Supreme Court upholds Jamaat stalwart Mir Quasem’s death sentence for 1971 war crimes

The Supreme Court has upheld former Al-Badr leader Mir Quasem Ali’s death sentence for war crimes, paving the way for his walk to the gallows.

Published : 8 March 2016, 03:43 AM
Updated : 8 March 2016, 09:49 PM

The International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) in November 2014 had sentenced him to death for atrocities against Bengalees committed during the War of Independence from Pakistan in 1971.

Mir Quasem, who had challenged the verdict the same month, can seek a review of the verdict, or ask for pardon.

He was the Al-Badr’s third most important functionary after Jamaat-e-Islami chief Motiur Rahman Nizami and Secretary General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid.

The wartime terror of Chittagong had gradually left mark of his shrewdness in both politics and business.

The 63-year old media tycoon pumped billions into the Jamaat since the mid-1980s to put it on a firm financial footing in Bangladesh.

Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha,who led a five-strong Appellate Division bench, read out a short order on Tuesday morning.

The four other members of the bench are Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain, Justice Hasan Foez Siddique, Justice Mirza Hussain Haider and Justice Mohammad Bazlur Rahman.

Freedom fighters at the court premises celebrate after Mir Quasem's death sentence is upheld.

Ganajagaran Mancha activists flash the victory sign after the top appeals court delivered Mir Quasem's appeal verdict.

The war crimes tribunal had
for the killing of young freedom fighter Jashim Uddin Ahmed and eight others and to 72 years in prison for acts of abduction and torture.

The apex court confirmed the punishment on eight counts, acquitted him on one, and changed the penalty in another.

This was the seventh war crimes case resolved by the top appeals court.

People in and outside the court sighed with relief as the verdict was delivered.

His party, the Jamaat, later called a countrywide shutdown for Wednesday to protest against the verdict.

Earlier, an observation by the chief justice during the hearing had cast doubts in the minds of many, including two ministers, about which way the verdict would go.

The verdict cited the crimes against humanity Quasem committed as the Chittagong area commander of the Al-Badr, a militia formed with members of the Islami Chhatra Sangha to help the Pakistan Army during the war.

Mir Quasem, founding president of the Islami Chhatra Shibir, has been member of the Jammat's Central Executive Council and the organisation’s fifth most important leader.

The ICT in the verdict had described Dalim Hotel in Chittagong, where pro-liberation people were tortured and killed under his leadership, as the ‘death factory'.

It had observed that Al-Badr members and Pakistani troops would take freedom fighters to Dalim Hotel to torture them until they were dead.

Police stand guards outside High Court in Dhaka ahead of verdict on Mir Quasem's appeal.

Mir Quasem's son Mir Ahmed Bin Quasem at the court premises after the Supreme Court upheld the his father's death sentence.

"It has been proved that the accused Mir Quasem Ali had been in steering and guiding position of the AB (Al-Badr) force headquartered at Dalim Hotel which was a ‘death-factory’ indeed."

Apart from Dalim Hotel, the Al-Badr, under his leadership, had set up camps for torture and killings at Dowsta Mohammad Panjabee Building - a leather depot at Asadganj, Dewan Hotel in Dewanhat area and Salma Manjil at Panchlaish.

In a statement, issued after the verdict Tuesday, Mir Quasem’s wife Khondokar Ayesha Khatun said the verdict ‘denied justice’ and that they would file for a review petition once the full verdict was available.

The convict’s Chief Defence Counsel Khandker Mahbub Hossain also made a similar remark about the review petition.

But, Attorney General Mahbubey Alam said justice was served through the verdict and that Mir Quasem deserved the death penalty.

Freedom fighters, followers of the Ganajagaran Mancha in Dhaka's Shahbagh and people in Chittagong and other parts of the country rejoiced over the apex court’s decision.

Celebratory marches were held in some places.

Police arrested Mir Quasem on Jun 17, 2013, from the offices of newspaper Naya Diganta less than two hours after the tribunal issued a warrant for his arrest. He was indicted on Sep 5, 2014.

Mir Quasem is currently at Kashimpur Central Jail-2 in Gazipur. He was informed of the confirmation of the death sentence, jail officials said.

Prosecution lawyers coming out of the courtroom after Supreme Court upheld the death sentence for Mir Quasem Ali.

Defence counsels coming out of the courtroom after Supreme Court upheld Mir Quasem Ali's death sentence.

The way to the gallows

The Supreme Court will now send the copy of the full verdict to the ICT, which subsequently will issue the death warrant.

After the warrant reaches him, Mir Quasem will have 15 days, starting from the day of the verdict’s publication, to file a petition to have the judgment reviewed.

Once the review petition is resolved and if the death sentence is upheld, the war crimes convict will have the opportunity to seek mercy from the president and meet family members.

If the Jamaat leader declines to seek a review or if he is denied pardon, the government then will order the jail authorities to hang him.

Summons for ministers

The top court on Feb 24, after concluding the hearing, had fixed Mar 8 to deliver the verdict on Mir Quasem’s appeal.

A comment from the chief justice during that day’s hearing had led two Cabinet members – Food Minister Qamrul Islam and Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Huq – on Mar 5 to express doubt on the outcome, creating a firestorm in the media.

The apex court's website on Monday read that the appeal is the first case on the cause list of Justice Sinha-led bench for Tuesday.

But rumours that the verdict would not be delivered on the day spread briefly when the case was not seen in the supplementary cause list published in the morning.

But, after taking their seats in the crowded courtroom at 9am, Chief Justice Sinha and eight other judges, ‘the full court’, of the Appellate Division began the proceedings by issuing summons to the two ministers for their comments over the appeal hearing.

The court said the ministers’ comments “undermined the dignity and prestige of the Supreme Court and the chief justice’s office”.

It issued a notice asking why legal actions should not be taken against them for their comments, which amount to contempt of court, and ordered the ministers to appear before it on Mar 15 to explain themselves.

The top court’s next order was the final verdict on Mir Quasem’s appeal.

Mir Quasem Ali

Dalim Hotel in Chittagong

From Al-Badr to Jamaat hierarchy

Mir Quasem, a wartime terror of Chittagong, had gradually left the mark of his shrewdness in both politics and finance as he turned into the Jamaat’s financial backbone after becoming a key player in the party’s top brass.

He had also received government help after the Jamaat was rehabilitated during military dictator Gen Ziaur Rahman’s regime.

Born in Manikganj's Harirampur in December 1952, he was better known as 'Mintu' to the people of Chittagong during the war.

After passing matriculation from Chittagong Collegiate School in 1967, Mir Quasem enrolled at Chittagong College and passed the intermediate exams two years later.

In 1970, he became the president of the Islami Chhatra Sangha’s Chittagong College unit. The ICS was the erstwhile student wing of the Jamaat.

Up until Nov 6, 1971, he was the president of Chittagong ICS and the head of Al-Badr in the port city.

He was elected a member of the Pakistan Islami Chhatra Sangha’s provincial working council the next day and also made the general secretary of its East Pakistan wing during the war.

Another war crimes convict, Jamaat leader Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid was the ICS president at the time.

Mir Quasem Ali being taken to the ICT from prison on Nov 2, 2014, before he was sentenced to death by the tribunal.

Mir Quasem Ali being taken back to prison on Nov 2, 2014, after the ICT sentenced him to death.

Mir Quasem had played a leading role in the crimes against humanity that was rampant in Chittagong region in 1971 as a central commander of Al-Badr, Al-Shams and Razakar.

It is also said that he had ordered the massacre and murder at the Razakar camps there.

The Jamaat leader went into hiding after the Pakistan Army surrendered on Dec 16.

He became the founding president of the Islami Chhatra Shibir, a rechristened Chhatra Sangha, on Feb 6, 1977, two years after Gen Zia gave the Jamaat a chance to join politics again.

Mir Quasem was the convenor of NGO Rabita al-Alam al-Islami’s Bangladesh chapter when he started playing some role in Jamaat’s politics in 1980. He later went on to become the NGO’s director.

He was a former vice-chairman of Islami Bank Bangladesh Limited and chairman of the Diganta Media Corporation, believed to be pro-Jamaat.

He is also the founder of Ibn Sina Trust and a founding member of Islami Bank Foundation.

He became an executive council member of the Jamaat in 1985.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher