In a move that is sure to precipitate violence of the sort that erupted earlier this year in Dhaka and across the country, Bangladesh moved ahead with the execution of Abdul Quader Mollah on Thursday. According to The Washington Post, “Hundreds of people gathered at a major intersection in Dhaka to celebrate the execution, saying it delivered justice for crimes committed four decades ago.” The sentence was passed in September this year after a long period of tumult in Bangladesh.
In reaction to the execution, Mollah’s supporters and the Jamat-e-Islami party, where he was a leader, called for a general strike across the country.
The execution brings an end to a legal process that began with the establishment of an International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) in 2009. The formal charges against Mollah, who was charged with abetting the Pakistani army and participating in a series of atrocities during Bangladesh’s bloody war of liberation in 1971, were brought to the tribunal in late 2011. Mollah was formally charged with killing 344 civilians.
Protests erupted earlier this year when several Bangladeshis were outraged that the ICT handed a down a life sentence to Mollah instead of a death sentence; in light of this perceived lenience, mass demonstrations broke out across the country — Mollah’s supporters eventually began counter protests. The Shabag protests — so-called because they took place at Dhaka’s Shahbag intersection — ignited a national debate in Bangladesh on extremism in politics, human rights, and the state of the rule of law in the country.
The main counter protests were led by supporters of the contemporary Jamaat-e-Islami party, the largest Islamist party in Bangladesh. Mollah was the assistant secretary-general of the party. In response to popular demand, the Bangladeshi Parliament chose to amend the International Crimes Tribunal Act of 1973. Jamaat-e-Islami members perceived the capitulation to popular demand as a bid by the incumbent government to silence the opposition, intensifying their counter protests.
The execution of Abdul Quader Mollah is sure to strain an already fragile political status quo in Bangladesh. The independence of Bangladesh’s courts has come under question after their reaction to the broad popular movement against the initial life sentence verdict against Mollah. It is likely that the opposition coalition, consisting of the Bangladesh National Party and Jamaat-e-Islami, will continue to encourage its supporters to challenge the legitimacy of the current government. According to Al Jazeera, the execution could precipitate a more vociferous push for the expansion of political Islam in Bangladeshi politics; Moqbul Ahmed, the acting leader of Jamaat, “said in a statement on the party’s website that people would revenge Mollah’s execution by deepening the role of Islam in Bangladesh.”