Bangladesh has executed a top leader of the country’s biggest Islamic party for war crimes that took place four decades ago, sparking violence in Asia’s fifth-most populous country.
Abdul Quader Mollah, 65, the assistant secretary-general of Jamaat-e-Islami, was hanged at Dhaka Central Jail, Maqbul Ahmed, the party’s acting chief, said. The execution is the first stemming from a war crimes tribunal established in 2009, the year after prime minister Sheikh Hasina returned to power.
Her government’s “collapse and ultimate ruin is inevitable”, Ahmed said. “It has invited its own doom.”
Mollah’s death threatens to exacerbate tribunal-related violence that has killed more than 150 people this year, clouding the investment climate in the world’s second-biggest garment exporter after China. Hasina’s refusal to follow past practice in allowing a caretaker administration to oversee Jan 5 elections, in which Jamaat is banned from participating, has also led to clashes.
Hasina’s ruling Awami League, which fought to set up the tribunals in winning the last election in 2008, has the backing of many Hindus and other religious minorities. Muslims account for about 90% of the country’s 164m people, with Hindus making up most of the rest.
“The country is on a razor’s edge at the moment with pre-election tensions running high and almost non-stop street protests,” said Abbas Faiz, a researcher with Amnesty International. “Mollah’s execution could trigger more violence, with the Hindu community bearing the brunt.”
The tribunal has reopened wounds over Bangladesh’s 1971 founding, a time when Jamaat sided with Pakistan’s army in a bid to prevent the country from forming.
The tribunal found Mollah guilty of murder, rape, and torture during the nation’s independence struggle from Pakistan. The court is probing atrocities during that time, when an estimated 3m people were killed and more than 200,000 women were raped.
Mollah is among 10 people convicted for war crimes, while seven are still on trial, according to court documents. More than 150 people have died in clashes between opposition activists and security forces since the first sentence was announced in January.
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