Execution order issued for death row Bangladesh Islamist

DHAKA (AFP) - A Bangladesh court Sunday ordered prison authorities to hang an Islamist leader months after he was sentenced to death, raising fears of a new wave of clashes in the unrest-plagued nation.

Abdul Quader Molla, a key leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, was given the death penalty in September when the Supreme Court toughened the life sentence originally handed down to him by the International Crimes Tribunal, a domestic war crimes court.

The ICT on Sunday "issued a warrant of execution for Molla", and sent it to the prison authorities, meaning the 65-year-old could now be executed any day unless he is pardoned by President Abdul Hamid or the case is reviewed by the highest court.

"The prison authorities will now execute him in line with the jail codes," prosecutor Zead Al Malum told AFP, stressing only a presidential clemency can stop the execution.

Deputy Law Minister Quamrul Islam told AFP Molla could be executed "in the shortest possible time". He did not give any time frame.

Defence lawyers said Molla's verdict can still be reviewed by the highest court. But Islam and prosecutors differed. "It will be an act of murder if he is executed before the case is reviewed by the Supreme Court. It will be violation of the constitution," defence lawyer Tajul Islam told AFP.

Observers say Molla could be hanged on December 16 to commemorate Bangladesh's 1971 independence war victory against Pakistan.

Molla was convicted of war crimes during the nine-month liberation war. He and other Jamaat leaders opposed Dhaka's independence from Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

His execution could trigger a fresh wave of clashes in the country, already reeling from the deadliest political violence since 1971.

At least 150 people have died in clashes with police earlier this year after tens of thousands of Islamists rioted nationwide to protest the death sentences given to Jamaat leaders.

Another 70 people have died in the past six weeks after the main opposition and its Islamist allies including Jamaat launched mass protests to force Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to resign and make way for polls under a neutral government.

Molla was convicted of rape, murder and mass murder including the killing of over 350 unarmed Bengali civilians. Prosecutors described him as the "Butcher of Mirpur", a Dhaka suburb where he committed most of the atrocities.

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