Abdul Quader Molla, whose ‘lighter’ life sentence had triggered ‘Bangla Spring’ from Shahbagh, will hang as the Supreme Court has found him guilty of previously unproven murders and rape during the 1971 war.
‘Koshai Quader’ or ‘Butcher Quader’, as he was known then, will be hanged till death, the top court ordered in the first case of final verdict on 1971 war crimes cases,
The highest appeals court enhanced his life sentence to the maximum punishment possible on a prosecution appeal, disposing Molla’s plea to acquit him of the charges.
People, who had expressed ‘dissatisfaction’ over his life imprisonment seven months ago, hailed the death penalty saying it served the Jamaat Assistant Secretary General right for his war-time atrocities.
Jamaat-e-Islami, which is described in one ICT verdict as a ‘criminal outfit’, rampaged through parts of Bangladesh, taking out processions, detonating crude bombs, fighting pitched battles with police, set afire police vehicles and called a 48-hour nationwide shutdown starting Wednesday. The party has termed the verdict a ‘wrong’ one.
Ruling Awami League and its allies are pleased with the ruling. Trying suspected war criminals was one of the ruling alliance’s campaign pledges in 2008. The incumbent government set up the first war crimes tribunal of Bangladesh in 2010.
Those seeking maximum penalty, including Shahbagh’s Ganajagaran Mancha, have called for swiftly execution of the verdict. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had told the Parliament the war crimes sentences would be executed quickly.
After Tuesday’s verdict, Molla has no other way but to seek mercy from the President, said Law Minister Shafique Ahmed.
However, chief defence counsel Abdur Razaq said it was Molla’s constitutional right to appeal for a review. He said they would appeal within 30 days of getting the full verdict.
Meanwhile, authorities at Kashimpur Central Jail have started the process to shift Molla to the condemn cell.
Officials there have said if the convict does not seek presidential clemency or if the President rejects his plea, Molla’s death sentence will be carried out within 21 to 28 days.
Law Minister Ahmed has hinted that the President would reject Molla’s plea. “Clemency, in these situations, is usually not granted anywhere in the world,” he said.
The Jamaat leader’s lawyer Razzaq said it depended on Molla’s family whether they would seek forgiveness from the President.
None from Molla’s family was immediately available for comment on the matter. The last time his wife and children met him at the prison was on Sept 7.
He was shown arrested on Jul 13, 2010 in a murder case that took place during the Liberation War. Later he was charged with war crimes.
On May 28, the second war crimes tribunal of Bangladesh started trying him and sentenced him to life in prison on Feb 5 this year.
Molla had flashed a ‘victory’ sign while leaving court after the February verdict by the trial court and his gesture had triggered an unparalleled uprising from Shahbagh, dubbed as ‘Bangla Spring’ in Bangladesh and beyond. Millions of people had come out on the streets in full fury and staged non-violent demonstrations for days on end to demand highest penalty for war crimes conviction.
Tuesday’s judgment came after the protests forced the government to amend the appeals right for the prosecution. Previously, the prosecution could appeal only in case of an acquittal.
The defence had sought his acquittal while the prosecution pleaded for maximum penalty.
Hearing on the appeals began on Apr 1 but the defence was quick to question if the amended Act would be applicable since it was done after Molla’s conviction.
After consulting the amici curie, the Supreme Court decided the amendment would be applicable for the Jamaat leader.
On Tuesday, a five-strong Appellate Division bench, headed by Chief Justice Md Muzammel Hossain, accepted the prosecution plea for death penalty.
Verdict by majority
The top appeals court gave the Jamaat leader maximum penalty with a 4-1 majority on Tuesday reviewing two appeals regarding a verdict handed down by ICT-2.
Six charges had been levelled against Molla but the ICT-2 acquitted him in one, and sentenced him to life for the rest.
The bench that heard the appeal comprised of justices Surendra Kumar Sinha, Md Abdul Wahhab Miah, Syed Mahmud Hossain, Siddiqur Rahman Mia and AHM Shamsuddin Chowdhury.
After Justice Rahman’s retirement in June, the bench had been working with five members.
Punishment of the tribunal was maintained on the first, second, third and fifth charges while the fourth was revised to life term by a 4-1 majority.
According to the fourth charge, he had led a group of Razakars and killed hundreds of unarmed villagers in Keraniganj’s Bhawl Khanbari and Ghatarchar. The ICT-2 had acquitted Molla of the charge.
Molla was unanimously found guilty of the sixth charge but was given death by a 4-1 majority.
The sixth charge accused Molla of directing a band of men with him to shoot Hazrat Ali Lashkar, slaughter his pregnant wife and youngest daughter, and slam his 2-year-old son against the ground and kill him on Mar 26 at their Mirpur Section 12 residence. One of Lashkar’s daughters was also raped.
The first of the charges accuse him of allegedly ordering the shooting of a Mirpur Bangla College student, Pallab, on Apr 5 1971. The second charge said the Jamaat leader had killed poet Meherunnisa, her mother and two brothers on Mar 27 at their Mirpur residence.
He had allegedly picked up journalist Khandkar Abu Taleb from Arambagh and slaughtered him in the Jalladkhana Pump House on Mar 29, according to the third charge.
Molla went to Alokdi village on Apr 24 along with the Pakistan army and a band of Razakars, and went on a killing spree. Over 344 residents of the village were killed in the massacre, according to the fifth charge.
The tribunal had sentenced Molla to 15 years in jail for the first, second and third charges. He was give a life term for the fifth.
The defence counsel said they would appeal for a review of the verdict although the Attorney General had said there was no scope for appeal.
After the verdict, Attorney General Mahbubey Alam said Molla could only seek mercy from the President.
“This special Act has been formulated by Amending the Constitution. It says the tribunal will try cases and gives opportunities for appealing against the verdict with the Appellate Division.
“The Act does not give any other opportunities. And so there is no opportunity for review,” Alam explained.
Molla’s lawyer Razzaq, however, said it was the Jamaat leader’s ‘constitutional right’ to appeal for a review. “The Supreme Court was created by the Constitution, not by the ICT Act,” he reasoned.
Mahbubey Alam said he and Razzaq had expressed their own opinions. “The court will decide on the matter.”
Law Minister Ahmed said the appeal was heard under the ICT Act and it offered no scope to review the final verdict.
“Although the judiciary does not go by special law, the appeals were made under the International Crimes Tribunals Act,” he said. ‘Justice served’
At Shahbagh, the Ganajagaran Mancha faithful, demanding maximum penalty for convicted war criminals, shouted their exuberance. Many strained to make themselves heard – after all, it was Molla’s ‘lenient’ life sentence that sparked the youth uprising back in February.
The punishment of past atrocities was greeted with a huge sigh of relief and loud cheers by banner-carrying public elsewhere.
“The verdict has dispelled all our doubts on whether we’d get justice,” said Mancha spokesperson Imran H Sarkar.
Jahangirnagar University Vice Chancellor Prof Anowar Hossain said the verdict was a victory for the new generation who had gathered in their hundreds of thousands at Shahbagh within a few days.
“The Supreme Court had delivered the verdict because of uprising by the demonstrations at Shahbagh,” he said.
Prosecutor Tureen Afroz said the verdict was ‘satisfactory’. “The prosecution was able to prove the charges.”
Freedom fighters, present at the court, had also expressed satisfaction over the verdict. Sector Commanders Forum welcomed the death sentence. “Now we have had the right verdict,” said the forum's Vice-President Maj Gen (retd) KM Safiullah.
Freedom fighter Jahiruddin Jalal, also known as ‘Bichchhu Jalal’, said, “Now, the nation’s only wish is to purge Bangladesh of the stigma by carrying out the verdict.”
Awami League Joint General Secretary Mahbub-ul-Alam Hanif said: “Quader Molla was an infamous Razakar (collaborator). He had killed many who had fought for Bangladesh’s liberation.”
The leftist parties have urged the government to carry out the sentence quickly.
Faridpur, Molla’s hometown, hailed the verdict and demanded swift execution of the sentence.
Molla in the dock
A case was filed with Keraniganj police on Dec 17, 2007 accusing several Jamaat leaders of the killing of one Mostofa during the Liberation War.
A year later, another case was filed against him at the Pallabi Police Station. He was arrested on Jul 13, 2010 in the case.
Prosecution pressed charges of murder, rape, arson and other crimes against humanity on Nov 1, 2011 and tribunal took them into cognisance on Dec 28.
ICT-2 indicted him on six charges on May 28 last year and ordered starting his trial.
The amici curiae, or friends of the court, appointed during the Appellate Division hearing are former Attorney General Barrister Rafique-Ul Huq, Barristers Amir-Ul Islam, Rokonuddin Mahmud and Ajmalul Hossain QC, former Attorneys General AF Hassan Ariff and Mahmudul Islam, and TH Khan.
A grim mood settled over Jamaat adherents some of whom decided to react with rage.
The Jamaat, a key ally of the BNP, has been demanding dissolution of the war crimes tribunals and claims that its leaders are victims of a political vendetta. Even during BNP chief Khaleda Zia’s rally in Rajshahi on Monday, Jamaat supporters demanded that the tribunal set up to try crimes against humanity be abolished and the convicts released.
The party had unleashed countrywide violence each time one of its stalwarts was convicted for war crimes. Last July, Jamaat activists fought running battles with police, with rocks, crude bombs and debris pelted through the air after a war crimes tribunal sentenced Secretary General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujaheed to death for his war crimes.
Over the days and months preceding that ruling, Jamaat had unleashed violent street mob to sabotage the trial of their leaders particularly in their strongholds and deadly violence had left over 100 people dead.
Barely minutes after Tuesday’s final verdict, the party took out a procession in Chittagong and detonated crude bombs and set fire to a police vehicle.
Reports of clashes also came in from Sirajganj.
Several hours later, Jamaat called for a 48-hour countrywide shutdown beginning Wednesday in defiance of the judge from the top court.
Despite stiff resistance from the Jamaat, accused of committing war crimes as an organisation, the government has vowed to go ahead with the trial, saying it is justice delayed but not denied for the people who suffered so much during the war.
A High Court verdict declared ‘illegal and void’ the party’s registration on Aug 1 while its role during Bangladesh’s Liberation War is being probed.
Jamaat-e-Islami's direct involvement in war crimes during 1971 was highlighted in various verdicts of the International Crimes Tribunal against its top leaders who face a slew of charges for crimes against humanity.
The ICT-1 verdict that sentenced Jamaat guru Ghulam Azam to 90 years in prison termed the party as a ‘criminal organisation’.