The International Crimes Tribunal on Monday indicted Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami leader Delwar Hossain Saydee for committing crimes against humanity and genocide and abetting war crimes during the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971.
Saydee is the first person to be indicted on charges of war crimes.
Charges were framed on 21 counts of specific allegations, including killing a large number of people on religious ground, raping Hindu women, forcing many Hindus to convert to Islam, looting and arson attacks on hundreds of houses, forcing Hindus into exodus, and abetting Pakistani forces in committing the crimes.
But Saydee, who was on the dock, pleaded “not guilty”, terming the charges “false, fabricated and politically motivated”.
“With the framing of charges the war crime trial has begun formally,” said Mohammad Shahinur Islam, registrar and spokesman of the International Crimes Tribunal, which comprises Justice Nizamul Huq Nasim as its chairman and Justice ATM Fazle Kabir and AKM Zaheer Ahmed as members.
The tribunal fixed 30 October for starting hearings with the prosecution’s opening statement and submission of witnesses for examination.
“This is the first case in the tribunal bearing considerable significance for the people of Bangladesh as well as for the victims of the crimes committed in Bangladesh territory,” said the tribunal registrar.
Terming the occasion “remarkable…only one of its kinds so far in the legal history of Bangladesh”, the tribunal in its charge framing order gave a brief description of the historical contexts of the war crimes and the country’s Liberation War.
“The road to freedom for the people of Bangladesh was arduous and torturous, smeared with blood, toil and sacrifices. In the contemporary world history, perhaps no nation paid as dearly as the Bangalees did for their emancipation,” it said.
“We are of the opinion that there are sufficient grounds to presume that the accused, Delwar Hossain Saydee, committed offences under section 392 of the [International Crimes (Tribunal)] act.”
The tribunal rejected an application for discharging Saydee, saying, “We are of the opinion that there are no reasons to discharge the accused; rather there are numerous grave allegations that the accused has to provide answers to.”
According to the charges, Saydee was a Razakar commander during the Liberation War and helped recruit other members of the auxiliary force of the Pakistan army by establishing makeshift camps in Pirojpur for committing crimes against humanity.
On 4 May 1971 morning, Saydee as a member of a group of individuals as well as a member of the so-called peace committee killed 20 unnamed civilians with the help of Pakistan army at the Masimpur bus stand in Pirojpur.
Accompanied by Pakistan army personnel the same day, he raided the houses of Hindu people of Masimpur Hindu Para, looted their goods and burnt down their houses.
They opened fire on the fleeing frightened villagers indiscriminately and killed 13, including Sarat Chandra Mondol, Bijoy Mistri and Upendranath Mondol.
Saydee along with his accomplices also attacked several villages populated by Hindus on that day and took part in indiscriminate killing, looting and arson attacks.
On 5 May 1971, Saydee went to Pirojpur Hospital by a military jeep and picked up Saif Mizanur Rahman, the then deputy magistrate of Pirojpur sub-division, who was hiding there.
Mizanur Rahman, sub-divisional police officer Foyezur Rahman Ahmed and SDO Abdur Razzak were taken to the bank of the river Baleshwar and they were executed in a brush fire for organising people to stand for Bangladesh’s independence.
The charges against Saydee name many women who were either raped by Saydee or handed over to Pakistan army for being raped.
The court order says as per allegations Saydee was “directly involved in rape or abetting the offences of abduction, confinement and rape as crimes against humanity”.
Reading out the charges before Saydee, the tribunal asked him whether he would plead guilty or innocent.
Before pleading “not guilty”, Saydee made a brief statement, saying he has been politically victimised by the Awami League-led alliance government and implicated in the war crime cases.
“The allegations brought against me are cooked up…those are arrant lies!” he said, adding that a drama is being staged in the name of war crimes trial which is “very unfortunate”.
Denying all charges, Saydee cursed the government and said, “Those who plotted to taint my image will face Allah’s wrath.
“Time will come when people of the world will witness the sad end of these plotters,” he said.
Saydee was arrested on 29 June 2010 at his house in the city’s Shahidbagh area in connection with a criminal case filed for hurting the religious sentiment of Muslims.
Later, on 2 November, the tribunal allowed a prosecution plea that sought detention order against Saydee for conducting investigation into the allegations of crimes against humanity.
Advocate M Tajul Islam appeared for Saydee on Monday while chief prosecutor Golam Arif Tipu along with his deputies stood for the State.
Five top leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami, including its chief Matiur Rahman Nizami, and two senior leaders of the main opposition BNP were detained as suspected war criminals.
Jamaat had opposed Bangladesh’s independence in 1971 and formed different groups to assist Pakistani forces during the war that left, according to some historians, about three million unarmed people killed and around 200,000 women assaulted.
Bangladesh won the war with India’s help on 16 December 1971. An early initiative to prosecute war crimes was called off after the 1975 political changeover with the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the architect of the country’s independence.