DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Bangladesh braced for protests and fresh violence Sunday after a senior official of the largest Islamist party was executed on charges of crimes against humanity during the country's 1971 independence war, the second man to be hanged since the government revived war crime trials that have sharpened political divisions in the South Asian nation.
Mohammad Qamaruzzaman was put to death Saturday night in the central jail in the capital, Dhaka, a senior prison official, Forman Ali, told reporters outside the premises.
Prosecutors said that Qamaruzzaman, an assistant secretary general of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, headed a militia group that collaborated with the Pakistani army in central Bangladesh in 1971 and was behind the killings of at least 120 unarmed farmers.
Bangladesh blames Pakistani soldiers and local collaborators for the deaths of 3 million people during the nine-month war of independence from Pakistan. An estimated 200,000 women were raped and about 10 million people fled to refugee camps in neighboring India.
Jamaat-e-Islami denounced the execution and called for a nationwide general strike Monday. At the same time, hundreds of people who supported the trial and execution rallied in Dhaka. Similar demonstrations were held in other cities and towns.
"We are happy that justice has been delivered finally," said Mohammad Al Masum, a student at Dhaka University, who joined a procession in Shabagh Square. "I did not see the war but I am sure the families that lost their dear ones will be happy today."
The trials have further polarized Bangladesh, already gripped by long-running political divisions that often spill into violence.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ravina Shamdasani, earlier this week urged Bangladesh not to carry out the execution, saying that Qamaruzzman's trial did not meet international standards.
The United States was more guarded in its assessment of the trial, but still urged the government not to proceed with the execution.
"We have seen progress, but still believe that further improvements ... could ensure these proceedings meet domestic and international obligations," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement shortly before the execution. "Until these obligations can be consistently met, it is best not to proceed with executions given the irreversibility of a sentence of death."
The Bangladeshi government said the trial met the proper standards with the defendant receiving the opportunity to challenge the prosecution's case in open court and appeal the verdict all the way up to the Supreme Court.
Since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina set up the tribunals in 2010, more than a dozen people have been convicted, mostly senior leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami. The party, which is allied with Hasina's main opposition rival, says the trials are politically motivated.
The initial trials that followed Bangladesh's independence four decades ago were halted after the assassination of then-president and independence leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman — Hasina's father — and most of his family members in a 1975 military coup. Hasina revived the process, making good on a pledge she made before 2008 elections.
Bangladesh executed another Jamaat-e-Islami assistant secretary, Abdul Quader Mollah, in December 2013 for similar crimes, triggering violent protests.
Qamaruzzaman refused to seek presidential clemency. Somoy TV station reported that he was hanged after performing all legal and religious procedures. His body will be taken for burial to his ancestral home in the Sherpur district in central Bangladesh.