Execution of Bangladeshi opposition leaders draws criticism

Published 23.11.2015 21:55

The execution late Saturday of two Bangladeshi opposition politicians convicted of alleged war crimes during the country's 1971 war of independence has drawn praise from certain quarters in Bangladesh and criticism from some foreign governments and rights groups. In Bangladesh, several groups applauded the execution of Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid, the secretary-general of Jamaat-e-Islami, the country's largest Islamist political party, and Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, a former legislator for the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. Describing the two men as "dangerous war criminals," Shahriar Kabir, acting head of Bangladesh's Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee (the stated aim of which is to fight religious extremism), called their execution "a big achievement."

The two men were hanged late Saturday night after being convicted earlier by a war crimes tribunal of alleged atrocities in Bangladesh's 1971 war of independence from Pakistan. The executions took place shortly after President Abdul Hamid rejected pleas for clemency lodged by both men. Imran Sarker, a spokesperson for the Ganajagaran Mancha group (established during Bangladesh's 2013 Shahbagh protests, which had demanded the death penalty for alleged war criminals), described the executions as "a milestone in Bangladesh's history."

After the executions were carried out, Mancha activists in Dhaka's Shahbagh district celebrated the move by showering passersby's with flower petals. The Jamaat-e-Islami, which says the tribunal was used by the government to target opposition leaders, has called on supporters to stage a nationwide strike yesterday to protest the executions.

Bangladesh accuses the Pakistani army and local collaborators of killing up to 3 million people and decimating entire villages during the 1971 war. Researchers put the toll much lower.

The executions – and the war crimes tribunal that led to them – were also met with criticism from some foreign governments. In a statement, Pakistan's Foreign Office said it was "deeply disturbed" by the move, noting the international community's criticisms of the "flawed trials" that led to the conviction – and subsequent execution – of both men. Along with the United Nations, the U.S. and the EU had both urged the Bangladeshi government not to carry out the executions. The Pakistani statement went on to stress the need for "reconciliation" in Bangladesh in line with a 1974 agreement between Pakistan, Bangladesh and India that called for a "forward-looking approach" to matters relating to the 1971 war. "This," the Foreign Office asserted, "will foster goodwill and harmony." The Turkish Foreign Ministry, for its part, likewise voiced its "sorrow" over the execution of the two opposition leaders in "brother Bangladesh." "Turkey, a country that abolished capital punishment, preserves its belief that execution is not a way to heal past wounds," the ministry said in a Sunday statement, urging Dhaka to find a better way to achieve national reconciliation.

On Friday, one day before the executions were carried out, U.S. lawmakers had described the war crimes tribunal as "flawed," suggesting it had been exploited for political ends, with the U.S. State Department urging Dhaka to postpone the executions.

Rights groups have also weighed in on the matter. Also on Friday, Human Rights Watch had called on Dhaka to halt the executions "pending an independent and impartial review of their [i.e., Mujahid's and Chowdhury's] cases." Brad Adams, the New York-based watchdog's Asia director, said that accountability for crimes committed during the 1971 war was "crucial," but added that "trials need to meet international fair trial standards." "Bangladeshis are rightly demanding justice for atrocities [committed] in the liberation war," Adams asserted. "But delivering justice requires fairness and adherence to the highest standards, particularly when a life is at stake." Meanwhile, a television journalist suffered minor injuries after being shot in the town of Raojan hours after Chowdhury's burial there, private television Channel 24 said. Police were checking if the incident had any connection with the executions.

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