18/11/2015 3:37 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Bangladesh Opposition Leaders To Hang For War Crimes

MUNIR UZ ZAMAN via Getty Images
Bangladeshi social activists draw a map of Bangladesh as they participate in a rally demanding the death sentence for the country's war criminals in Dhaka on February 11, 2013. The demonstrators under the banner of 'Bloggers and Online Activist Network' started the protest on February 5, hours after Jamaat assistant secretary general Abdul Quader Mollah was given life imprisonment in a war crimes case. Bangladesh's cabinet approved on February 11, 2013 changes to war crime laws to ensure opposition leaders on trial for alleged atrocities during the nation's 1971 independence war can be swiftly executed if convicted. AFP PHOTO/Munir uz ZAMAN (Photo credit should read MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images)

DHAKA -- Bangladesh's Supreme Court today upheld the death sentences handed down to two top opposition leaders convicted for war crimes committed during 1971 independence war against Pakistan, rejecting final review petitions and paving the way for their execution.

The four-member bench led by Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha rejected the review petitions of Jamaat-e-Islami Secretary General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury.

Both Mujahid, 67, and Chowdhury, 66, were senior ministers in ex-prime minister Khaleda Zia's BNP-led coalition government with the fundamentalist Jamaat being its key partner.

Mujahid was found to be a key mastermind of the massacre of the country's top intelligentsia just ahead of the December 16, 1971 independence war victory. Chowdhury carried out atrocities particularly at his home district of southeastern Chittagong, leading a violent campaign against the Hindus.

Bangladesh's International Crimes Tribunal had handed down death sentences to them in separate cases of crimes against humanity in 2013 and the apex court upheld the death penalty to Mujahid in June and to Chowdhury in July this year.

Sinha said the apex court would soon issue the verdicts in writing for subsequent procedures.

BNP did not react to the verdict on Chowdhury but some reports said police chased away a few Jamaat activists in parts of the capital as they tried to stage street protests.

Jamaat has issued a statement calling a nationwide strike tomorrow to protest the verdict.

"We have lost the case...that much I can tell you as the defence lawyer," chief defence counsel Khandker Mahbub Hossain told reporters.

Asked if his clients would seek presidential clemency as their last resort to evade the gallows, he said, "it entirely dependents on their (convicts) decisions and the law says the state on its own could reduce the judgement."

Attorney General Mahbubey Alam, however, said the full verdict in writing form would not be required to execute the convicts as "they were already served death warrants" soon after the Supreme Court upheld their capital punishment after which they filed their review petitions.

"The verdicts will be read out to the convicts and then they would be asked separately if they would like to seek the presidential pardon...if they want to seek the clemency, their prayers would be sent to the president," prosecutor Turin Afroz said.

Lawyers and legal experts said the convicts were tried under a special law and the execution of the verdicts would not follow the ordinary criminal procedure or the Jail Code which states that the prisoner be given seven days time to seek the presidential clemency.

Alam said the ordinary criminal procedure and the Jail Code were not applicable in their cases since they were tried under the special International Crimes Tribunal Act and "they could be executed anytime from now on".

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