Bangladesh’s highest court yesterday upheld the death sentence for the leader of the country’s largest Muslim party for crimes during its 1971 independence struggle, paving the way for his execution within months.
The Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by Jamaat-e-Islami party head Motiur Rahman Nizami, who was convicted of murder, rape and orchestrating the killing of top intellectuals when he was the leader of a ruthless militia during the conflict.
“The court upheld the death sentence in three out of four charges. We’re very happy,” prosecutor Tureen Afroz told reporters. “Most importantly, the death penalty was upheld for the killings of the intellectuals.”
Nizami, 72, Jamaat’s leader since 2000 and a minister in the government from 2001 to 2006, faces the gallows within months unless his case is reviewed by the same court or he is granted clemency by the president.
Three senior Jamaat officials and a key leader of the main opposition have been executed since December 2013 for war crimes, despite global criticism of their trials by a controversial war crimes tribunal.
The court swiftly dismissed previous reviews of those four opposition leaders on death row, leading to their execution, the latest in November last year.
Hundreds of secular protesters who have been campaigning tirelessly for the trials of the Muslim leaders for their roles in the 1971 war burst into celebrations at a square in central Dhaka as the news of the court’s decision came.
“This verdict brings an end to the long and painful wait for justice for the families of the victims of the war,” said Imran Sarker, head of a secular group, flashing a V-sign to reporters. “We now want his quick execution.”
Prosecutors said Nizami was the leader of a student wing of Jamaat during the war and turned it into the Al-Badr pro-Pakistani militia, which killed top professors, writers, doctors and journalists in the most gruesome chapter of the conflict. Their bodies were found blindfolded with their hands tied and dumped in a marsh on the outskirts of the capital.
The killing was carried out based on a hit-list Nizami ordered and the aim was to “intellectually cripple” the fledgling nation, prosecutors said.
Security was tight across the country after previous convictions of the Jamaat officials triggered the country’s deadliest violence since independence.
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