Bangladesh on Wednesday executed Motiur Rahman Nizami, the leader of a militia accused of massacring innocent civilians during the Liberation War in 1971.
The 71 year old, who led Bangladesh’s largest Islamist party, the Jamaat-e-Islami, was hanged for crimes committed against humanity during the country’s fight for independence from what was then known as West Pakistan.
The execution at Dhaka Central Prison was carried out a minute after midnight, law ministry sources said.
Supporters of Nizami’s party, protested outside the prison.
But they were outnumbered by the hundreds had assembled there to cheer the execution of Nizami, a former minister in the last government led by opposition leader Khaleda Zia.
“We have waited for this day for long 45 years,” a freedom fighter was quoted as saying by a news agency.
Security was tight as execution of other war criminals had sparked protests earlier. The 22 witnesses who had testified against Nizami have been given special protection.
The Jamaat-e-Islami has given a shutdown call on Wednesday.
The top Jamaat leader was convicted for genocide, rape and torture by the specially constituted International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) in October 2014. His lawyers had argued that the charges were not conclusively proved.
The hanging came a week after Nizami lost a final appeal against the death sentence. He did not seek presidential clemency.
Two dozen family members were allowed to spend a few hours with him in the prison on the eve of the hanging. The body has been taken in an ambulance to be buried in the family graveyard in Pabna, north west of Bangladesh.
Bangladesh government records say some three million people were killed and thousands of women were raped during the bloody 1971 war.
Pro-Pakistani militias including Nizami’s al-Badr which were opposed to secession of Bangladesh-then known as East Pakistan-from West Pakistan, had unleashed terror when it became imminent that Pakistani military were not able to quell the Bengali struggle for independence.
Hundreds of teachers, intellectuals, poets, writers and political leaders were murdered by the militias in a bid to derail the movement for secession.
Five of the accused, including four belonging to the Jamaat-e-Islami have been executed after being convicted by the ICT since October 2013.
Heeding to a long standing demand Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had in 2010 set up the war tribunals to try those accused of perpetrating crimes during the country’s freedom struggle.
But jurists and rights groups have flayed the ICT for not adhering to international standards of a fair trial and due process.
“We are dismayed that Bangladeshi authorities have executed Motiur Rahman Nizami. The victims of the horrific events of the 1971 Liberation War are entitled to justice, but taking another life is not the answer,” Amnesty International’s Director of the South Asia, Champa Patel said in a statement issued soon after the hanging on Wednesday.
“Bangladesh must stay this execution, and end its continued and unlawful use of the death penalty, International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) had asked Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid on Tuesday.
“The death penalty is not justice and is the ultimate form of cruel and inhuman punishment,” a statement by ICJ said.
Dhaka’s Shahbag Square had witnessed a spontaneous sit in by secular bloggers, students poets and activists after the ICT handed a life sentence to Abdul Qader Mollah in February 2013. He was accused of beheading a poet, killing 344 people and raping a 11 year old during Bangladesh’s nine month long struggle for independence.
The ant-Islamist protest which came to be known as Shahbagh Movement had mounted a sustained campaign demanding death penalty for all the 11 accused of perpetrating war crimes.
The campaign have provoked revenge attacks from radical Islamists since 2013. Several of those involved in the Shahbagh protests have been killed in attacks mostly claimed by affiliates of Al qaeda or Islamic State.