Bangladesh Prez rejects mercy plea of 2 oppn leaders on death row

Fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami Secretary-General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid, 67, and BNP leader Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury, 66, have been sentenced to death for war crimes.

Dhaka: Bangladesh President tonight rejected the mercy petitions of two top opposition leaders paving the way for their execution for 1971 war crimes, hours after they had sought presidential clemency in a last-ditch attempt to escape the gallows.

"The President (Abdul Hamid) has rejected their mercy petitions, declining to exercise his constitutional prerogative to grant them pardons hours after the law secretary brought their prayers to him," an official told PTI.

Fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami Secretary-General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid, 67, and BNP leader Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury, 66, have been sentenced to death for war crimes committed during 1971 independence war against Pakistan.

They had sought presidential clemency admitting their guilt.

The Law and Home Secretaries carried the petitions to the presidential palace and they stayed for nearly an hour at his chamber and then went out as the President rejected the petitions, the official said.

According to jail sources, the prison authorities have called close relatives of Chowdhury and Mujaheed to see them for the last time.

"Senior officials including magistrates, doctors and senior prison officials who are required to witness the executions under law have also arrived to witness the process," a prison official said.

Earlier reports said that a seven-member hangmen's team comprising prison inmates was constituted to execute the convicts.

Security have been intensified around the high security prison where condemned prisoners are being held.

Paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), armed police and jail guards erected a several-tier security system stopping vehicular movements in thoroughfares around the prison complex.

Mujaheed, the second most senior member of Jamaat, 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, a top aide to BNP chief Khaleda Zia, carried

out atrocities at his home district of southeastern Chittagong, leading a violent campaign against the Hindus.

Officials said the convicts' decision to seek mercy came when two magistrates met them today separately in their cells in Dhaka Central Jail to know if they would prefer to seek presidential pardon.

Mujaheed and Chowdhury were the first war crimes convicts to seek presidential clemency. Their close relatives met them two days ago at the jail.

Jamaat and Chowdhury's family members had earlier contradicted claims about the mercy petitions calling the media reports "untrue" and "unbelievable".

"The media reports saying that he (Mujahid) has sought the presidential clemency is not true, rather he had sought to consult his lawyers on the matter while meeting the family members two days ago," Jamaat general secretary Shafiqur Rahman had said in a statement.

Chowdhury's son Hummam Quader Chowdhury had told TV channels "we won?t believe that he has the sought the clemency until he is allowed to meet his family members and lawyers".

Two of the 1971 war crimes convicts, Jamaat leaders Abdul Kader Mollah and Muhammad Quamaruzzaman, were so far executed since the country initiated the process to expose to justice the perpetrators of crimes against humanity.

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