Bangladesh’s Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected appeals against the death sentences given to two influential opposition leaders convicted of war crimes during the independence war of 1971, prompting authorities to place security forces on high alert.
The rejection of the appeals means Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid of the Jamaat-e-Islami will be hanged soon as the last legal barrier to their execution has gone with the verdict.
Chowdhury and Mujahid can seek presidential clemency but it is unlikely they will get a reprieve from President Abdul Hamid as the government is determined to go ahead with the executions.
Following the verdict at 11.30am, Bangladeshi authorities sounded a high alert to avert possible incidents that could destabilise the country.
Paramilitary border guards were called in to help police in parts of the country and reports suggested security was heightened in and around Dhaka central jail, where Salahuddin and Mujahid are being held.
The judgement came after an Italian priest was shot and injured by unidentified assailants in a northern district. No group claimed the responsibility for the attack, the third on a foreigner since late September.
Authorities have blamed the BNP and its ally Jamaat-e-Islami for the attacks, saying they are aimed at creating chaos to stop the war crimes trial. The two opposition parties have denied the charge.
Attorney general Mahbubey Alam said the rejection of the appeals was a “victory of the nation”. Defence lawyer Khandaker Mahbub Hossain said the two leaders would decide on seeking a presidential pardon.
The Jamaat-e-Islami responded to the court verdict by calling a daylong strike across the country on Thursday.
Authorities also blocked social media platforms such as Facebook, Viber and WhatsApp for an indefinite period shortly after the verdict, apparently to thwart attempts to trigger violence. Users across the country said they could not access internet services too for hours.
Previous verdicts against Jamaat-e-Islami leaders for war crimes had sparked violence as their supporters attacked police and clashed with ruling Awami League supporters but authorities had successfully quelled the unrest.