DHAKA: Bangladesh is set to hang a top Islamist leader Saturday for overseeing a massacre during the nation’s 1971 independence war, officials said, after he refused to seek clemency from the president.
Mohammad Kamaruzzaman, the third most senior figure in the Islamist opposition Jamaat-e-Islami party, is due to be executed on Saturday night after his hanging was postponed at the last minute.
No official reason was given for the delay on Friday, but junior home minister Asaduzzaman Khan said the 62-year-old will soon be executed in the capital’s main jail.
“The hanging of Kamaruzzaman… will take place today (Saturday),” Khan said in remarks published by the mass circulation Bengali daily Prothom Alo.
Kamaruzzaman was convicted of abduction, torture and mass murder as one of the leaders of a pro-Pakistan militia that killed thousands of people during Bangladesh’s war of independence.
The United Nations on Wednesday urged Bangladesh against carrying out the sentence, saying his trial did not meet “fair international” standards.
But a police chief, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP by text message that the execution would go ahead at 10:01pm local time (1601 GMT).
Twenty-one members of Kamaruzzaman’s family, including his wife and son, visited him in prison on Saturday afternoon.
“The jail authorities asked the family to meet him. It’s an indication that he may be executed tonight,” his lawyer Shishir Manir told AFP.
Khan told reporters Kamaruzzaman had decided not to seek mercy from the president when two magistrates visited him in jail, and time for any more appeals had now run out.
“He did not want to file a mercy petition,” the junior minister told local online news portal bdnews24.com.
The execution comes after the country’s highest court rejected Kamaruzzaman’s final legal appeal on Monday, upholding the original death sentence handed down to him by a controversial domestic war crimes court in May 2013.
Kamaruzzaman was convicted of abduction, torture and mass murder, including a slaughter in a remote northern hamlet that has since become known as the “Village of Widows”.
Prosecutors said he presided over the massacre of at least 120 unarmed farmers who were lined up and gunned down in the remote northern village of Sohagpur in the 1971 independence struggle against Pakistan.
The nine-month conflict, one of the bloodiest in world history, led to the creation of an independent Bangladesh from what was then East Pakistan.
Three women who lost their husbands testified against him in one of the most emotive of all the war crimes trials.
If the execution is carried out, Kamaruzzaman would become the second Islamist so far hanged for war crimes in Bangladesh, though several others have been handed death sentences.
Jamaat, the nation’s largest Islamist party, is an ally of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), whose leader Khaleda Zia is trying to topple Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s secular government.
Jamaat’s members have been accused of being behind a number of deadly firebomb attacks since the start of the year, including on buses. The violence in the last three months left at least 120 people dead.
Jamaat and the BNP have previously charged that the war crimes trials are mainly aimed at silencing Hasina’s opponents rather than delivering justice.
Hasina’s government says the trials — which lack any international oversight — are needed to heal the wounds of the conflict.