For what crime was Qamaruzzaman executed?

Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi

The Bangladeshi authorities have recently carried out the execution of Mohammad Qamaruzzaman who was a well-known journalist, writer, cultural figure and politician. The authorities paid no heed to the international outcry against the execution on the basis of a mock trial and verdict issued by the so-called International War Crimes Tribunal. The appeals came from almost all major international organizations, such as the United Nations and the European Union, as well as from human rights organizations. They noted that the trial was not fair and did not meet any international criteria nor did it follow even basic legal procedures, such as granting the accused the right to defend himself and produce evidence to prove his innocence of the charges against him.

Qamaruzzaman, assistant secretary-general of the opposition party Jamaat-e-Islami, was accused of genocide, abduction and persecution during the civil war that resulted in the secession of East Pakistan and the creation of the new state of Bangladesh. At that time, the 19-year-old Qamaruzzaman was in his final year at secondary school. He was arrested in 1972 after the independence of Bangladesh and the formation of the first government by the Awami League party, headed by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, founder of the nation.

Later, Qamaruzzaman was acquitted of the charges for want of evidence, and he then pursued his studies and obtained a master’s degree in media. He worked with several newspapers and magazines and wrote thousands of articles and authored a number of books. He also participated in several elections. However, there were no charges brought against him during the period of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman that ended in August 1975 or during the periods of successive governments, including that of the Awami League party that ruled the country from 1996 to 2002. He has now been executed after being convicted of war crimes that he had allegedly committed 44 years ago.

The civil war broke out in East Pakistan after Gen. Yahya Khan announced the postponement of convening the session of parliament following the elections in which the Awami League party, led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, won the majority of seats. There is no doubt that this civil war was bloody like many other civil wars and there were several crimes perpetrated by the Pakistan Army as well as by the militia allied to the Awami League party.

It was well known that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had set up a tribunal to conduct a trial of those Pakistani soldiers who were accused of war crimes. These soldiers were in the custody of the Indian Army as prisoners of war. However, Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto managed to secure the release of all the Pakistani war prisoners, including the war crimes suspects as a result of talks with Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Subsequently, a pact was signed between India, Pakistan and Bangladesh in this regard.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared a general amnesty with his famous saying: “Let the world know how Bengalis can forgive.” He found it unfair to try those who collaborated with the Pakistan army and at the same time opposed the trial of those who committed war crimes who were members of  militias loyal to his Awami League party. Therefore, he decided to set all of them free and did not execute any of them during his three and a half years rule.

However, some leftist opposition members were killed during the armed confrontation, and a few of their relatives are partners in the incumbent government of the Awami League party led by Sheikh Hasina. Some of these people who hold ministerial posts in the government are behind the arrest and trial of several opposition leaders including Begum Khaleda Zia, leader of the opposition and a former prime minister, after framing fabricated and false charges.

Qamaruzzaman and Abdul Quader Molla, who was executed earlier, were Jamaat leaders who were targeted like other leaders of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party. They were put behind bars and were subjected to politically motivated trials on war crimes charges. These trials and the tribunal that held them lacked even the basic criteria of international legal standards.

This fact was pointed out by many international bodies, such as the United Nations, represented by the Human Rights Council, International Bar Association, British House of Commons, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the US special ambassador for human rights. Several local and international rights activists also drew attention to this. These trials were marred by legal scandals and the violation of rights as pointed out by  international media. One of these scandals (the Skype scandal) led to the resignation of the chief judge of the tribunal.

I do not know what prompted the Bangladeshi government to defy all these bodies, organizations and prominent personalities, and adamantly insist on unraveling the past and creating disturbance in society with justifications that were contrary to intelligence and logic. In so doing, they offended the Father of the Nation of Bangladesh Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who ruled the country with political wisdom and decided to close the chapter of war crimes so as to serve the best interests of the nation.

May Allah forgive Qamaruzzaman and Molla who were executed following verdicts that lacked the basic criteria of justice. I also offer my deep condolences to the bereaved families of these two leaders whom I did know personally; they were pious and righteous people.

— Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at

Source: Saudi Gazette