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Bangladesh court rejects Islamist leader's final death sentence appeal

Motiur Rahman Nizami
Motiur Rahman Nizami
Motiur Rahman Nizami, leader of Jamaat-e-Islami party, could face hanging at any time

Bangladesh's supreme court has rejected a final appeal by the leader of the top Islamist party against a death sentence for atrocities committed during the 1971 war of independence, lawyers say, meaning he could be hanged at any time.

The supreme court in January upheld the death penalty for Motiur Rahman Nizami, head of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, for genocide, rape and orchestrating the massacre of top intellectuals during the 1971 war.

Nizami, 73, a former legislator and minister under Khaleda Zia when she was prime minister, has been in jail since 2010, when he was charged with war crimes by a tribunal set up by the current prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, that year.

The war crimes tribunal has sparked violence and drawn criticism from opposition politicians, including leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami, that it is victimising Hasina's political opponents.

"All the legal battles are over," Nizami's lawyer, Khandaker Mahbub Hossain, told reporters on Thursday. "Now it is up to him whether he will seek clemency from the president or not."

Hundreds of people flooded the streets of the capital, Dhaka, to cheer the verdict, but there has been no report of violence, although Jamaat called a nationwide strike for Sunday in protest.

Authorities have deployed additional security forces in Dhaka and elsewhere as similar previous judgments triggered violence that killed around 200, mainly Jamaat activists and police.

No Peace Without Justice, a non-profit body based in Italy, has called the tribunal's proceedings "a weapon of politically influenced revenge whose real aim is to target the political opposition".

The government denies the accusations.

The verdict comes as the Muslim-majority nation suffers a surge in militant violence in which atheist bloggers, academics, religious minorities and foreign aid workers have been killed.

In the last month alone, 5 people, including a university teacher, two gay activists and a Hindu have been hacked to death by suspected Islamist militants.

The government has blamed the increase in Islamist violence on Jamaat-e-Islami, but the group denies any link to the attacks.

4 opposition politicians, including three Jamaat-e-Islami leaders, have been convicted by the war crimes tribunal and executed since late 2013.

About 3 million people were killed, official figures show, and thousands of women were raped, during the 9-month war, in which some factions, including the Jamaat-e-Islami, opposed the break from what was then called West Pakistan. But the party denies that its leaders committed any atrocities.

Source: The Guardian, May 5, 2016

Noose tightens on Nizami for war crimes as Bangladesh Jamaat chief loses last legal battle

Bangladesh's highest court of appeals has thrown out top war criminal Motiur Rahman Nizami's last-ditch appeal to review his death penalty for atrocities during the 1971 War of Independence.

The Supreme Court's decision clears the final legal hurdle for the government to hang the Jamaat-e-Islami chief for directing rapes, mass murders, and massacre of intellectuals to stop Bangladesh emerge out of Pakistan as an independent nation.

But the former Al-Badr militia chief can beg President Md Abdul Hamid to save his neck, but he will have to repent of his crimes.

In the event he decides that he will not seek mercy, or if the president turns down a clemency petition from him, the government will execute the death sentence.

The 4-strong Appellate Division bench headed by Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha pronounced single-word judgment on Thursday.

The top judge took his seat in a tense court room and only uttered, "Dismissed".

The other members of the bench were justices Nazmun Ara Sultana, Syed AB Mahmud Husain and Hasan Foez Siddique.

On Mar 16, the death warrant issued by the International Crimes Tribunal was read out to Nizami after the Supreme Court published the full copy of his verdict the day before.

He moved the chief justice-led court on Mar 29 to review his death penalty, well before the 15-day time limit for the last legal recourse. The court heard arguments for some 2 1/2 hours on Tuesday.

Assisted by SM Shahjahan, Khandker Mahbub Hossain argued for Nizami at the court hearings on his review appeal filed.

Attorney General Mahbubey Alam represented the State and he was aided by Additional Attorney General Md Momtaz Uddin Fakir and Assistant Attorney General Bashir Ahmed.

An official of the Supreme Court Registrar's Office said a certified copy of the full verdict on the review petition will soon be sent via the tribunal to Dhaka Central jail.

Nizami, a close confidante of Jamaat ideologue and another war criminal Ghulam Azam, who had died in prison, is now lodged in Kashimpur prison in Gazipur.

His counsels said that Nizami and his family will decide whether to go for presidential clemency.

"All the legal battles are over," said lawyer SM Shajahan, who assisted chief defence counsel Khandker Mahbub Hossain at the court hearings on the review plea.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Mahbubey Alam said that the whole nation was relieved over the verdict.

"It finally secured justice for the killings of intellectuals. Nizami inspired the Al-Badr and was responsible for the massacre of the intellectuals."

The highest appeals court's decision was greeted with celebrations and handshakes outside the courtroom and enlivened by full-throated slogans in the streets.

It elicited jubilation and relief among war veterans and supporters of war crimes trial who had pushed for maximum penalty, including the Ganajagaran Mancha.

Mancha activists and supporters brought at a procession at Dhaka's Shahbagh intersection as soon as the verdict was pronounced.

"The scrapping of review plea concludes all the legal proceedings. This is a major victory for the people of Bangladesh.

"The nation has waited long for the notorious war criminal's punishment," said Mancha spokesperson Imran H Sarker.

The Jamaat supremo is the fifth war criminal to carry a verdict for maximum punishment that is at the final stages of execution. He is the second politician after his deputy Ali Ahsan Muhammad Mujahid to have served as minister and going to be hanged for war-time atrocities.

On Jan 6 this year, this appellate court rejected a plea to overturn his conviction and the death sentence given by a special war tribunal's verdict.

In its verdict on Nizami's appeal, the apex court had said nothing short of a death sentence can be the apt punishment given the gravity of the horrific crimes he had committed.

The International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), in Oct 29, 2014 verdict, found the former influential minister in BNP chief Khaleda Zia's government guilty of 8 out of the 16 charges.

The 72-year old divisive figure from Pabna was the chief of Islami Chhatra Sangha, then the student wing of Jamaat. He commanded the Al-Badr militia created by the Pakistan Army that was notorious for its ruthlessness.

He was also instrumental in the formation and running of the Razakar and Peace Committee, forces to help the Pakistan generals.

The Al-Badr brigade had gone on a genocidal rampage to cleanse the Bengali nation-in-the-making. Its loyalists killed some of the best brains who formed the spine of secular nationalism that undermined Pakistan's race-based founding principles.

Most of them were killed just a few days before the final victory on Dec 16.

The Jamaat linchpin already carries death penalty handed down in 2014 for his role in arms trafficking related to Chittagong 10-truck arms haul case.

The 5 appeals verdicts of war crimes cases handed down so far are of Jamaat assistant secretaries general Quader Molla and Mohammad Kamaruzzaman, secretary general Mujahid, the party's Nayeb-e-Amir Delwar Hossain Sayedee, and BNP leader Salauddin Quader Chowdhury.

Sayedee's death sentence was commuted to prison term until death.

The 4 others' death sentences were upheld and they have been executed.

Ghulam Azam, who led the party during the war, and former BNP minister Abdul Alim died while waiting for the hearing of their appeals.

From killing grounds to the Cabinet

Born on Mar 31, 1943 in Monmothpur village of Pabna's Santhia Upazila, Nizami succeeded his guru at the helm in 2000.

He was chosen for the top job after he led the party's Dhaka City unit for 4 years until 1982.

A year later, he was made assistant secretary general before being promoted to secretary general in 1988.

He got his Kamil degree in Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) from Dhaka's Madrasa-e-Alia in 1963.

Nizami later graduated from the Dhaka University in 1967.

Inspired by the political preaching of Sayyid Abul A'la Maududi, who founded Jamaat-e-Islami Hind in Lahore in 1941, Nizami joined its student wing Chhatra Sangha.

He swiftly rose through the ranks of the political outfit, operating in the then West and East Pakistan, and became Chhatra Sangha president in 1966.

Nizami retained the post for the following 5 years and throughout Bangladesh's struggle for independence from Pakistan.

After the war, Nizami fled with Ghulam Azam to the UK.

In 1978, Bangladesh's 1st military dictator Gen Ziaur Rahman repatriated them and brought Jamaat back into politics.

Nizami was elected to Parliament in 1991 and again in 2001 on a BNP-led coalition ticket.

He served as the agriculture minister until 2003 and thereafter as industries minister until 2006.

Source: bdnews24.xom, May 5, 2016

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