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Bangladesh Ignored Pleas from the US, EU, and UN and Hanged an Alleged War Criminal

Bangladesh executed a top leader of an Islamist opposition group Saturday for alleged crimes against humanity committed during the country’s bloody 1971 war for independence.
April 11, 2015, 9:55pm
Photo by A.M. Ahad/AP

Bangladesh hanged a top leader of an Islamist opposition group Saturday for alleged crimes against humanity committed during the country's bloody 1971 war for independence, despite calls from the United States, European Union, and United Nations to halt the execution.

Mohammad Kamaruzzaman, 62, was hanged to death at 10:30pm local time Saturday at the Dhaka Central Jail, according to Brig. Gen. Syed Iftekhar Uddin, inspector general of prisons in Bangladesh.

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Kamaruzzaman was the senior assistant secretary general of Jamaat-e-Islami. He is the second leader of the group to be hanged following verdicts handed down by a war crimes court in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh.

The death sentence for Kamaruzzaman was originally issued May 9, 2013. The country's Supreme Court issued the final rejection of his appeal on April 6.

Bangladeshi authorities identified Kamaruzzaman as the commander of Al Badr, a group that allegedly collaborated with the Pakistani army to commit atrocities in Bangladesh in 1971 during a campaign of violence that the government claims led to the deaths of some 3 million people, as well as rapes and the displacement of thousands of others.

The alleged war crimes occurred when Bangladesh was still known as East Pakistan and sought independence from West Pakistan under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, father of current Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Kamaruzzaman was accused of ordering his forces to collaborate with the Pakistani army in the massacre of at least 120 unarmed civilians on July 25, 1971 in Sohagpur, later known as the "village of widows."

Related: Groups of 'law enforcement officers' keep abducting opposition politicians in Bangladesh 

Bangladesh carried out the execution Saturday against the wishes of the US, UK, EU, and Human Rights Watch.

US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf issued a statement hours before the hanging asserting that, while the US "supports bringing to justice those who committed atrocities in the 1971 Bangladesh war of independence," Bangladesh should abide by the process of International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) trials established by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other agreements.

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"We have seen progress, but still believe that further improvements to the ICT process could ensure these proceedings meet domestic and international obligations," Harf said. "Until these obligations can be consistently met, it is best not to proceed with executions given the irreversibility of a sentence of death."

In a similar statement on April 9, the EU called on Bangladesh to commute all death sentences and "introduce a moratorium on executions as a first step towards definitive abolition of capital punishment."

A day earlier, Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, asked the Bangladeshi government to halt Kamaruzzaman's execution because his "trial was rife with irregularities and did not meet international fair trial standards."

Kausarul Islam, the son of a prisoner held in a torture camp allegedly led by Kamaruzzaman, rejected those arguments, telling VICE News that international bodies "have no right to interfere in the matters of a sovereign nation like Bangladesh."

"My family and I never expected to get justice for what my father had faced in 1971 at the hands of the [Pakistani] army and its collaborators," Islam said.

Islam's father, Abu Taher, was the vice-president of Trishal Nazrul College in Mymensingh. Islam said his father was detained and taken to a torture camp in 1971 by a group collaborating with the Pakistani army.

Related: 'Shoot arsonists on sight': Political crisis in Bangladesh leads to violence and 7,500 arrests 

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"He was tortured for three days," Islam said. "Even during the last moments of his life, my father bore the scars of torture on his back and other parts of his body."

Taher was eventually freed and became a leader in the battle for independence, which Bangladesh won on December 16, 1971.

Imran H Sarker, head of the Blogger and Online Activists Network in Bangladesh, also supported the hanging Saturday.

"The execution of the verdict has ensured the rule of justice in Bangladesh," Sarker told VICE News.

Sarker is also a spokesman for the Shahbag Movement of 2013, established after Bangladesh's war crimes court sentenced alleged war criminal Abdul Quader Mollah to life in prison. Sarker's group and others wanted Mollah to face the death penalty. Mollah was eventually hanged to death on December 12, 2013.

Hours before Kamaruzzaman's execution Saturday, the streets of Dhaka were deserted due to fear of a backlash from Jamaat-e-Islami activists and supporters. The government deployed paramilitary platoons across Dhaka and other major cities to quell the potential unrest.

Jamaat-e-Islami is part of a 20-party political alliance in Bangladesh led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which has been leading strikes and an ongoing nationwide blockade since January 6 to press for a national election. More than 150 people have died due to arson attacks and extrajudicial killings related to the protests.