government: Parliamentary democracy
state of civil and political rights: Partly free
constitution: 16 December 1972, suspended 24 March 1982, renewed 10 November 1986, and amended several times
legal system: mixed legal system of mostly English common law and Islamic law
legislative system: unicameral National Parliament (Jatiya Sangsad)
judicial system: Supreme Court, the Chief Justices and other judges are appointed by the president
religion: 83% Muslim; 16% Hindu; Buddhist, Catholic and Protestant minorities
death row: 1425, end 2015
year of last executions: 23-4-2013
death sentences: 249
international treaties on human rights and the death penalty:
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
Convention on the Rights of the Child
Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Statute of the International Criminal Court (which excludes the death penalty) (only signed)
An extremely broad range of crimes currently warrant the death penalty in Bangladesh, including
non-lethal crimes such as counterfeiting and smuggling. Article 32 of the
Constitution provides: “No person shall be deprived of life. . . save in
accordance with the law.” Bangladesh applies the death penalty for such crimes
as murder, sedition, offenses related to possession and drug trafficking,
treason, espionage, military crimes.
In March 1998 the Bangladesh Cabinet approved the death penalty for crimes
against women and children including trafficking, rape and murder. The maximum
punishment for such crimes was formerly 10 years in prison. In 1997 capital
offences were extended to include hijacking of planes and sabotage.
On 16 March 2004, Parliament passed the Disruption of Law and Order Offences
(Speedy Trial) Act of 2004 to extend the term of the much-debated Speedy Trial
Act created in 2002 for another two years following its expiration on 9 April
2004. The law, approved by Parliament on 13 March 2002 and effective from 10
April 2002, instituted special tribunals and fast track trials (to take place
within 90 days of the filing of a report) with the power to condemn to death
people found guilty of violent crimes.
Death sentences have increased notably since these special tribunals were
On 5 May 2015, the Appellate Division of the Bangladesh Supreme Court declared the mandatory death penalty provisions of the Women and Children Repression Act of 1995 and the Prevention of Oppression Against Women and Children Act of 2000 unconstitutional, “because they prescribe a mandatory death penalty for the offence of causing death after rape.” The crimes included under the above sections are: murder of a woman or child using explosives, corrosive substances, or poison; dowry murder, in which a woman is killed by her husband or his family after suffering harassment or torture to extort a higher dowry; and murder following rape. The apex court came up with this landmark decision after allowing an appeal filed by the Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust in April 2010 challenging the High Court’s March 2010 verdict, which had upheld a 1995 mandatory death sentence for Sukur Ali, a then 14-year-old boy who was convicted of the rape and murder of a 7-year-old girl. On 3 August 2015, the Supreme Court commuted his death sentence to jail until death.
The war on terror
Terrorist acts, as well as ordinary crimes like murder, extortion and
kidnapping fall under the jurisdiction of the high speed tribunals.
On 19 February 2009, the government approved a tough anti-terrorism ordinance
which provided the death sentence or life imprisonment or maximum 20 years and
a minimum of 3 years rigorous imprisonment. The Anti-Terrorism Ordinance of
2008, presented by the previous interim government, suggests that any act that
poses a threat to the sovereignty, unity, integrity or security of Bangladesh
or creates panic among the general masses or obstructs official activities be
treated as terrorism. According to the ordinance, the use of bombs, dynamite or
other explosives, inflammable substances, firearms, or any other chemicals in a
way that may injure or kill people to create panic among the public, and damage
public or private property have been defined as acts of terrorism. Threatening
anyone with death, taking any person hostage, physically assaulting anyone or
creating panic in the general masses, detaining or abducting a person by such
acts have also been defined as terrorism.
On March 2, 2010, the judges of the High Court, Imman Ali and Abdul Awal,
declared unconstitutional the legislation in the country that provides for the
mandatory death penalty.
On 26 December 2011, the cabinet approved the final draft of the Anti-terrorism
(amendment) Act, 2011 with a provision for the death penalty for getting
involved in, supporting or financing militancy and terrorist activities in the
Country. Any Bangladeshi or foreign national using Bangladeshi land for
terrorist activities in other Countries or supporting such activities would be
brought to trial under this act.
On 16 February 2012, the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill, 2012 was passed in
the Jatiya Sangsad, keeping a provision for capital punishment (death sentence)
as the maximum punishment. The House passed the bill by voice vote. Home
Minister Shahara Khatun proposed the bill in the parliament for passage.
Earlier, chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on Home Ministry Maj
Gen (retd) Abdus Salam placed the scrutinised report on the bill. The home
minister said the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill was brought to resist various
criminal activities and to safeguard the sovereignty of Bangladesh. The Anti-Terrorism
Act, 2009 has been amended to stop the use of Bangladeshi land for conducting
terrorist activities inside the Country or other Countries, all types of
illegal arms, carrying explosives and creating panic among the people through
any terrorist activity.
On 16 June 2013, Bangladesh Parliament passed a law with provisions allowing the death penalty
for adults (mis)using children in violent activities such as murder, terrorism
and intimidation, in line with the Anti-Terrorism Act 2009. The House passed
the Children Bill 2013 proposed by Social Welfare Minister Enamul Haque Mostafa
Shahid through an open vote with lawmakers from the Treasury Bench shouting
“yes” while opposition lawmakers said “no.” The new provision states: “No
matter whether genuine guardian or custodian of using the adolescents (up to 18
years) in the terrorist activities, defined in the section six of the
Anti-Terrorism Act 2009, will (be) presumed to have committed the terrorist
activities done by the children concerned.”
In 2010, the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) was set up by the Government led by Sheikh
Mujib’s daughter, Sheikh Hasina Wajed. The tribunal was established to try
Bangladeshis accused of collusion with Pakistani forces and committing crimes
against humanity and war crimes during the war for independence from Pakistan
in 1971. Bangladesh says Pakistani soldiers and local collaborators killed 3
million people and raped 200,000 women during the war. Independent researchers
put the death toll between 300,000 and 500,000 people.
On 17 February 2013, Bangladesh’s Parliament amended the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) law,
allowing the death penalty for those allegedly involved in crimes against
humanity in the 1971 independence war. The new law means the Government and
others can now appeal against ICT verdicts. Furthermore, the amendment will
give the tribunal powers to prosecute any political parties or organizations
reputedly involved in war crimes, and ban such parties from politics.
Executions are carried out in jail by hanging. According to the NGO Odhikar (a
Bangla word that means ‘rights’), sometimes other prisoners are forced into
carrying out the executions of their peers without any legal basis in domestic
The imposition of mandatory death sentences for certain crimes deprives the judiciary of
discretion to take into account possible extenuating circumstances.
According to Article 49 of the Constitution, the President shall have the power to remit, suspend or
commute any sentence passed by any court, tribunal or other authorities.
Commutation of death sentences or suspension of executions
On 5 March 2014, Minister for Home Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said a total of 33 people, who were
sentenced to death from 2001 to date, received presidential mercy. Of the 30
convicts, 23 were acquitted while the capital punishment of six of them was
commuted to life term and one was awarded 10-year jail term, he added. During
the BNP-Jamaat alliance’s 2001-06 tenure, the President granted clemency to one
and awarded life term to another in 2005. Two other death row convicts got
clemency during the 2007-08 military-backed caretaker government. Their death
sentences were commuted to life term in 2007. During the Awami League’s 2009-13
tenure, then President Zillur Rahman granted clemency to 22, while three were
handed life term and one 10 years imprisonment. Of the 22, 21 had been
condemned to death in a single murder case in 2010. The Bangladesh Awami League
is the country’s current governing party, after winning a majority at the
January 2014 parliamentary elections.
Bangladesh resumed executions in 2001, after a de facto three-year suspension.
Two men were hanged between February and March and another in November. One
execution was recorded in 2002 and two people were put to death in 2003. At
least 13 people were sent to gallows in 2004 and at least five in 2005; four
people were executed in 2006, six in 2007, five in 2008 and 3 in 2009.
In 2010, there were 9 executions, and at least 47 death sentences were handed
At least 5 executions were carried out in 2011. According to the Odhikar Annual
Human Rights Report, 97 people have been awarded the death sentence by various
courts in 2011 and in 2012, 77 death sentences were imposed and 1 execution was
carried out. In 2013, Bangladesh hanged two people, one for murder and the
other for crimes against humanity and war crimes. At least 216 death sentences
were issued. In 2013 and the first six months of 2014, dozens of activists of
the banned Islamist group Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) were sentenced
to death for terrorism, while some leading executives of the legal Bangladesh
Jamaat-e-Islami party were sentenced to death and, in one case, executed for
offences carried out four decades ago during the independence struggle against
In 2015, Bangladesh executed four people, one for murder and three for crimes against humanity and war crimes. At least 197 people were sentenced to death in 2015, according to Amnesty International, and at least 1,425 people were on death row at the end of the year.
In 2014, no executions were recorded in Bangladesh, which had hanged two people in 2013 and one in 2012.
The Human Rights Council, in its 2009 Universal Periodic Review of human rights in Bangladesh,
recommended that Bangladesh institute a moratorium on executions, restrict the
scope of the death penalty to comply with minimal international standards, and
abolish the death penalty.
On 29 April 2013, Bangladesh was reviewed again under the Universal Periodic Review of the UN
Human Rights Council. The recommendations to establish a moratorium on the
death penalty, as a first step towards complete abolition of this practice and
accession to the Second Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, did
not gain the support of Bangladesh. Foreign Minister Dipu Moni said death
penalty is not unique to Bangladesh and its application is restricted to the
most serious and heinous crimes under due legal process and judicial
safeguards. Bangladesh maintains an extremely low rate of death sentences, the
Foreign Minister added.
On December 19, 2016, Bangladesh once again voted against the Resolution on a
Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty at the UN General Assembly.