The Supreme Court in Bangladesh has stayed the execution of Jamaat-e-Islami leader Abdul Quader Molla following a last-minute appeal by his lawyers.
Abdul Quader Molla’s lawyers say the hanging was stopped pending a hearing at 10:30am this morning (04:30 GMT).
In February he was convicted by the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) of crimes against humanity during the country’s 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.
The senior leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) party denies the charges.
The JI Assistant Secretary General was due to be executed at Dhaka Central Jail at 12.01am this morning.
But a Supreme Court judge agreed a stay of execution after he was petitioned by defence lawyers, who said the Bangladeshi government had made preparations to execute Molla without completing all necessary legal procedures.
The Awami-led government had tightened security ahead of the scheduled execution, but that did not stop demonstrations across the country.
The police confirmed a protester was shot dead on Tuesday after JI activists threw petrol bombs at police officers in the southern town of Feni.
JI supporters also set vehicles alight and threw petrol bombs in the capital city of Dhaka, and the port city of Chittagong.
But hundreds of supporters of the ICT also gathered in the capital yesterday, where they chanted calls for Molla’s prompt execution.
Human rights groups had warned that by executing Molla without giving him an opportunity for a review, Bangladesh could be breaking international law.
His trial earlier this year sparked protests from JI supporters who accused the Awami government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of pursuing a political vendetta, which has resulted in the imprisonment of several of the party’s senior leadership.
Abdul Quader Molla and the war of independence
Molla, who denied all the charges against him, was accused of being a member of a pro-Pakistani militia called al-Badr during the war of independence.
It is a force which JI, which was opposed to breaking away from Pakistan in 1971, is alleged to have created.
Al-Badr is accused of the kidnapping and murder of more than 200 Bengali intellectuals in the concluding days of the war.
Molla was also accused of being behind a series of killings including massacres in the Mirpur area of Dhaka, which earned him the nickname of “koshai” or butcher of Mirpur and made him one of the more feared Jamaat leaders.
Mullah was convicted in February and initially sentenced to life imprisonment, but in September the Supreme Court increased the punishment to the death penalty.
On 8 December, the ICT ordered prison authorities to proceed with the execution.
The ICT was set up in 2010 by the current Bangladeshi government to deal with those accused of collaborating with the Pakistani army who attempted to stop East Pakistan (Bangladesh then) from becoming an independent country.
But human rights groups have said the tribunal falls short of international standards.
Abdul Quader Molla said to his family members who visited him for the last time yesterday around 8pm BDT:
“I have been your guardian. If this government kills me unjustly, then that will be a death of martyrdom. After my martyrdom, Allah the Almighty will be your guardian. He is the best of guardians. So you have no reason to worry.
“I am totally innocent. They are killing me only because of my involvement with the Islamic movement. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a death of martyrdom. Whoever is blessed with martyrdom by Allah is indeed a fortunate person.
“If I receive the martyrdom then that will be the greatest achievement of my life. Every single drop of my blood will speed up the advance of the Islamic movement and will cause the destruction of the oppressor. I am not worried about myself. I am concerned about the future of the country and the Islamic movement.
“To the best of my knowledge, I have never done anything wrong. I have dedicated my whole life to the Islamic movement for the salvation my people of Bangladesh. I have never bowed down to injustice, and will never do so in the future. It is out of question to seek forgiveness/clemency to any worldly person. Allah is the owner of the life. Only Allah will decide how I would die.
“My death will not happen according to the decision of any other person. The time and the manner of my death will happen only according the decision of Allah. So, I will accept the decision from Allah happily.
“You must observe patience. Only through patience and tolerance you will achieve the victory promised by Allah. Not this world, but the hereafter is my goal. I request to the countrymen for prayers for the acceptance of my martyrdom by Allah. I give the countrymen my Salam.”