Bangladesh halts execution of opposition leader

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Associated Press

Posted on December 10, 2013 at 9:35 AM

Updated Tuesday, Dec 10 at 1:03 PM

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A senior judge on the Bangladesh Supreme Court halted the scheduled execution of an opposition leader until at least Wednesday as his attorneys sought a new review of the case, a defense lawyer said.

The execution of Abdul Quader Mollah, convicted of war crimes, had been scheduled to take place at one minute past midnight Tuesday. But defense lawyers went to the home of judge Syed Mahmud Hossain and sought a postponement, said Sazzad Ali Chowdhury.

"We have got that order," Chowdhury said. "Now the execution will remain halted until 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday," he said.

Chowdhury said the postponement meant they could now file a petition with the Supreme Court to review the verdict.

The execution would be the first in special trials begun by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in 2010 of suspects accused of crimes during the nation's war of independence against Pakistan in 1971. The government says Pakistani soldiers, aided by local collaborators, killed 3 million people and raped 200,000 women during the nine-month war.

Inspector General of Prisons Mainuddin Khandaker had said Mollah, of the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami party, would be hanged shortly after midnight at Dhaka's Central Jail.

Deadly clashes have followed court verdicts against six other current and former officials of the Islamic party, an ally of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, and extra police were stationed in the capital to head off any violence. Paramilitary guards were on standby across the country as well.

Mollah's party and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party say the trials are politically motivated in an attempt to weaken the opposition. International human rights groups have raised questions about the impartiality of the tribunal. Authorities have denied the allegations.

On Monday, New York-based Human Rights Watch urged the government to halt Mollah's execution.

Mollah was found guilty by the special tribunal in February and sentenced to life in prison. The Supreme Court then changed the penalty to a death sentence in September, triggering deadly clashes and a nationwide general strike.

Junior Law Minister Quamrul islam said prison authorities read the death warrant to Mollah on Tuesday afternoon and asked him if he wished to seek presidential clemency but he did not seek that.

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