DHAKA: Bangladesh's two top opposition leaders, who are expected to be executed soon for 1971 war crimes, today sought presidential clemency in a last-ditch attempt to escape the gallows.
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 have sought presidential clemency admitting their guilt...The president (Abdul Hamid) will now give his decision on the matter expectedly in consultation with the Prime Minister (Sheikh Hasina)," Law Minister Anisul Huq told PTI.
He said there was no timeline for the president to convey his decision on the fate of the two death row convicts, whose last legal efforts were exhausted when the apex court rejected their petitions seeking review of their capital punishment.
"(But) we expect the president’s decision to come soon," a senior Home Ministry official said preferring anonymity.
Security have been intensified around the high security prison where condemned prisoners are being held.
Mujahid, 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.
They declined to divulge the contents of the clemency petitions but legal experts said the convicts must "unconditionally admit" their guilt and "express remorse" for the crimes in their mercy petitions.
Mujahid and Chowdhury are the first war crimes convicts to seek presidential clemency. Their close relatives met them two days ago at the jail.
Home ministry officials said the mercy petitions have reached the premier's office to be forwarded to the Bangabhaban Presidential palace, where a spokesman said they await the petitions to be placed before President Hamid.
Meanwhile, Jamaat and Chowdhury's family members 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 said in a statement.
Chowdhury's son Hummam Quader Chowdhury 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.