Jamaat-e-Islami leader Delwar Hossain Sayedee’s war crimes investigator concluded his deposition at the International Crimes Tribunal-1 on Tuesday with all the senior defence counsels absent for the second consecutive day.
The three-judge tribunal, chaired by Justice Mohammad Nizamul Huq, was set up on Mar 25, 2010 to deal with crimes against humanity during the 1971 Liberation War.
The tribunal had adjourned proceedings on Monday considering Jamaat executive council member Sayedee’s personal pleading that none of his senior counsels were present.
Sayedee had declined to accept the services of the tribunal as the chairman promised to act as the defence counsel saying that he had full confidence in the chairman but would still like his own counsels to be present.
The Jamaat leader had also said that since he had no understanding of law, he merely sat in the dock and read the Qur’an.
On Tuesday, however, he took on a markedly different tone when the tribunal indicated, even before the defence had submitted an adjournment petition, that the prayer would be rejected.
Sajjad Ali Chowdhury, a junior counsel of the defence, stood up to say that his seniors had not been able to come, thus the defence would like an adjournment.
The tribunal chief told the junior lawyer to sit down indicating that he had heard the matter. Chowdhury handed in a written petition to a bench officer, at which the tribunal chair said a written petition was not necessary and an oral submission was enough. “You may of course place the petition, but there won’t be any adjournment today.”
Sayedee then stood up to read a written statement, which did not indicate the kind of confidence or respect for the tribunal he had expressed the previous day.
The statement said that Sayedee was so ‘dumbstruck and astounded’ that he had ‘given up trying to make sense of the proceedings’ and resorted to reading his Qur’an.
Regarding the court’s decision to allow statements of 15 witnesses to be received as evidence, Sayedee said that the court had subsumed his rights as an accused.
His written statement suggested that by receiving the statements made to the investigation officer as evidence the court was in fact doing him grave injustice.
However, if the court still chose to continue, the Jamaat leader said the court could well excuse him being a 72-year old man from the proceedings and decide on his fate between itself and the prosecution.
Sayedee concluded by saying that he expected a fair trial and despite being a victim of the ruling government’s political motives he would like to be able to have full confidence in the tribunal.
He thus prayed for an adjournment.
The tribunal rejected the prayer noting that the all the parties of the case including the counsels, accused and the press were present except the senior lawyers of the defence.
The tribunal’s order noted that an adjournment had been allowed the previous day considering Sayedee’s submissions but it could not wait any longer.
Justice Nizamul Huq giving the order said that the accused would not be deprived of justice if the investigation officer went ahead adducing the 15 statements.
The prosecution was then directed to begin recording evidence. Appearing as the prosecution’s 28th witness, ASP Mohammad Helal Uddin began recording evidence for the ninth day.
He proceeded to name each of the 15 witnesses who could not be produced before the court and exhibit their statements as evidence.
The junior counsels of the defence at this point informed the tribunal that they could not assist the tribunal in any manner at this point and upon the advice of their senior counsels, they asked for the court’s permission to leave.
Justice Huq became visibly angry at this prayer and rejected it outright saying loudly, “You may not leave the court room and you must stay.”
Sajjad Ali Chowdhury said, “But we would not be able to assist your lordship on any of the law points.”
The tribunal chair said, “I know that well. Let me repeat what I said. Any such point will remain open for the senior counsels to take up later.”
He then asked the junior counsels to take their seats and take notes. The junior defence lawyers, however, remained standing. The investigations officer’s testimony continued with both the tribunal judges (Judge A K M Zaheer Ahmed was absent) ignoring them as much as possible.
The investigation officer, after exhibiting the 15 statements, proceeded to exhibit a number of other documents. Although prosecutor Saidur Rahman assured the court that he had supplied the evidence to the defence beforehand, the court remained unconvinced.
Agreeing with a submission from Abu Bakar Siddique of the defence, Justice Huq said he would not allow it. “We are in doubt ourselves.”
He told the prosecution that Helal Uddin’s testimony would have to be concluded no matter what and if it still wanted to exhibit more evidence then the witness would have to be recalled later.
Following the testimony, junior defence counsel Siddique prayed for an adjournment of at least one week to allow the team to prepare for Helal Uddin’s cross-examination which required perusal of the thousands of pages that the prosecution had supplied them even as the testimony was ongoing.
The tribunal said he would consider the matter if the senior counsels prayed for the adjournment on Wednesday. “But the date for beginning cross-examination will be tomorrow (Apr 25).”
The remaining items of the day were also adjourned until the next day.
These included the defence’s arguments against indictment of Jamaat chief Matiur Rahman Nizami and his number two, the party’s secretary general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Muaheed.
The court was also scheduled to deliver an order in response to a petition filed by BNP MP Salauddin Quader Chowdhury.
FIRST CASE TO TRIAL
Sayedee’s is the first case to proceed to the trial stage at the tribunal. The prosecution on Sept 4 proposed framing of charges against him on 31 counts for crimes against humanity and genocide.
The tribunal also sent Jamaat’s former chief Ghulam Azam to jail on Jan 11. His indictment hearing began on Feb 15 and the court is scheduled to give Azam’s indictment order on May 2.
Nizami, Mujaheed and assistant secretaries general Mohammad Kamaruzzaman and Abdul Quader Molla have been detained on war crimes charges.
BNP standing committee member Salauddin Quader, also behind bars, has been indicted for 23 charges on Apr 4. The prosecution has been ordered to begin with its opening statement on Apr 29.
The tribunal granted conditional bail to former BNP lawmaker and minister Abdul Alim on Mar 31 last year. His bail has been extended till Apr 29, when the defence will submit a new bail petition. The prosecution began placing formal charges against the former MP on Tuesday before the second tribunal set up on Mar 23 this year.