Jamaat leader hanging protest prompts Bangladesh summons

Mir Quasem Ali was hanged on the weekend
Mir Quasem Ali was hanged on the weekend

Bangladesh last Sunday (September 4) summoned Pakistan’s acting high commissioner to protest its interference in its affairs, after Islamabad said it was “deeply saddened” by the execution of a top Islamist party figure for atrocities committed during the war to leave Pakistan.

Mir Quasem Ali, 63, a key financier of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, was executed on Saturday (September 3) at Kashimpur Central Jail on the outskirts of the capital Dhaka, for murder, confinement, torture and incitement to religious hatred during the war.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry said it was “deeply saddened” by Ali’s execution, describing the proceedings of the war tribunal as “flawed”.

Since December 2013 five prominent Jamaat members, including Ali, and a leader of the main opposition party, have been executed for war crimes.

Ali was hanged at a high-security jail in Gazipur, north of Dhaka. His body was taken to his ancestral village in the central district of Manikganj, flanked by police, for burial early on Sunday (4).

“Several dozen people, mostly family members, attended his funeral prayers,” local police chief Nazrul Islam said.

Some 1,000 police were deployed in Gazipur before Ali’s hanging, officials said.

Ali’s death is a major setback for the party that he had helped revive by setting up charities, businesses and trusts linked to it after it was allowed to operate in the late 1970s.

Security was tight before his execution, even though the party has in recently eschewed violent protests in reaction to war crimes verdicts and there was no immediate sign of unrest.

Hundreds of people in Dhaka and Chittagong held impromptu street celebrations on Saturday as news of the execution appeared on television.

Prosecutors said Ali was a key commander of a notorious pro-Pakistan militia in the southern port city of Chittagong during the war, and later became a shipping, banking and real estate tycoon.

Before he was arrested in 2012, Ali headed a corporation that owns a pro-Jamaat daily newspaper and a television station that was shut down in 2013 for fuelling religious tensions.

He was convicted in November 2014 of a series of war crimes, including the abduction and murder of a young independence fighter.

Relations between Bangladesh and Pakistan have never recovered from the 1971 war when Bangladeshi nationalists, backed by India, broke away from what was then West Pakistan.

Official figures show about three million people were killed and thousands of women were raped during the war in which some factions, including the Jamaat, opposed the breakaway. The party denies its leaders committed atrocities.

“By repeatedly taking the side of those Bangladesh nationals who are convicted of crimes against humanity and genocide, Pakistan has once again acknowledged its direct involvement and complicity with the mass atrocity crimes committed during Bangladesh’s Liberation War in 1971,” Bangladesh said in a statement.

“The government of Bangladesh strongly rejects Pakistan’s claim that these are ‘recriminations for political gains.’”

Critics say prime minister Sheikh Hasina has used the war crimes tribunal, set up in 2010, to target Jamaat and weaken the opposition. The government has defended the trials, saying they are needed to heal the wounds of the conflict.