, DHAKA, May 10 – Bangladesh police Tuesday stepped up security at the capital Dhaka’s main prison where the authorities are expected to hang the leader of the country’s largest Islamist party for war crimes.
Motiur Rahman Nizami, leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, could be hanged as early as Tuesday night after the country’s highest court published the final judgement upholding his execution order.
Nizami’s execution would exacerbate tensions in the Muslim-majority country after a string of killings of secular and liberal activists and religious minorities by suspected Islamist militants.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said the 73-year-old leader could be executed at “any time” if he did not seek mercy from the country’s president. “We’re making all preparations,” Khan told reporters.
Officials formally read the verdict to Nizami on Monday night after he was brought to Dhaka Central Jail from a prison outside the capital, senior jailor Jahangir Kabir told reporters.
The Islamist leader did not say then whether he would seek any clemency, Kabir said, and prisoners are normally given a 24-hour window after verdict publication to formally apply.
Nizami’s lawyer told AFP last week that he would not seek any pardon as it would require him to admit crimes he was convicted of, including mass murder, rape and orchestrating the killing of secular intellectuals during the 1971 war of independence.
Three senior Jamaat officials and a leader of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) have been executed since December 2013 for war crimes despite global criticism of their trials. All were hanged at the jail.
“Extra policemen have been deployed at the jail,” Deputy Commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police Mofizuddin Ahmed told AFP.
Heavily armed Rapid Action Battalion officers were also dispatched, the elite squad’s spokesman, Mufti Mahmud Khan, said.
– Hacked to death –
Since last month an atheist student, two gay rights activists, a liberal professor, a Hindu tailor who allegedly made derogatory comments against the Prophet Mohammed and a Sufi Muslim leader have been hacked to death.
Jamaat has said the charges against Nizami, a former government minister, are false and aimed at eliminating the leadership of the party.
Nizami took over as party leader in 2000 and played a key role in the victory of an Islamist-allied government in the 2001 general election.
The 1971 conflict, one of the bloodiest in world history, led to the creation of an independent Bangladesh from what was then East Pakistan.
Prosecutors said Nizami was responsible for setting up the pro-Pakistani Al-Badr militia, which killed top writers, doctors and journalists in the most gruesome chapter of the war.
Their bodies were found blindfolded with their hands tied and dumped in a marsh on the outskirts of the capital.
The trial heard Nizami ordered the killings, designed to “intellectually cripple” the fledgling nation.
He was convicted in October 2014 by the International Crimes Tribunal, which was established in 2010 by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government and has sentenced more than a dozen opposition leaders for war crimes.
Rights groups say the trials fall short of global standards and lack international oversight, while the government says they are needed to heal the wounds of the conflict.
Amnesty International has called for an immediate halt to Nizami’s execution, citing concerns over the fairness of the trials.
In 2013 the convictions of Jamaat officials triggered the country’s deadliest violence in decades.
Around 500 people were killed, mainly in clashes between Islamists and police, and thousands of Islamists were arrested.
The government says up to three million people died in the 1971 war, while independent researchers put the figure at between 300,000 and 500,000.