Ctg businessman tells war crimes tribunal of his harrowing experience
A prosecution witness yesterday told the International Crimes Tribunal-1 that he was brutally tortured at Salauddin Quader Chowdhury’s Goods Hill residence in Chittagong during the Liberation War.
Mohammad Salimullah, a businessman of Chittagong, in his 90-minute testimony told the court how he was abducted on September 2, 1971, taken to the house, tortured and kept hostage in a garage where he would have died had a Sindhi member of the police force not given him water.
“I thought they would kill me eventually. I had lost all hope,” said the 68-year-old witness.
“At one point, the only thing in my mind was my then four-month-old daughter. I prayed to the almighty to protect her and keep her safe,” Salimullah said in an emotion-choked voice.
He is the second prosecution witness in a case against Salauddin Quader regarding the BNP leader’s alleged involvement in crimes against humanity committed during the Liberation War.
Salimullah, who owned the Muslim Press in Chittagong, said on the evening of September 2, 1971, he was on his way to Goods Hill to appeal for the release of his two Hindu employees.
He had hired a house from a local Hindu person to arrange accommodation for his Hindu employees, who had been facing harassment by the Pakistani soldiers on their way to work at the printing press.
The two employees — Dawal and Swapan — were abducted by the Al Shams force on false charges.
The notorious Al Shams force, which collaborated with the Pakistani army and actively opposed the country’s liberation, used to abduct pro-independence people from different parts of Chittagong at the diktat of Salauddin Quader during the war, the witness said.
The hostages were rounded up at the Goods Hill residence of Salauddin Quader’s family, he added.
While Salimullah was on his way, the Al Shams force and a group of “Sindhi police” abducted him from Chittagong’s Obhoymitraghat Road.
Two “Sindhi police” members detained him, forced him into a car and drove him to Goods Hill along with a 70-year-old “Khalifa”, the witness said.
After reaching the house, Hamidul Kabir Chowdhury Khoka, Chittagong commander of Al Shams force, gave the soldiers an order in Urdu.
“Sala Malaun ka sarfarasti karta hai. Uska pa upar karo, ser niche koro” [he advocates for the Hindus, put his legs up and head down] was the order.
Salimullah was then hung upside down from a pillar in the yard of Goods Hill.
“They beat me up all over my body with the back of their rifles,” he said.
Tortured, he and the “Khalifa” were taken to the garage of Goods Hill house and were further tortured there.
The garages in the house were used as “torture cells”, where the abducted persons were held captive and tortured, said Salimullah.
“While I was in the garage, I heard groans coming from two or three adjacent garages,” he said.
Extremely thirsty, Salimullah slept through the night although he remembers seeing the headlights of a car outside the garage between 12:00 midnight and 1:00am.
“Very early in the morning, I heard gunshots outside,” he said. “Apparently, the sons of Fazlul Quader Chowdhury used to receive training in shooting every morning.”
During that hour, they also used to kill people who needed to be killed, he added.
Salimullah told the tribunal he heard the sounds of a Sindhi police member reciting from the Quran in a very sad tone. That Sindhi police member later passed him a mug of water, which he was taking to the toilet.
“I regained my life. That water perhaps saved my life that day.”
At 8:30am, Al Shams commander Hamidul Kabir Chowdhury Khoka opened the garage door and embraced Salimullah, asking for forgiveness.
He later found his nephew Mohammad Ishak and a friend named Shafiqur Rahman waiting outside, who asked him to go with them.
Salimullah insisted that he would not leave without the “Khalifa” who had been tortured along with him. The Al Shams commander, however, refused to let the “Khalifa” go.
“I never saw ‘Khalifa’ or my two employees ever again. I believe they were murdered.”
While he was being taken outside, Salimullah saw Saifuddin Quader Chowdhury, youngest brother of Salauddin Quader, standing beside the stairs.
“My friend Shafiqur Rahman went towards him and angrily said the fact that they formed the Al Shams force and were torturing innocent people would not yield good results.”
According to the witness, the Chittagong Al Shams force was comprised of Khoka, Syed Wahidul Alam, Jafar alias Mahabub and Saifuddin Quader Chowdhury.
The force took hold of the house of a Runu Babu on Chittagong’s Obhoymitraghat Road, and conducted their activities under the supervision of Salauddin Quader and leadership of Salauddin Quader’s father Fazlul Quader Chowdhury, the witness added.
“They used to travel in a red jeep provided by Fazlul Quader Chowdhury and leave the house at around 8:00am or 9:00am,” said Salimullah.
They used to go to Satkania, Boalkhali, Patia, Raozan and other areas in Chittagong, and based on information from “sources”, they abducted independence-seeking people, and torched and looted the houses of the Hindus.
“If they saw any beautiful young girls, they would abduct them and bring them along,” added the witness.
The abducted people used to be tortured throughout the night, and the girls were handed over to the Pakistani army, he said, adding that many of the captives were killed and their bodies thrown into the Karnaphuli river from Kalurghat Bridge.
He also told the court that in 2010 he identified the garage where he had been tortured and the road from where he had been abducted and showed it to the investigation officer.
“The garage used to have a wooden staircase beside it. I did not see it when I visited it this time,” said Salimullah, adding, “I also saw some more tin-shed garages, which were not there when I was held captive.
“I want justice. I have waited for this very day for 40 years,” he told the court.
The witness said the Al Badr, Al Shams and Razakar forces formed two separate Shanti Committees in Chittagong during the War.
The Shanti Committee was formed to collaborate with the Pakistani occupation army and actively oppose the Liberation War movement.
Salauddin Quader and Fazlul Quader Chowdhury led one of the two committees, the witness added.
The other committee was led by Mahmudun Nabi Chowdhury, he added.
At one point during his testimony, the witness exchanged heated words with defence counsel Ahsanul Haq Hena.
During the exchange, which involved the witness, defence, prosecution and the tribunal, Salimullah addressed the defence counsel as “Hena saheb” and commented that he was “advocating” for a war criminal.
Trying to keep the situation under control, Tribunal Chairman Justice Md Nizamul Huq said: “He is not an expert witness. That is why there are certain problems.”
“I know him very well. He is quite an expert,” was the answer from Ahsanul Haq.
The defence, which began cross-examining the witness yesterday, will resume it today.
Salauddin Quader was produced before the court yesterday. He is facing 23 specific charges of crimes against humanity he allegedly committed during the Liberation War.
He is among four Jamaat-e-Islami and BNP leaders facing similar charges at the tribunal-1, the first of the two courts formed to deal with such crimes.