The digital display showed 10:01pm at the Dhaka Central Jail gate. The entire nation had waited long for this moment.
It was the moment when Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Mollah walked the gallows, barely four days before the nation celebrates Victory Day.
Around 42 years back, Mollah didn’t wince even once and neither did his heart skip a beat when he led his men to thrash a two-year-old child to death and slit the throats of a pregnant woman and two minor girls.
In the first-ever execution in a war crimes case last night, the 65-year-old Jamaat man finally paid for these acts of cold-blooded savagery.
The hanging of Mollah, who earned the nickname Mirpurer Koshai (butcher of Mirpur) for his sinister role during the Liberation War, represents a watershed in the nation’s pursuit of a closure on the wounds inflicted in 1971.
The Jamaat leader was taken to the gallows around 5 to 6 minutes before his execution by Chief Hangman Shahjahan Bhuiyan, said jail sources.
“He [Mollah] was hanged at 10:01pm. His body was kept dangling for 20 minutes to confirm his death,” Dhaka District Magistrate Sheikh Yusuf Harun told The Daily Star.
An ambulance carrying Mollah’s body went out of the prison under police protection at 11:15pm and headed for his village home at Sadarpur upazila in Faridpur.
Arrangements were made to bury Mollah in his village home, Abu Hena Morshed Zaman, deputy commissioner of Faridpur, told The Daily Star at 10:15pm.
The Jamaat leader was executed hours after the Supreme Court rejected his petition to review the death sentence, bringing an end to the drama that had played out for two days since Tuesday evening.
Mollah’s counsels took out an order from the SC chamber judge on Tuesday night to stay his execution only one and a half hours before he was to hang at 12:01am.
The apex court yesterday rejected Mollah’s plea for reviewing his death sentence, clearing the way for the execution of the condemned war criminal.
In an instant reaction after the execution, Shafiuddin Mollah, who testified against the Jamaat leader, told The Daily Star, “We are very happy. Much of the grief and agony that have weighed on us for the last 42 years will go now.”
Shafiuddin, who lost his paternal uncle in a massacre at Alubdi village in Mirpur, said they would feel happier when all 1971 war criminals get their due punishment.
He thanked the prime minister and all pro-Liberation War forces for their continuous efforts to bring the war criminals to justice.
Mozaffar Ahmad Khan, the first prosecution witness in the war crimes case, said, “Our efforts to bring the war criminals to book have finally seen some success. As a freedom fighter, I am very happy today.”
Mollah, then leader of Islami Chhatra Sangha, later renamed Islami Chhatra Shibir, never expressed remorse over the war crimes he committed 42 years ago. His party also never regretted its role during the Liberation War.
Driven by deep political conviction that Pakistan should remain united even at the cost of one of the worst genocides in the world, he had targeted freedom-loving Bangalees and led his gang in at least two mass killings in Keraniganj near Dhaka and Mirpur, taking the lives of around 400 unarmed Bangalees.
Mollah, assistant general secretary of the Jamaat-e-Islami, was finally shown arrested in a war crimes case on August 2, 2010, after enjoying impunity under the auspices of the Jamaat and the BNP.
He was then put on trial and awarded life term by the International Crimes Tribunal-2 on February 5 this year.
But the lenient sentencing gave birth to the never-seen-before Shahbagh movement that demanded maximum punishment for war criminals.
The movement prompted the government to amend the relevant act to ensure the state’s right to appeal on behalf of the victims of the 1971 war crimes.
As the government appealed against the verdict, the Supreme Court on September 17 sentenced Mollah to death, overruling the ICT-2 judgment.
The countdown to Mollah’s execution started after ICT-2 sent the death warrant to the Dhaka Central Jail authorities on December 8. But confusion arose over the date of execution as the defence lawyers claimed that their client had the right to seek review of the SC verdict.
On Tuesday, State Minister for Law Qamrul Islam said the constitution left no scope for Mollah to file any review petition, since he had been convicted and sentenced to death under the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973.
Things started to change fast on Tuesday evening when the jail authorities asked Mollah’s family members to meet him at 8:00pm, giving rise to speculations that the Jamaat leader would be hanged that night.
Mollah’s counsels then rushed to the residence of Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain, chamber judge of the SC, and obtained a stay of execution.
On completion of a hearing yesterday, a five-member SC bench headed by Chief Justice Md Muzammel Hossain dismissed Mollah’s review petition.
Mollah’s wife Sanowara Jahan and his other family members met him inside the jail for one last time around 6:25pm yesterday on the prison authorities’ permission.
The authorities had taken tight security measures ahead of the execution, deploying several hundred law enforcers in and around Dhaka Central Jail.
People from all walks of life and family members of the martyrs have expressed satisfaction at the hanging of the convicted war criminal. Hundreds of people, mostly youths, burst into cheers as the news of Mollah’s execution reached the Gonojagoron Mancha at Shahbagh.
The Jamaat leader, who was president of Islami Chhatra Sangha’s Shahidullah Hall unit at Dhaka University in 1971, organised the formation of the infamous Al-Badr, an auxiliary force of the Pakistan occupation army.
He joined the Jamaat in 1979. In the early 80s, he served as executive editor of the party’s mouthpiece daily Sangram and also as personal secretary to ex-Jamaat ameer Ghulam Azam.
Freedom fighters and families of the martyrs had to witness Mollah and other anti-liberation forces consolidate their positions, as they were patronised and rehabilitated politically over the years in independent Bangladesh.
On December 17, 2007, freedom fighter Mozaffar Ahmad Khan of Keraniganj filed a case against nine Jamaat leaders, including Mollah, on the charge of killing two freedom fighters in 1971.
But the justice seeker had to wait until the Awami League-led government formed the ICT on March 25, 2010, as part of its electoral pledges.
On May 28 last year, the tribunal framed six charges that include: the killing of Mirpur Bangla College student Pallab; the killing of poet Meherunnesa, her mother and two brothers; the killing of journalist Khandker Abu Taleb; a mass killing in Ghatarchar of Keraniganj; the killing of 344 people in Alubdi village in Mirpur; and the killing of Hazrat Ali Laskar, his wife, three daughters and two-year-old son.
ICT-2 found Mollah guilty on five charges and acquitted him on one charge related to the Ghatarchar killing, and sentenced him to life imprisonment. But the Supreme Court found him guilty on all charges and awarded him the death sentence for killing Hazrat Laskar and his family members.
[Shaheen Mollah, Rafiul Islam and M Rahman also contributed to this report.]