The war crimes tribunal has wondered why the prosecution had not charged Jamaat-e-Islami chief Matiur Rahman Nizami with killing intellectuals, even though there are volumes of references to his widely alleged role.
After the prosecution finished presenting its formal charge on Thursday, proposing to indict Nizami on 15 counts at the war crimes tribunal, chairman Justice Nizamul Huq still wondered the killing of intellectuals was not included in the formal charge.
He had agreed that the formal charge had “touched” upon the matter when prosecutor Syed Haider Ali said it was there and would be shown convincingly in the evidences.
The prosecution will begin its arguments on Mar 21 in support of the formal charges.
The International Crimes Tribunal, set up to deal with crimes against humanity during the Liberation War, also saw the prosecution submit formal charges against Abdul Alim, a former MP and minister in late president Ziaur Rahman’s cabinet, on Thursday.
The tribunal said it would give cognisance order on Mar 22 and extended Alim’s bail until then. Alim was also ordered to be present at the court on that date.
The tribunal chairman noted that the defence had requested to be present when the prosecution would present its arguments. Nonetheless he asked prosecutor Altaf Uddin Ahmed whether he was prepared.
The prosecutor said he was ready to argue the case.
Justice Nizamul Huq told the prosecutor that he would have to substantiate the charges brought against Nizami in his argument. Justice Huq suggested the prosecutor come prepared on the Mar 21 for this arguments.
Tribunal member Judge A K M Zaheer Ahmed asked him again, “Are you ready?”
Prosecutor Ahmed: “Yes, my lord.”
“Are you sure you are ready?” judge Ahmed asked again, as the chairman and another tribunal member Justice A T M Fazle Kabir had a hint of smile on their faces.
Prosecutor Ahmed: “Yes I am.”
Judge Zaheer Ahmed: “Alright then, I will just begin with the last charge and we can keep the rest for later.”
He then asked the prosecutor to read the charges, which essentially stated that Matiur Rahman Nizami, then head of Jamaat-e-Islami’s East Pakistan student wing the Islami Chhatra Sangha, discussed and conspired with one ‘Samad’, a Razakar commander at a local school in Pabna district.
Judge Zaheer Ahmed asked the prosecutor why he proposed charging Nizami for crimes against humanity — which includes murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, imprisonment, abduction, confinement, torture, rape, etc — for mere planning and conspiracy.
After the prosecutor evidently failed to make any headway with the judges, Syed Haider Ali, who has been conducting a case against another Jamaat leader Delwar Hossain Sayedee, argued that the prosecution wanted to bring those charges in the 15th count because, “It was a result of his conspiracy that those crimes had taken place.”
Judge Zaheer Ahmed: “But the description of the charge does not state that. It does not say anywhere that he planned and conspired and as a result of his plan these other crimes took place.”
Prosecutor Haider Ali: “It is not mentioned in so many words but one has to take this charge in the larger context. The other charges also point to these crimes. This is not really an independent charge.”
Justice Fazle Kabir: “Every single charge is an independent charge. You cannot say one charge is not so.”
The prosecutor did not quite agree and continued to argue his point, to which Zaheer Ahmed said, “If that is indeed the case, that these are not independent charges, then you have broadly two charges against Nizami.”
The judge then mentioned conspiracy and command responsibility. Prosecutor Haider Ali said there would be two more, which the judge did not appear willing to accept since they were lacking in merit. Judge Zaheer Ahmed mentioned in a fleeting manner and said, “We will see about the other charges later then.”
The charges proposed against Nizami mainly include crimes against humanity, genocide, conspiracy and command responsibility.
NO INTELLECTUAL IN 15 COUNTS
The tribunal chairman then asked both the prosecutors — Altaf Uddin and Haider Ali — why they had not charged Nizami for the killing of intellectuals.
Count 13 of the formal mentions the infamous Mohammad Physical Training Institute, where Al Badr cadres, many of whom were Chhatra Sangha members, would bring the intellectuals bound and blindfolded.
According to a host of publications and references this was where the intellectuals were tortured and mutilated before being dumped at Rayer Bazaar, said Justice Nizamul Huq.
But charge 13 brings a far more generalised charge against Nizami, holding him responsible for all the atrocities that went on at the institute throughout the 9 months that the Liberation War lasted (between Mar 26 and Dec 16 of 1971).
Prosecutor Haider Ali said the formal charge did mention the killing of intellectuals, to which Justice Huq agreed. He said, “You have merely touched upon it. Why not bring a charge?”
The prosecutor mumbled that the evidences would clearly show Nizami’s involvement in the case.
Later, however, when asked, Haider Ali kept telling reporters that the formal charges did include killing of intellectuals. “It is there, it is there,” Haider Ali kept saying before going off.
Prosecutor Altaf Uddin Ahmed, later, went through each formal charge when asked which count charged Nizami for the murder of intellectuals.
He pointed to a paragraph that mentioned Nizami’s role in organising the murders that would eventually cripple Bangladesh. When asked if that paragraph was part of the formal charges, he said, “You think 15 counts include all the crimes that he has committed?”
Not even once did Altaf Uddin Ahmed utter the word intellectual while reading out the 15 counts before the tribunal.
However, according to the rules of the tribunal, it is the panel of judges who frame the charges based on what the prosecution supplies. Thus the 15 counts are only what are called ‘proposed charges’.
It will be up to tribunal to decide whether the prosecution has been able to collect enough evidence to frame a certain charge, whether or not proposed by the prosecution.
Matiur Rahman Nizami, headed Jamaat’s student wing, that used to be called Islami Chhatra Sangha, in 1971.
Later that year, Nizami was replaced by his current number two, Jamaat secretary general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujaheed, also behind bars on war crimes charges.
Nizami is also said to have headed the Al Badr which had a lead role in many of the atrocities during 1971.
The Islamist party’s student cadres are said to have been instrumental in mobilising several fronts like the Razakars, Al Badr and Al Shams that actively engaged against the freedom fighters to thwart the liberation forces.
These fronts were notorious for ruthlessly trying to subdue resistance against Pakistani occupation forces and full fledged collaboration with the Pakistani Army.
It is through these militia fronts that Nizami is said to have masterminded the murder of pro-liberation intellectuals of Bangladesh days before the Pakistani occupation army surrendered on Dec 16, 1971.
The tribunal took charges into cognisance against Nizami on Jan 9.