Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha's four-member Appellate bench on Tuesday confirmed the death penalty for the 67-year old former commander of Al-Badr, the militia raised by Pakistan to crush the Bengali struggle for independence.
The top court’s judgment was greeted with celebratory embraces 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 for Mujahid who unleashed his 'angels of death' on his own people in 1971.
But those who suffered Mujahid's brutality were certain no punishment was good enough for the Jamaat leader.
This is the first time a politician who served as a minister is going to be executed for war crimes in Bangladesh.
Mujahid, the social welfare minister in Khaleda Zia’s BNP-Jamaat coalition cabinet, planned and executed mass murders including those of intellectuals, scientists, academics and journalists during the war to abort Bangladesh’s birth.
The war crimes tribunal ordered him—in his mid-20s in 1971—to walk the gallows on July 17, 2013 for the massacre of the intellectuals and involvement in the murder and torture of Hindus.
Out of the seven charges levelled against him, the tribunal had found him guilty on five counts. He was given the death penalty in the first, sixth and seventh charges.
The Jamaat secretary general got death for the first of the seven charges – abduction and murder of journalist Sirajuddin Hossain — which was “merged” with the sixth charge related to the murder of intellectuals.
The Appellate Division took into account the first and sixth charge separately. Tuesday’s verdict acquitted Mujahid from the abduction and murder of Hossain but upheld the death penalty for the murder of intellectuals.
The tribunal also had sentenced him to death for the seventh charge – murder and torture of Hindus – as well. The Appellate Division verdict commuted it to life in prison.
He got life in prison for the fifth charge – confinement and torture of composer Altaf Mahmud, Jahir Uddin Jalal alias ‘Bichchhu Jalal’, Shafi Imam Rumi, Badiuzzaman, Abdul Halim Chowdhury Jewel and Magfar Ahmed Chowdhury Azad at an old MP Hostel in Dhaka’s Nakhalpara area.
Everyone, except Jalal, was killed. The Supreme Court upheld the war crimes tribunal’s verdict on this charge.
Mujahid was handed down a five-year prison term for the third charge – abduction and torture of Ranjit Nath alias Babu Nath of Faridpur’s Khabashpur. The final verdict upheld it.
He was acquitted of the second and fourth charges that accused him of genocide in the Charvodrason Hindu village, and confinement and torture of one Abu Yusuf alias Pakhi.
The appeals judges did not take the two charges into account for this reason.
Mujahid is the fourth war crimes convict whose case has been resolved by the top court after the trials were started in 2010.
He was brought to Dhaka from Narayanganj on Monday for a hearing on the Aug 21 grenade attack case. The Jamaat leader was kept in the Dhaka Central jail.
People in his hometown Faridpur marched out on the streets in sheer jubilation to celebrate the verdict.
An exuberant crowd of people and freedom fighters came out on Dhaka’s streets at the call of Ganajagaran Mancha, the movement pressing for maximum penalty of war criminals.
The defence said it would file petition seeking a review of the verdict.
“We will file a review petition within 15 days of the publication of the full verdict,” counsel Khandaker Mahbub Hossain told reporters.
Replying a query, he said: “We are not disappointed by the verdict. This is the judiciary. There’s no reason to be dissatisfied over the judicial process.”
But Attorney General Mahbubey Alam said that the people of the country are pleased that the Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence.
“There’s no bigger crime than to eliminate the nation’s intellectuals. I do not find any difference between the cruelties of Hitler and them (Al-Badr),” said Alam.
The verdict copy will be sent to the tribunal which will issue a death warrant. Jail authorities will read out the warrant to the convict when they get it.
The defence can ask for a review 15 days within the publication of the Supreme Court verdict. However, the court will only accept it if it feels there is a possib ility of 'denial of justice'.
In no way will the review be equal to appeal - a point made clear in the full verdict rejecting the review of another Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Molla, the first to hang for war crimes.
If the death sentence is upheld in the review, the convict will be informed of it formally. He will have the option to seek mercy from the president and also be allowed to meet his family.
The government will decide on executing the death verdict through the jail authorities once the issue of presidential pardon is settled.
In this case, the procedures followed in the execution of Molla and another Jamaat leader Mohammad Kamaruzzaman will be observed in Mujahid's case as well.
Thirteen of the 19 verdicts delivered by two tribunals have been challenged in court.
Death-row convicts Abul Kalam Azad, Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin and Ashrafuz Zaman Khan, Faridpur’s Jahid Hossain alias Khokon Razakar, former Jatiya Party vice chairman Abdul Jabbar have not challenged the verdict because they are fugitive from justice.
Mujahid’s case is the fourth to be resolved in the highest court.
Jamaat’s assistant secretary general Kamaruzzaman was hanged on Apr 11 after the apex court delivered its final verdict on Nov 3 last year.
On Sept 17, 2014, the Appellate Division reduced Jamaat’s number two Delwar Hossain Sayedee’s sentence to life in prison.
A year before that, another Jamaat leader Molla was given the death penalty. He was executed on Dec 12, 2013.
Former Jamaat chief Gholam Azam and former BNP minister Abdul Alim died during hearing on their appeal.
Hearing of the appeal by BNP Standing Committee Member Salauddin Quader Chowdhury’s appeal has started on Tuesday.