Bangladesh hanged an Islamist party leader, Motiur Rahman Nizami, on Wednesday for genocide and other crimes committed during a 1971 war of independence from Pakistan, drawing an angry reaction but no immediate violence from his supporters.
Nizami, head of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, was executed at Dhaka Central jail just after midnight after the Supreme Court rejected his final plea against a death sentence imposed by a special tribunal for genocide, rape and orchestrating the massacre of intellectuals during the war.
Nizami, 73, a former legislator and minister during opposition leader Khaleda Zia’s last term as prime minister, was sentenced to death in 2014.
Five opposition politicians, including four Jamaat leaders, have been executed since late 2013 after being convicted by the war crimes tribunal, which was set up by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in 2010.
International human rights groups say the tribunal’s procedures fall short of international standards but the government rejects that and the trials are supported by many Bangladeshis.
Hundreds of people flooded the streets of the capital to cheer the execution.
“We have waited for this day for a long 45 years,” said war veteran Akram Hossain. “Justice has finally been served.”
Opposition politicians, including leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami, say the tribunal is victimising Hasina’s political opponents.
Thousands of extra police and border guards were deployed in Dhaka and other major cities. Previous convictions and executions have triggered violence that killed about 200 people, most of them Islamist party activists and police.
On Wednesday, as Nizami was buried in his ancestral home in the northwest, about 300 supporters gathered at Dhaka’s main mosque to offer prayers in his memory.
Later, they streamed out of the mosque, shouting slogans and vowing not to let Nizami’s death be in vain. But they quickly dispersed, watched by armed policemen.
Jamaat-e-Islami, which has said the charges against Nizami were baseless, has called for a nationwide strike for Thursday in protest. It said their dead leader was a victim of a political vendetta.
The U.S. State Department said that while it supported justice being carried out it was vital that trials were free, fair and transparent and conducted in accordance with international agreements.
“We still believe that further improvements to the … process could ensure these proceedings meet domestic and international obligations,” State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said in a statement.
“Until these obligations can be consistently met, we have concerns about proceeding with executions.”
About three million people were killed, the government says, and thousands of women were raped during the 1971 war in which some factions, including the Jamaat-e-Islami, opposed the break from what was then called West Pakistan.
The party denies that its leaders committed any atrocities.
The execution comes as the Muslim-majority nation suffers a surge in militant violence in which atheist bloggers, academics, religious minorities and foreign aid workers have been killed.