Bangladesh set to hang top Islamist over 1971 Independence War massacre

Bangladesh set to hang top Islamist over 1971 Independence War massacre
Bangladeshi police stand guard during a review petition relating to the case of Islamist leader Mohammad Kamaruzzaman at the Supreme Court in Dhaka on April 6, 2015.

DHAKA - Bangladesh authorities are expected to hang a top Islamist leader Saturday for overseeing a massacre during the nation's 1971 independence war, after he refused to seek clemency from the country's president.

Mohammad Kamaruzzaman, the third most senior figure in the Jamaat-e-Islami party, could be executed on Saturday night, his lawyer said, after his hanging, originally scheduled for the morning, was postponed.

No official reason was given for the delay, but junior home minister Asaduzzaman Khan told reporters the 62-year-old was still set to be hanged in the capital's main jail on Saturday.

"The hanging of Kamaruzzaman... will take place today (Saturday)," Khan said in remarks published by the mass circulation Bengali daily Prothom Alo.

Jail authorities told Kamaruzzaman's family they could visit him in prison one final time on Saturday afternoon, his lawyer Shishir Manir told AFP.

"It's an indication that he may be executed tonight," Manir added.

Two magistrates had visited Kamaruzzaman in prison to find out whether he would seek clemency from President Abdul Hamid, but the pair made no comment following the visit.

Khan, however, said the authorities had decided Kamaruzzaman would not be granted any more time to seek mercy.

"No, he won't be given anymore time," the minister told reporters.

The move to execute him 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.

"Village of Widows"

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".

The conviction confirmed allegations that Kamaruzzaman was one of the chief organisers of a pro-Pakistan militia that killed thousands of people.

The conflict led to the creation of an independent Bangladesh from what was then East Pakistan.

If the execution is carried out, Kamaruzzaman would become the second Islamist so far hanged for war crimes, though several others have been handed death sentences.

The UN on Wednesday urged Bangladesh against carrying out the sentence, saying his trial did not meet "fair international" standards.

Prosecutors said Kamaruzzaman 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. 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.

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