The chief financier for the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami party – a wealthy tycoon – could be hanged any time as he lost his final appeal against a death sentence on Tuesday in Dhaka. Mir Quasem Ali was sentenced to death by a domestic war crimes tribunal.
The Supreme Court of Bangladesh rejected Mir Quasem Ali's last attempt to overturn the death penalty handed down two years ago by the International Crimes Tribunal in Dhaka for atrocities committed during the Bangladesh War of Independence in 1971.
"Now he has a chance to seek presidential clemency. Or else the verdict could be executed anytime; whenever the state wants," Bangladesh's Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told reporters.
Five opposition leaders, including four belonging to the Jamaat-e-Islami, have already been executed for war crimes since 2013. They were all hanged just days after their appeals were rejected by the Supreme Court, despite rights groups' criticisms that their trials were flawed.
Their families said they had refused to seek a presidential pardon as they did not want to legitimise the whole trials process.
Ali, who was a shipping and real estate tycoon, was convicted in November 2014 over a series of crimes including the abduction and murder of a young independence fighter during the 1971 war.
Tuesday's decision is considered a major blow for the Jamaat-e-Islami, which the 63-year-old Ali had helped revive by setting up charities, businesses and trusts linked to it after it was allowed to operate in the late 1970s.
Mir Quasem Ali's son Mir Ahmed Bin Quasem, who was part of his legal defence team, was abducted by security forces earlier in August, according to family sources.
Mir Ahmed Bin Quasem's alleged abduction by policemen in plain clothes is similar to two other incidents involving the sons of opposition leaders convicted of war crimes.
A national police spokesperson told AFP last week, "We don't know anything about these incidents."
Critics say the abductions are an attempt to sow fear and prevent protests against the imminent execution.
"The government must investigate (the families') claims. Unfortunately there has been no visible move to find out their whereabouts," leading rights activist Nur Khan Liton told AFP.
Security was tight in Dhaka Tuesday, even though the party has in recent months eschewed violent protests in reaction to war crimes verdicts and there was no immediate sign of unrest.
Hundreds of people cheering the verdict flooded the streets of Dhaka, and the southeastern port city of Chittagong, where torture camps were set up during the war.
The Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, which is banned from contesting elections, called for a nationwide strike for Wednesday, labelling the charges against Ali "false" and "baseless" and accusing the government of exacting "political vengeance".
TV station shut
Before he was arrested in 2012 on 14 charges of war crimes, Ali headed Diganta Media Corporation, which owns a pro-Jamaat daily newspaper and a television station that was shut down in 2013 for allegedly stoking religious tensions.
Defence lawyers have said the charges against him were baseless.
"Mir Quasem Ali wasn't directly involved in war crimes. False witnesses were provided to frame charges against him. Future generations and law experts will scrutinise the verdict whether it was justified," Khandker Mahbub Hossain told AFP.
The court ruling comes a day after a visit to Dhaka by US Secretary of State John Kerry who said the best way to combat extremism was "to live up to the core values of democracy".
Human rights groups say the tribunal's procedures fall short of international standards, but the government rejects that assertion. The trials are supported by many Bangladeshis.
Earlier in August, a group of United Nations human rights experts urged Bangladesh to annul Ali's death sentence and to retry him in compliance with international standards.
"International law, accepted as binding by Bangladesh, provides that capital punishment may only be imposed following trials that comply with the most stringent requirements of fair trial and due process, or could otherwise be considered an arbitrary execution," cautioned a statement issued by the Office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government has defended the trials, saying they are needed to heal the wounds of the conflict, which it says left three million people dead.
Bangladesh's independence war broke out in 1971 during which between 300,000 to 500,000 people were killed according to independent researchers. The Jamaat opposed the struggle and sided with the military regime in then West Islamabad. The party denies any of its leaders committed any atrocities.
The war crimes tribunal set up by Premier Sheikh Hasina in 2010 has sparked violence and drawn criticism from opposition politicians, who say it is victimising her political opponents. The government denies the accusations.
The executions and convictions of Jamaat officials plunged Bangladesh into one of its worst crises in 2013 when tens of thousands of party activists and supporters clashed with police in protests that left some 500 people dead.
Bangladesh has been hit by a series of deadly attacks in recent months, including an horrific attack on a Dhaka cafe in July in which 22 people, mostly foreigners, were killed.
A Singapore court jailed two Bangladeshis for financing terrorism on Tuesday after detaining them in April on suspicion of planning attacks in their home country.
Mamun Leakot Ali, 29 and Zzaman Daulat, 34, were the last to be sentenced of six Bangladeshis who were charged with contributing money for attacks in Bangladesh. The other four were jailed for between two and five years.
The sentences were part of the city-state's first ever case of "financing terrorism" and there were no indications the men had planned to carry out attacks in Singapore.