Forty-two years after liberation, a panel of judges yesterday sentenced Ghulam Azam to 90 years in prison for masterminding crimes against humanity, genocide and other wartime offences in 1971. The former Jamaat chief, now 91, was found guilty on all five charges the prosecution stacked against him, according to the verdict by International Crimes Tribunal-1. The man — 49 years old in 1971 — was complicit with the perpetrators in planning, conspiracy and incitement which resulted in massive atrocities during the nation’s struggle for freedom from Pakistan.
“We are convinced in holding that accused Prof Ghulam Azam was the pivot of crimes and all the atrocities revolved around him during the War of Liberation,” the three judges said in the long-awaited verdict.
The judges said Ghulam Azam deserved the gallows but he was given prison terms due to his old age. But the jail term, seen as too lenient for Ghulam Azam, the symbol of war crimes, frustrated many justice seekers.
Wearing a white punjabi, white sandals, white Islamic prayer cap and a blue and white chequered lungi, Ghulam Azam sat through the three hours the tribunal took to read out the summary of the 243-page judgment.
The three judges read out three parts of a 75-page summary beginning at 11:45am in an overcrowded courtroom. The tribunal said Azam had committed the crimes through his party Jamaat-e-Islami and its wings.
“From the facts of common knowledge, we hold that any order or direction given by a religious leader like accused Ghulam Azam was always considered more powerful than that of an army general,” the judges said.
“Having considered the attending facts, legal position and the gravity and magnitude of the offences committed by the accused, we unanimously hold that he deserves the highest punishment, i.e. capital punishment,” the judges said.
His age and heath condition were “extenuating circumstances” for the lenient view in punishing him, said Tribunal-1 Chairman Justice ATM Fazle Kabir, and member judges Justice Jahangir Hossain Selim and Justice Anwarul Haque. The judges then pronounced their unanimous decision of giving him imprisonment in different terms on different charges.
The tribunal awarded him 10 years’ imprisonment each for conspiring and planning to commit crimes against humanity and genocide. It gave him 20 years each for incitement to and complicity in committing crimes against humanity, genocide and other war crimes. It also sentenced him to 30 years for torture and the killing of police officer Shiru Mia and three others.
“The period of the aforesaid sentences awarded to the accused shall run consecutively or till his death,” the judges ordered.
The prosecution as well as the defence expressed dissatisfaction over the verdict and said they would appeal with the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. According to the law, both sides would get 30 days from the delivery of the judgment to file an appeal.
The prosecution had expected capital punishment for Ghulam Azam while the defence wanted his exemption from all charges.
Ghulam Azam was ameer (chief) of East Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami during the Liberation War in 1971. He also became ameer of Bangladesh Jamaat in 1991. He left the party’s top post in 2000, through handing over charge of the party to war crimes accused Motiur Rahman Nizami.
In the nine-month war of independence, Ghulam Azam and his party played an active role in trying to prevent the birth of Bangladesh and collaborated with the Pakistan army in the killing of 3 million Bangalees and the rape of more than a quarter million women.
With yesterday’s verdict over, Ghulam Azam was sent back to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University where he has been taking treatment since his arrest in January, 2012.
Source: The Daily Star, 19/07/2013, http://www.southasianrights.org/wp-admin/post-new.php