Islamist leader Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujaheed sentenced to death in Bangladesh

War crimes tribunal convicts key opposition figure for atrocities during 1971 war

Dhaka

The secretary general of the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami party has been sentenced to death by a Bangladesh war crimes tribunal for crimes against humanity during the country’s war of independence in 1971.

In its ruling yesterday, the International Crimes Tribunal-2 found that five out of seven charges against 65-year-old Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujaheed – including the murder of intellectuals and Hindus – were proven beyond doubt.

Mujaheed was given the death penalty for three charges including abduction and murder of journalist Sirajuddin Hossain, the conspiracy and extermination of other intellectuals and the murder and torture of Hindus. He also received life sentence for his role in the abduction torture and murder of composer Altaf Mahmud, freedom fighters Shafi Imam Rumi, Badi Uzzaman, Magfar Ahmed Chowdhury and others, along with five-year imprisonment for two other charges.

The sixth verdict in the controversial war crimes trial in Bangladesh comes two days after Jamaat’s spiritual leader Ghulam Azam was also found guilty of war crimes and sentenced to 90 years in prison.

Protesting against the verdict, the Jamaat party called for a nationwide strike today. In a press release, Jamaat’s current secretary general, Rafiqul Islam Khan, claimed that the tribunal’s case against Mujaheed was “false” and part of a government conspiracy to make Jamaat “leaderless”.

Bangladesh has been reeling from day-long strikes since Monday, which has led to numerous incidents of violence across the country, leaving nine dead, according to local media reports.

Jamaat had opposed the liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971. Like many of Jamaat’s senior leaders, Mujaheed rose up the ranks during the war, initially as the president of Islami Chhatra Sangha’s (ICS) Dhaka Chapter in January 1971.

Later that year, Mujaheed became the president of Al Badr, a specialised faction of the ICS that carried out mass murder, genocide, kidnapping and looting under his leadership across the country.

Even after the Pakistani forces surrendered on 16 December 1971, Mujaheed had refused to allow his forces to lay down their arms. After the war, Mujaheed joined Jamaat, becoming a member of its central council in 1982. Before rising to the position of secretary general in 2000, he also served as the social welfare minister of Bangladesh in 1991 when the Bangladesh Nationalist Party allied with Jamaat to form a coalition government.

Earlier, in 2010, Mujaheed had claimed that Jamaat’s opposition to independence was a political decision and that its leaders were never part of crimes against humanity.

“Such statements disrespected the cause for which many martyrs like my father had sacrificed their lives,” Shaheen Reza Noor, son of Sirajuddin Hossain and the executive editor of the Bengali daily newspaper Ittefaq, told The Independent.

“Over the past 42 years, Jamaat has been trying to change the true history by calling the liberation war, a ‘civil war’. We are satisfied with the verdict as now the truth has been proven beyond doubt,” he added.

Bangladesh’s law minister, barrister Shafique Ahmed felt that the verdict has “fulfilled the nation’s expectation” which was “overdue by 42 years”.

However, when asked about the implementation of the verdict, Mr Ahmed said: “It is tough to say. There will be a month’s time during which there can be an appeal. If there is an appeal, the hearing will then commence at the appellate division.”

“There could be some delays in the implementation of the verdict. But hopefully the sentence will be carried out,” added Mr Noor.

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