Ghulam Azam’s case transfer pleas rejected
Dhaka, Jun 18 (bdnews24.com) — The first war crimes tribunal on Monday rejected two petitions of Jamaat-e-Islami guru Ghulam Azam for transferring his case and another for reviewing his indictment order.
Set up to deal with crimes against humanity during Bangladesh’s 1971 War of Independence, the International Crimes Tribunal -1, had indicted the former Jamaat-e-Islami chief on May 13 on five types of charges including incitement, conspiracy and abetment.
Chairman of the three-judge tribunal, Justice Mohammad Nizamul Huq gave two long orders addressing a number of points that defence counsel Abdur Razzaq had made during his elaborate submissions.
Razzaq, a senior lawyer representing the top Jamaat leaders, had also moved another application for transfer of Ghulam Azam’s case from the first tribunal to the second on the grounds of better dispensation of justice.
As an alternative, the application had prayed for recusal of the tribunal chief Justice Huq for what the defence said was his previous involvement with a mock trial of 1992 at a People’s Court which ruled that Ghulam Azam’s crimes deserved the death penalty.
Justice Huq’s name appeared in a long list of people with the court’s enquiry commission, which was charged with conducting primary investigation.
The tribunal said the defence petition for transferring Ghulam Azam’s case was in fact one seeking removal of the Chairman. Most of the arguments were pointed in that direction, said the court.
Justice Huq, reading out the order, said the law was clear about who could transfer the cases. The chief prosecutor could appeal for a transfer or the tribunal could do so on its own volition in the interest of dispensation of justice and expeditious trial.
Razzaq had appealed to the court saying that he was well aware of the laws and was leaving it to the court to transfer the case based on the merit of his arguments.
However, the tribunal pointed out that the arguments did address the stipulations for transferring the case and furthermore, since it was only the chief prosecutor or the court’s discretion, the application was liable to be rejected solely on those grounds.
Razzaq had filed the application invoking the inherent powers of the tribunal that allowed it to take any measure necessary to secure the ends of justice, which the order said should be used “sparingly” and only “when absolutely necessary”.
Justice Huq further said the defence argument regarding inequality of arms since the defence did not have the allowance to apply for case transfer did not hold. The order observed that inequality could not be established in such procedural matters but only if the defence was not given sufficient opportunity to defend itself.
The order pointed out that besides the older points mentioned and argued upon in the case against Jamaat leader Delwar Hossain Sayedee, the defence had drawn attention to a news item of Apr 11, 1992 printed in the Daily Sangbad where a meeting of a lawyers’ platform, the Ainjibi Shamannyay Parishad, had adopted a resolution on seven points. Among them was the recent people’s court verdict (of Mar 26, 1992) on Ghulam Azam. The group had decided to ask the government to take appropriate steps in that regard.
The report mentioned that Nizamul Huq, then a lawyer, was among those present at the meeting.
This, the defence said, provided for reasonable grounds of bias. The order observed that this notion of bias was in fact the centrepiece of the defence argument. But as before, meaning as in Sayedee’s case, it has no justification. The argument was devoid of any merit.
The order then touched upon the independence and impartiality of the tribunal that had also been questioned. The order pointed out that the court had been cautious and watchful so that the accused did not suffer any harassment in any way. The order said that Ghulam Azam, in fact, enjoyed more latitude than prisoners elsewhere in Bangladesh.
The tribunal said there were three lines of argument in the application seeking a review of the indictment order, first that the charges were not clear enough to give the defence sufficient notice, that Ghulam Azam was charged in an accumulative fashion and third, that the indictment order made some contentious statements.
The court’s order dwelt upon each charge, one by one, and showed how each of them was specific and concrete enough to give the defence sufficient notice of the alleged offences.
The order stated that the charges were clear enough for the defence to be able to argue the case effectively. Nor were the allegations vague.
Regarding the second line of argument the tribunal observed that it was common practice to charge a person for different offences depending on the context and continuity of the actions.
The order said that the former Jamaat leader was rightly charged with several offences for the same actions accumulatively, and found that the manner of indictment was well justified.
As for the third point, the order found that Razzaq had argued on two general points. The counsel had submitted that the order made certain statements that were contentious because the accused denied them, and secondly that certain points could not be stated until after witnesses had been cross-examined.
The order said that the statements made in the indictment order were not to be taken as conclusive, rather they actually pointed to contentious issues that the defence would have ample opportunity to disprove later in the trial.
However, the defence counsel, the tribunal ruled, could not say that certain statements had to be expunged merely because the accused denied them. For examples, the court pointed out that there was a huge body of work and other material which said that Ghulam Azam had indeed formed the East Pakistan Restoration Committee outside Bangladesh even after independence, collected funds from King Faisal of Saudi Arabia and conducted anti-Bangladesh campaigns in Europe.
The order also said that even the charges were based upon statements of witnesses and other materials that were not verified or examined in the court and as such could very well be contested in due time.
As regards the tribunal’s statement that Awami League had secured a landslide victory in the last elections because of its pledge to try suspected war criminals was its own observation and did not in any way prejudice the defence case.
“With this, the application, having no merit, stands rejected,” said Justice Huq before bringing the day’s proceedings to a close.
Jamaat Guru in ICT-1
On Dec 12, 2011, the prosecution brought a 52-point charter of charges against Azam and appealed for his arrest. Later, following the tribunal order, charges were re-arranged and presented to the tribunal on Jan 5.
He was produced before the tribunal on Jan 11 and sent to jail the same day. Since that evening, Ghulam Azam has been kept at the prison cell of the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University for better treatment considering his delicate health.
A former chief of Jamaat-e-Islami, arguably the largest Islamist organisation in the subcontinent, Azam is allegedly among the key people who pioneered anti-liberation efforts in 1971 colluding with the Pakistani military junta of that time.
He is widely perceived to have been among core group of right-wing supporters of the Pakistani Army, who came out strongly in support of a united Pakistan.
Ghulam Azam, then chief of Jamaat, was instrumental in setting up the infamous Peace Committee at the national level. The Razakars, an auxiliary force set up mainly to actively thwart the liberation forces, are said to have been mobilised through the Peace Committees across Bangladesh.
Among the most notorious vigilante militia are the Al Badr, whose membership is said to have been mainly dominated by the Jamaat’s student wing called the Islami Chhatra Sangha at that time.
The Al Badr is alleged to have spearheaded execution of the intellectual elites of Bangladesh just days before the victory on Dec 16, 1971.
Azam also spoke in favour of Pakistan to the Middle Eastern countries during the war, according to the prosecution.
He stayed in London for seven years after 1971 and returned to Bangladesh in 1978 during BNP founder Ziaur Rahman’s rule. Having led Jamaat for long, Azam retired from active politics in 1999.
His party remains a key ally of the main opposition BNP. Two Jamaat leaders, also behind bars for war crimes charges, have even served as ministers during the BNP’s last tenure in government between 2001 and 2006, when Azam’s party was part of the ruling coalition.
Azam was indicted on five charges including incitement, conspiracy and abetment.
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