In the middle of bitter turmoil, with Bangladesh’s two warring dowager politicians again at each other’s throats, the country is ready to hang another war criminal left over from the havoc of the 1971 civil war against Pakistan. That was 44 years ago, perhaps setting a record for justice denied.
Muhammad Kamaruzzaman, a journalist turned politician and senior assistant secretary of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islam, lost his final appeal on April 6 in the Bangladesh Supreme Court. Usually hangings take place a short time after conclusion of the final appeal. The 62-year-old Islamic leader was accused of engineering the slaughter of at least 120 unarmed peasants in the north of the country during the conflict.
Bangladesh has been steadily hanging its enemies from the 1971 uprising. In December 2013, the government hanged Abdul Quader Mollah, the Jemaat-e-Islami assistant secretary, over the objections of United Nations human rights officials. At least 13 others are awaiting the noose including Motiur Rahman Nizami, the chief of Jemaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh’s largest Islamist party.
Jamaat is a major ally of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party headed by Khaleda Zia, the virulent enemy of Sheikh Hasina Wajed, who heads the ruling Awami League. The two women have traded periods in power for two decades amid continuing conflict, nationwide strikes and escalating violence. The Awami League, which has held power since 2008, outlawed Jamaat, as the party is known, ruling that it was unfit to contest in national polls. Jamaat has argued for the expulsion of minorities from Bangladesh and urged reunification with Pakistan .
Jamaat continues to question why the Awami League is pressing forward on war crimes trials and executions relating to a long ago conflict, with other critics saying the executions relate more to the struggle between the Awami League and Jamaat’s ally, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
Kamaruzzaman is hardly an angel. He led the Pakistan Army-backed Al-Badr militia during the s uprising against the then West Pakistan Authority. Although there are no reliable estimates, the nine-month independence war is believed to have cost at least three million lives.
Kamaruzzaman was convicted and sentenced to death by a special international crimes tribunal in May 2013. The order was upheld by the Bangladesh Supreme Court in November last year. On April 6 , the top court rejected his final plea.
Kamaruzzaman has maintained his journalism career, however, remaining the editor of the weekly Bengali newspaper Sonar Bangla (Golden Bangladesh). His membership in the Bangladesh National Press Club was finally cancelled two years ago.
“Our Prime Minister set up the war crimes tribunal in 2010 amidst opposition from various corners including the Jamaat-e-Islami party, which was once an ally to the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (led by Begum Khaleda Zia),” said Haroon Hassan, a Dhaka based political analyst. “They alleged that our present government is scoring political mileage with the war crimes trials.”
Bangladesh emerged as a sovereign nation following the 1971 breakaway from Pakistan, with its fledgling army getting support from Indian government forces. Millions of Bangladeshi fighters were killed by the Pakistani forces. Many fled to Indian provinces like West Bengal, Assam and Tripura. Finally the Pakistani forces surrendered in Dhaka and the new nation surfaced on Dec. 16, 1971.
The Bangladesh law minister Anisul Huq told reporters the Dhaka jail authority was ready to hang Kamaruzzaman at any time although he acknowledged that the war crime convict could still apply for mercy from President Abdul Hamid.
“But I do not think our President will pardon him [Kamaruzzaman] as he was involved with the killing of over 100 freedom fighters,” Hassan said, adding that Abdul Quader Molla was hanged immediately after the review petition in the Supreme Court was scrapped.
Meanwhile, the probability of the hanging has sparked clashes between the supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami and police in south Bangladesh. The Islamic party has called for a nationwide strike to oppose the death sentence.