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For what sin did Bangladesh hang Mir Quasem Ali?
Thursday, 08 September 2016

On Tuesday September 3, 2016, the Bangladeshi authorities hanged Mir Quasem Ali, one of the leaders of Bangladesh’s Jamaat-e-Islam, the third largest political party in the country. Ali was the owner of a publishing house which publishes one of the largest Bangladeshi newspapers and the owner of TV and radio stations. He was an active philanthropist in the Burmese refugee camps and the camps of stranded Pakistanis in Bangladesh (Biharis).

 Ali was hanged following a mock trial which was described as an international war crimes court, but which did not have judges from outside the country while lawyers were not allowed to plead or even consult with the defense team. The court did not follow international standards nor did it apply local due procedures as several international rights organizations pointed out.

 Many organizations have criticized these mock trials from the very beginning, particularly from the time when the Bangladeshi authorities began to arrest opposition leaders and throw them into prison with the intention of eliminating them. The government accused the leaders of committing war crimes during the civil war which led to the secession of East Pakistan from Pakistan and the foundation of today’s Bangladesh around 45 years ago.

 The United Nations Human Rights Council, Amnesty  International, Human Rights Watch, the British House of Lords, some members of the US Congress, the US human rights ambassador, and many local and international human rights activists have criticized these mock trials and executions. Nevertheless, the Bangladeshi government was not concerned about such criticism.

During the trials, several scandals surfaced, one of the most notorious took place over Skype and was covered by The Economist magazine and forced the Chief Justice of the court to resign. Another scandal took place when a witness, who was listed as a prosecution witness and then appeared to give evidence as a defense witness, was abducted at the entrance to the court to appear six months later inside a prison in India. It was said at the time that he refused to return to Bangladesh for fear of his life.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s government took over following the civil war and leveled accusations at 195 Pakistani military officers who were POWs in India and were pardoned when India, Pakistan and Bangladesh signed an agreement to this effect. A law was issued to put Bangladeshis who collaborated with the Pakistani army on trial. As a result, dozens were arrested and many were put on trial while the rest were pardoned by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Neither Mir Quasem nor those who were hanged previously were among those accused and then pardoned because some worked and others were college students.

Furthermore, during the tenure of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from January 1972 to August 1975, none of the above were charged with anything. Then how can the current government accuse them of committing war crimes 44 years after the end of the civil war? The current government worked with the executed leaders when it called for enforcing a caretaker government but reneged on its promises after it assumed power and even canceled the caretaker government rule.

Moreover, the family of the person whom Mir Quasem was accused of killing did not charge Mir Quasem with murder for 40 years. How did the family discover after 40 years that Mir Quasem killed their son? Is this not strange and difficult to believe? 

Last August, a group of United Nations human rights experts appealed to the Bangladeshi government to drop the death sentence handed down to Mir Quasem and demanded a retrial because the original trial had so many irregularities. Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said: “If there’s even a shadow of doubt about fairness, as in Quasem Ali’s case, the authorities should set aside the death penalty.”

I met the late Mir Quasem Ali one month after arriving in Bangladesh to assume my position as a diplomat. He asked me to accompany him to Cox’s Bazaar near the Burmese border to check on Burmese refugees. This took place in 1986 after the Eid Al-Fitr prayer. Ali and I stayed at the camp for three days during which he was checking on refugees and providing them with water and food. At the time, he was the director of the Muslim World League office.  

Later Ali organized a medical campaign to perform cataract surgeries for refugees. Two ophthalmologists from Dhaka volunteered and operated on 100 refugees in less than eight hours, from 4 pm to midnight. I accompanied him when he opened a number of eye clinics, training centers and schools inside the camps of Biharis and Burmese.  

All I can say is rest in peace Mir Quasem Ali; May Allah the Almighty make your abode in His Spacious Gardens. I offer my sincerest and heartfelt condolences to Ali’s family and friends and to the poor and needy of whom he always took care and with whom he always sympathized. May Allah compensate them with someone like Ali!

Written by Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi 

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