Two senior Bangladeshi opposition leaders were executed early Sunday for war crimes committed during the 1971 independence war with Pakistan after their last-ditch pleas for clemency were rejected, a minister said.
Dhaka central jail superintendent Jahangir Kabir confirmed to Hindustan Times that both the leaders were hanged at 12.55am.
On Wednesday, Bangladesh’s Supreme Court upheld the death sentences against Chowdhury and Mujahid, who were convicted in 2013 on charges including genocide, rape and torture during the war.
Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said on Saturday that President Mohammad Abdul Hamid had rejected a clemency appeal from the two opposition leaders.
“There is no more bar to execute them,” Kamal said. But he would not say exactly when the executions would take place.
The families of Chowdhury and Mujahid met them for the last time inside the Dhaka Central Jail on Saturday evening before the planned executions, authorities said.
A huge contingent of security forces was guarding the Dhaka central jail on Saturday night in the nation’s capital where the executions are to be carried out.
Jamaat-e-Islami and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party say the trials ordered by the government are politically motivated. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, leader of the Awami League party, denies the allegations outright, saying justice for victims families is long overdue.
More than 15 people, mostly leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami, have been convicted of war crimes as part of a series of decisions by two separate tribunals set up by Hasina in 2010. Two senior leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami have already been executed.
The United States sharpened its criticism of Bangladesh’s tribunal on war crimes after the death sentences were upheld by the Supreme Court.
Bangladesh was the eastern part of Pakistan until the 1971 war of independence. The Bangladesh government says that Pakistani soldiers, aided by local collaborators, killed 3 million people and raped 200,000 women during the war. While rights groups say atrocities were committed and there needs to be accountability, international doubts over the legal proceedings against the opposition figures have intensified.
Stephen Rapp, who until August served as President Barack Obama’s ambassador for war crimes, said it was “disturbing” that Chowdhury was denied the right to call alibi witnesses, including a former US ambassador, to provide testimony that he was not present in Bangladesh at the time the alleged crimes were committed.
Human Rights Watch said the tribunal allowed the prosecution to call 41 witnesses, while Chowdhury’s defence was limited to four witnesses. The New York-based group said Mujahid was sentenced to death for instigating his subordinates to commit abuses, although no subordinates testified or were identified.
US lawmakers overseeing foreign policy described the tribunal as “very flawed” and a means of political retribution. The State Department was less pointed, saying Friday that executions should not take place until it’s clear the trial process meets international standards.
Leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in a letter sent Tuesday to the top US diplomat for South Asia, voiced concern that “democratic space is shrinking” in Bangladesh amid “a growing climate of violence, fear and self-censorship.”
The lawmakers also criticized Bangladeshi leaders who allege a political conspiracy is behind a spate of violent attacks by Muslim extremists this year on secular writers and bloggers. Victims include American-Bangladeshi writer Avijit Roy, who was hacked to death in Dhaka in February.
Such extremist violence was once rare in Bangladesh, which is mostly Muslim but with a strong secular tradition.
(With inputs from agencies)