Dhaka: Clashes broke out between activists of Jamaat-e-Islami and police in several Bangladeshi cities today after the execution of the top Islamist leader Motiur Rahman Nizami for war crimes committed during the 1971 Liberation War against Pakistan.
The clashes came as Bangladesh intensified security across the country following Jamaat’s call for a nationwide strike tomorrow to protest the execution of its top leader, heightening tensions in the Muslim-majority nation already reeling from a series of killings of secular activists.
Policemen in riot-gear fired rubber bullets when hundreds of Jamaat supporters pelted them with stones in the northwestern city of Rajshahi, where a liberal professor was hacked to death by Islamists near his home last month.
73-year-old Nizami was hanged at midnight at the Central Jail here after the Supreme Court rejected his final appeal. Several hundred policemen in riot-gear kept a vigil as Jamaat activists rallied at central Dhaka’s Baitul Mokarram National Mosque to offer Nizami’s funeral prayer (in absentia), a ritual they also performed in other major cities.
Security was tight across Bangladesh, with checkpoints erected on main roads in the national capital to deter violence, and thousands of police patrolling the streets.
In the port city of Chittagong, clashes erupted between activists of the Jamaat’s student wing Chhatra Shibir and police after the funeral prayer. After the funeral prayer, hundreds of Jamaat supporters broke into the ground and started hurling bricks and stones at the police which resorted to firing to disperse the crowd.
Home-made bombs were also used as “pro-liberation” activists tried to drive out the Jamaat followers from the parade ground area of the port city, perceived to be a Jamaat stronghold.
“Orders have been issued to keep the security vigil so no law and order situation is created anywhere,” a home ministry spokesman told PTI after Jamaat called a nationwide general strike tomorrow to protest the execution of its top leader. Jamaat, the largest Islamist party in Bangladesh, described Nizami’s execution as a “planned murder”.
“He (Nizami) was deprived of justice. He is a victim of political vengeance,” acting Jamaat chief Mokbul Ahmed said in the statement urging people to observe the strike.
Jamaat’s previous such strike calls protesting the trial of their senior leaders for war crimes largely went unheeded. The party last called a nationwide strike on May 6, a day after the Supreme Court rejected Nizami’s review petition reconfirming his death penalty.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said Nizami had preferred not to seek presidential clemency as his last effort to avoid the noose “because he understood the crimes he had committed were unpardonable”.
Nizami was buried in line with Islamic rituals at his village home at northwestern Pabna’s Sathia sub-district early this morning in presence of family members and neighbours while armed police kept a sharp vigil.
An ambulance escorted by police cars carried Nizami’s body straight to Sathia for burial though family members of the 1971 war victims and freedom fighters in the neighbourhood earlier declined to allow it to be buried there.
After pursuance by the local administration the freedom fighters and atrocity victims backed off a planned siege on the highway leading to Nizami’s home while several groups earlier demanded the body be sent to Pakistan for burial.
Meanwhile, 1971 freedom fighters and families of the victims rejoiced the execution of the Islamist leader as the last remaining top perpetrator of war crimes during the Liberation War 45 years ago.
TV footage showed hundreds of people rallying at Dhaka’s Shahbagh Square to celebrate the execution under the banner of Ganojagaran Mancha which was instrumental in building up a massive campaign seeking punishment for the war criminals.
“It will serve as a source of strength to the present generation and convey the message that even 45 years after the event, we did not spare the culprit,” spokesman of the Mancha Imran H Sarkar told the rally.
Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal had originally handed him the capital punishment on October 29, 2014 for war crimes convicting him of “superior responsibility” as head of the notorious Al-Badr militia force manned by Jamaat men during the liberation war.
The militia force is blamed for conducting a systematic massacre of a large number of intellectuals just ahead of Bangladesh’s December 16, 1971 war victory. “It would be a failure of justice, unless he is handed down the death penalty,” the tribunal commented as it pronounced the verdict to Nizami convicting him of “superior responsibility” as Al-Badr chief in 1971.
The Daily Star in a front page report said, “Nizami (had) let loose his militia to cripple the soon-to-be-born Bangladesh intellectually” while leading Bangla daily ‘Samokal’ carried a special front page commentary headlined “History forgives none”.
A former minister in ex-premier Khaleda Zia’s BNP-led four-party coalition government, Nizami was in jail since 2010, when he was arrested to be tried for war crimes. He was particularly found guilty of systematic killings of over 450 people alone in his own village.
With his execution, Nizami became the fifth top perpetrator to be hanged for crimes against humanity since the trial process began six years ago. But the initiative posed a major challenge for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who has faced strong international pressure to stop executing people, with organisations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch protested the death sentences while some groups also raised questions about the standard of the trial process. Officially three million people were killed during the 1971 war.