Bangladesh’s second war crimes tribunal sentenced Abul Kalam Azad (aka Bachchu Razakar) to death by hanging on Monday in its first verdict on those who are blamed for large-scale atrocities during the 1971 Liberation War.
Many called the verdict historic , as this may be the prelude to similar judgements against other Islamist leaders who sided with Pakistan in 1971 and may be found guilty of involvement and for abetting “crimes against humanity”.
Expelled as a full member of Jamaat-e-Islami and popular as a television show host on Islam, Abul Kalam Azad was found guilty of seven charges and acquitted in one.
The three-judge International Crimes Tribunal – 2, set up in March 2012 to expedite war crimes trials, found Azad (Bachchu Razakar in his native Faridpur) guilty of genocide in one charge and of murder in three others.
The court also found him guilty on three other charges of rape, abduction, confinement and torture.
ICT 2 chairman Justice Obaidul Hassan read out from the summary of his tribunal’s 112-page judgement which said that although Bachchu’s lesser crimes warranted imprisonment, the judges were unanimous in awarding a single ‘sentence of death’ for his major crimes like murder.
Why death penalty
“We have taken due notice of the intrinsic gravity of the offence of ‘genocide’ and murders as ‘crimes against humanity’ being offences which are particularly shocking to the conscience of mankind,” the verdict said.
The tribunal , deliberating on the seventh charge, said it showed beyond doubt that Azad was guilty and went to prove his culpability in genocide. Azad was found guilty on three other charges of murder, one charge for rape and two charges of abduction, confinement and torture.
The order explained that although Azad had been sighted at an army torture camp, the second charge of abduction, confinement and torture was not proven beyond doubt.
“No separate sentence of imprisonment is being awarded to the accused Abul Kalam Azad @ Bachchu for conviction relating to the offence of crimes against humanity ... of which too he has been found guilty as the ‘sentence of death’ has been awarded to him in respect of four other charges, “ the last portion of the verdict said.
It said the order would be “executed after causing his arrest or when he surrenders before the tribunal, whichever is earlier”.
Bachchu's options Azad’s state appointed counsel, Abdus Shukur Khan said the accused does not reserve the right to appeal in absentia. “However, he may appeal against the sentence when he is arrested or surrenders.” When asked whether he would file a review application, Shukur Khan told bdnews24.com he would not.
According to law, one can appeal against a verdict within a month. But Azad will not get the chance if he does not surrender or is arrested.
'The historic verdict has fulfilled the nation’s aspirations," tribunal Prosecutor Saidur Rahman told journalists after the verdict.
Tight security Tight security was put in place ahead of the verdict. The court had to move to ICT-1 as the second war crimes tribunal could not accommodate everyone.
The ICT-2 chief read out the verdict in a tightly packed courtroom after requesting everyone to cooperate in presence of other judges of the tribunal.
Trying the war criminals was an election-time commitment of the ruling Awami League. The government set up the first tribunal on Mar 25, 2009 and the second tribunal was set up three years later to expedite the trials.
The tribunals have been dealing with nine such cases since then. Two more cases are close to verdicts.
The prosecution on Sept 2 had submitted formal charges linking Azad to crimes against humanity including genocide, murder, rape, arson, loot, abduction, deportation and persecution.
The ICT-2 on Sept 9 accepted charges and ordered his arrest and production by Sept 23.
An arrest warrant for Bachchu Razakar was issued in April. Police failed to find him during raids on his office and residence, as he is believed to have fled to Pakistan via Nepal.
The tribunal on Oct 7 decided to continue Azad's trial in absentia as he did not turn up despite public notices for his appearance.
The tribunal on Nov 4 framed charges against him and ordered trial.
Additional police contingents have been deployed at key points in Dhaka . specially around the Old High Court Building, and other major cities of Bangladesh, specially where the Jamaat-e-Islami enjoy some support.