Bangladesh has executed opposition leader Abdul Quader Molla for war crimes during in 1971 war, after a shady trial. Molla is the first person to be sent to gallows on war crime charges during the country’s bloody 1971 war of independence.
Molla, 65, who was also assistant secretary general of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) party, was hanged hours after he refused to seek presidential clemency on December 12. He was hanged at 10.01pm (16:01 GMT) in a jail in the capital, Dhaka. The international war crimes tribunal, that convicted Molla, has been accused of political motivation and bias, and criticized for failing to meet the international standards of due process and fair trial.
Molla was accused of carrying massacre of 200 Bengalis in 1971 war by siding with the Pakistani forces, which at that time were fighting an India-backed bloody insurgency, later known as Bangladesh’s war of independence. Many in Bangladesh called him the “butcher of Fatehpur” where he allegedly carried out the massacre. The December 12 execution of Molla was not in line with the country’s own laws. According to Bangladeshi media reports, the jail authorities hanged him on government’s orders in violation of jail rules which required hanging in the early hours of the day and not at 10:00 p.m.
The execution heightened political tension in the country less than a month before elections are due. Jamaat-e-Islami is barred from contesting January 5 elections but plays a key role in the opposition movement led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).
Molla’s dead body was transported to Faridpur in the suburbs of Dhaka. His family members complained that they were unable to accompany the body as they felt insecure. One of Molla’s sons, Hasan Jamil said that his mother, brother and four sisters would not go to Faridpur to attend the burial for security reasons “as we feel insecure because Awami League supporters, with the help of police, repeatedly attacked their house.”
It was the first case of execution of any war crimes convict among the nine — seven sentenced to death, one to life in prison, another to 90 years in prison. Tribunal verdicts against five are still pending with the appeals court; three convicts are in hiding.
According to Bangladeshi media, about three hours before his death Molla told his wailing family during his last meeting with them that he was being executed for political reasons. Many critics of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajid government also see the execution as being political motivated. Punishing Bangladesh’ war criminals was one of the election promises of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajid, who is also the daughter of the country’s founder Sheikh Mujibur Rehman.
An eleventh hour twist on Tuesday night (December 12) in the course of events saw Molla’s execution stopped – for two days. His smiling photograph flashing a victory sign, following a life sentence by the war crimes tribunal on Feb 5, had sparked off a huge public campaign for his death. Thousands of youths revolted against the verdict terming it “too light”. Then tens of thousands congregated for weeks at Dhaka’s Shahbagh crossway’s now iconic Prajanma Chattar demanding a death sentence for him.
Thursday’s execution evoked mixed reaction in the country and in the Bangladeshi community here in the United States. Molla’s Jamaat-e-Islami vowed revenge. According to Al Jazeera, JI’s acting leader Moqbul Ahmed said in a statement on the party’s website that people would revenge Molla’s execution by deepening the role of Islam in Bangladesh. The party called a nationwide general strike for Sunday.
Al Jazeera’s Tanvir Chowdhury, reporting from Dhaka, said that judges’ ancestral homes (who gave the Molla’s verdict) had been attacked in the wake of the decision. “It has been a very tense atmosphere in which this review is going on,” he said adding: “People are worried, it’s almost like a micro-level civil war.”
Many in Bangladeshi diaspora in New York celebrated the hanging of Molla, calling him a traitor. In Jackson Heights, a Bangladeshi stronghold in New York’s Queens borough, Bangladeshi restaurants were humming with political discussions. Supporters of ruling Awami League, which constituted the war crimes tribunal in 2010, received Molla’s execution with spirited optimism for the country’s future. “It is good for our democracy that war criminals are brought to justice,” said one Bangladeshi shopper at 73rd street and 37th avenue in Jackson Heights.
The opposition supporters, however, portrayed a bleak future. “I am worried about my country because this execution is judicial killing and will cause more instability,” said one middle-aged shopper who identified himself as Deen. He accused the Hasina Wajid government of following the Indian agenda. Prime Minister Wajid is considered to be a close ally of India by many Bangladeshis.
Bangladesh’s political violence has remained in the headlines for the past many weeks. Many international leaders, including the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke to Prime Minster Wajid and the country’s President Abdul Hamid, urging them to resolve differences over the elections.
A senior UN political official wrapped up a five-day visit to the South Asian country with a warning that the current political crisis is exacting a heavy, human, social and economic toll, seriously threatening the hard-earned economic and social progress that Bangladesh has achieved.
“The leaders have shown statesmanship,” Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco told a news conference in Dhaka, the capital, of his meetings with Government and opposition leaders and election officials. “It remains critical to reduce tension and to continue to engage in constructive dialogue so as to create a congenial atmosphere.
“There are measures that would contribute immensely: a call by all sides to end the violence, the release of opposition political leaders, and a mutually satisfactory solution to concerns regarding the election schedule.”
The major parties have so far failed to resolve their differences over the conduct of elections and supporters of both parties have been clashing with each other and with the security forces. Scores of people have been killed, hundreds injured, and there has been extensive destruction of property.
Reaction in Pakistan
In Pakistan, the Jamaat-e-Islami leader Munawar Hassan criticized Molla’s execution and appealed to the people to observe Friday (December 13) as protest day against the Bangladesh government. It also announced to hold funeral payers in absentia for Molla on Friday in various cities. Bangladeshi and Pakistani JIs were part of the same political party before the country’s breakup in 1971.
In their statements, Munawar Hasan and Liaquat Baloch, another senior leader of JI, called the execution a “cruel decision”. They also condemned Pakistani government’s “criminal silence” on the issue. They said Bangladeshi premier Hasina Wajid could not perpetuate her regime through such actions.
The JI leaders said if Pakistani rulers wanted they could have saved the” innocent man” by making public the agreements between former Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Bangladesh’s founder Sheikh Mujibur Rehman. They said it was decided in the agreement that both the countries would not launch war cases against each other. Bhutto visited Bangladesh in 1974, during which Pakistan recognized Bangladesh as an independent country and established formal diplomatic relations.
Pakistani government has not officially reacted to the execution but many analysts in Islamabad fear that it will add further chill to its already frosty relations with Bangladesh. Despite diplomatic relations the two countries have failed to move past their bloody history.
Bangladesh blames Pakistani forces for killing three million Bengalis, a charge rejected by Islamabad and disputed by many international scholars. Nobody knows exactly how many people were killed in 1971 war. Some scholars in Pakistan refer to a commission formed by Bangladesh’s founder after the country’s independence to document those who lost their lives in the war. According to these accounts, the commission never documented the three million deaths.
In a research report BBC’s Mark Dummett also put the death toll between 300,000 to 500,000. Pakistan also claims that it lost close to 100,000 non-Bengalis and pro-Pakistan Biharis.
A Bangladeshi Perspective on 1971 ‘War Crimes’
Pakistani and Bangladeshi scholars give own versions of 1971 war