Security increased in Bangladesh after Islamist leader’s hanging

Police fired rubber bullets at stone-throwing Islamist protesters
Police fired rubber bullets at stone-throwing Islamist protesters

Bangladesh on Thursday deployed thousands of police in the capital to prevent violence, after the main Islamist party called a nationwide strike to protest against its leader’s execution for war crimes.

Jamaat-e-Islami party president Motiur Rahman Nizami was hanged late on Tuesday following his conviction for the massacre of intellectuals during Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.

Clashes erupted in the northwest and the south of the country on Wednesday, with police firing rubber bullets at stone-throwing Islamists protesting against the 73-year-old’s execution, officers said.

Jamaat called for the 24-hour shutdown throughout Bangladesh, which is reeling from a string of gruesome murders of secular and liberal activists and religious minorities by suspected Islamists.

But shops and other businesses were open in Dhaka and police officials reported no protests in the capital or in Nizami’s hometown of Pabna in the northwest.

“Life is normal in the capital. There is no sign of any protest,” said Dhaka Metropolitan Police spokesman Maruf Hossain Sorder.

“Still we’re on alert. Several thousand policemen have been deployed in Dhaka, including in key places, to prevent any violence,” Sorder said.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s secular government has launched a major crackdown on Jamaat supporters since deadly violence in 2013 over the execution of other top Islamists for war crimes.

More than 500 people were killed in clashes between Islamists and police in 2013. But tens of thousands of Jamaat supporters have since been arrested or detained without charge in the crackdown.

On Wednesday, the execution triggered violence in the northwestern city of Rajshahi where police fired rubber bullets to disperse some 500 Jamaat activists, while clashes were also reported in southern Chittagong.

Nizami, a former government minister, was the fifth and most senior opposition figure executed since Hasina’s government set up a controversial war crimes tribunal in 2010.

Jamaat says the tribunal’s trials are politically motivated aimed at eliminating its leadership, but the government maintains they are needed to heal the wounds of the war.

The hanging comes amid a wave of killings by suspected Islamists, with an atheist student, two gay rights activists, a professor, a Hindu tailor and a Sufi Muslim leader hacked to death since last month.

The government blames homegrown extremists and accuses the opposition of trying to destabilise the country.