-ICS cadres rampaged through the capital and another 23 Districts, leaving eight people dead and more than 100 vehicles as well as offices, factories and houses burnt across the country.

The people who made the delivery of justice possible remain under threat from JeI-ICs cadres. In Chapainawabganj District, the ancestral house of Justice A.T.M. Fazle Kabir, who leads ICT-1, was attacked on December 12, 2013. JeI-ICs cadres also hurled a petrol bomb at the ancestral house of Justice Jahangir Hossain Selim of ICT-1 in Senbagh sub-District of Noakhali District on December 13, 2013. Both the judges reside in Dhaka. No casualties were reported in these two incidents.

The latest spike in violence backed by Islamist radicals is in continuity with the rising graph of violence in the country since the beginning of the current year. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), a total of 314 persons, including 182 civilians, 118 JeI-ICS cadres and 14 Security Force (SF) personnel have been killed in street violence since January 21, 2013, when the first verdict in the War Crimes Trials had been delivered (all data till December 15, 2013). As many as 6,762 people have been injured in the violence involving JeI-ICS cadres over this period.

The Islamist radicals backed by the BNP-led 18-party Opposition Alliance, in addition to their resistance to the War Crimes Trials, have also hardened their position against the holding of the General Elections on  January 5, 2014.  The entire country has been under hartal (General Strike) since the declaration of the General Elections by the Election Commission on November 25, 2013. The hartals have been partially successful, with 32 of 64 Districts recording disruptive activities, such as shut downs, street violence, injury and killing. The worst of these was Sathkhira, where 14 fatalities have been recorded, followed by Chittagong with 11, and Dhaka city with 11. In addition, Khulna, Bhola, Feni and Jhenidah, have also recorded injuries to 50 or more persons in single incidents.

Also, leaders of the Democratic Left Alliance (DLA), a combine of the eight Left-leaning political parties, at a protest rally in Dhaka city on December 10, 2013, called on the Awami League (AL) to stop the process for holding a ‘unilateral’ election, as it would not be acceptable at home or abroad. 

Meanwhile, in a setback to AL, Jatiya Party (JP) Chairman H.M. Ershad, on December 3, 2013, declared, “The Jatiya Party will not contest the 10th parliamentary election as all political parties have not yet submitted nomination papers for the polls.” Further, on December 6, 2013, via text, Ershad directed his party leaders in the poll-time Cabinet to submit their resignation letters to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on December 7. On December 8, 2013, all six Jatiya Party Ministers and an adviser to the Prime Minister sent their resignation letters to the Prime Minister by post. The PM, however, did not accept the resignations. On December 9, Ershad stated, “Now my secretary general is going to hand over the resignations to the Prime Minister in person. But we know, she will not accept it. Whatever, we are no more in the Government, and our Ministers are not going to take part in any meeting of the Cabinet. My party members have been ordered to withdraw their nominations by December 13.”

Quader Mollah's execution is a clear demonstration that Sheikh Hasina is going to take the head-to-head confrontation with the Islamist extremists and their allies down to the wire, as the elections approach. It is likely that other executions of the convicted War Criminals will follow, at once showing Prime Minister Hasina's determination to see the process through and to push forward her electoral trump card. It is useful to note, here, that the convictions of another five war crimes offenders – former JeI ameer (chief)  Ghulam Azam, JeI leaders Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed and Muhammad Kamaruzzaman, BNP leader Salauddin Quader Chowdhury and its former leader Abdul Alim - are currently pending with the Appellate Division. While the Supreme Court is yet to fix any date for hearing their appeals, given the swiftness of response in the Mollah case, these processes could also come to a comparably abrupt end. The remaining two convicts - Al-Badr ‘operation-in-charge’ Chowdhury Mueen Uddin and ‘chief executor’ Ashrafuzzaman Khan were given death penalty on November 3, 2013 - are abroad. Mueen is in London and Khan in New York. Additional Attorney General and Chief Coordinator of the Prosecution, M.K. Rahman, has stated that the Government is trying to bring the fugitive war criminals back to the country in order to execute them, though this is far from likely in the foreseeable future.

Nevertheless, it is obvious to the Islamist radicals that the present confrontation is quickly transforming into an existential contest for them. These strident minority formations have long played a role in Bangladesh politics far out of proportion to their actual strength and support base as a result of their easy proclivity to street violence. With their top leaders now under sentences of death, and the cloak of impunity under which they have long operated lying in tatters, the Islamists can be expected to escalate their violence to the limits of their capabilities. Equally, Sheikh Hasina will recognize that, if she fails to destroy the power of the Islamist extremists and also loses control of the Government, her own survival, and that of all those who have supported the War Crimes Trial processes, will come under extreme threat.

Prime Minister Hasina had, on December 12, 2013, given an assurance that the coming national election in Bangladesh would be held in a free, fair, neutral and acceptable manner as per the country’s Constitution. With the War Crimes issue now coming to a head and the Opposition's unambiguous rejection of the electoral process, this is now increasingly unlikely.

[Source: SATP]

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