90 years for Jamaat guru Ghulam Azam

Ghulam Azam, the Jamaat-e-Islami supremo who has left deep emotional scars in the collective national psyche by engineering war-time atrocities in 1971, will spend the next 90 years behind bars and "die in jail".

Biswadip DasToufique Imrose Khalidi andbdnews24.com
Published : 15 July 2013, 00:56 AM
Updated : 15 July 2013, 00:56 AM

Former Jamaat-e-Islami chief Ghulam Azam being taken to the International Crimes Tribunal-1 as the verdict on his trial is due

The 91-year-old has been
by the war crimes tribunal of all five categories of crime -- conspiracy, planning, incitement, complicity (abetment) and murder.
For the first two charges he was given 20 years, for the third and fourth 20 years each and for the fifth another 30 years in a judgement delivered on Monday afternoon.
Azam will serve the sentence "consecutively or till his death", said presiding judge Justice A T M Fazle Kabir.

Justice Kabir was scathing in his indictment of the Jamaat-e-Islami that Azam led in the then East Pakistan and later in independent Bangladesh, says Tanim Ahmed at the courtroom.

'Foul role, fanaticism'

"Jamaat-e-Islami played a foul role" during the independence of both Pakistan and Bangladesh, the ICT-1 chair said.

"It can be safely observed that Jamaat-e-Islami utterly failed to realise the pulse of the common people on both the historic occasions," he said, in a clear reference to the 1947 creation of Pakistan which Azam's political guru Syed Abul A’la Maududi opposed.

Justice Kabir blamed it on "probably the lack of its far-sightedness caused by fanaticism". 

"It is a matter of great anxiety that anti-Liberation elements are still at the helm of Jamaat and hold public offices (in Bangladesh)," Justice Kabir said.

The judge asked the government to take steps towards barring these people from holding public offices.

The comments on Jamaat, which has two seats in Bangladesh's 300-strong parliament, came much in line with those made in the four previous verdicts.

"In fact, the judges went further in condemning the Jamaat-e-Islami," says bdnews24.com Chief ICT Correspondent Tanim Ahmed, who has been covering the proceedings since the trial process began in Oct 2011.  

Justice Jahangir Hossain, one of the three ICT-1 judges, read out a part of the 243-page verdict.

“Ghulam Azam in effect took part in the killing by giving 'negative signals' to sub-ordinates,” said Justice Hossain. “That’s why he is 'criminally liable' and found guilty.”

A defence lawyer called the judgement “unfair” and said Azam would appeal.

The judges said they took into account his age and state of health in sentencing him.

"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," they said.

"Facts remain that the accused is now an extremely old man of 91 years coupled with his long ailment.

"These two aforesaid facts are considered by this Tribunal as an extenuating circumstance taking a lenient view in the matter of awarding punishment to the accused.

"Having regard to the above facts and circumstances, we are of agreed view that the ends of justice would be met if mitigating sentence is inflicted upon the accused."

Zead-al-Malum, who led the Azam prosecution team, said the people’s sentiments would have to be considered and so an appeal was inevitable.

M K Rahman, an additional Attorney General and coordinator of the prosecution team, however, said they would await the copy of the full verdict before a decision was made.

Azam had been charged with 61 counts of crimes in those five categories. This was the fifth and possibly the most-awaited verdict on the war crimes cases.

“Ghulam Azam’s case is a unique one. Ghulam Azam was not physically present during these crimes but he has been accused of being the main man and the overseer of the war crimes during 1971,” said Justice Fazle Kabir in his introductory remarks made in Bangla. He began speaking at 11:08am in a courtroom packed with lawyers, journalists and observers.

A second judge, Justice Anwarul Haque, gave the summary of arguments that
Justice Haque analysed whether or not crimes against humanity at all took place in the various parts of Bangladesh.
‘Worst after World War II’
”The country was then divided. On the one side were Awami League and other pro-Liberation organisations and the Hindu community,” he said.
“On the other were some religion-based political parties and Biharis. Among them, the Jamaat-e-Islami was the most significant and ran a massive campaign against Bangladesh.”
Added Justice Haque: “It is undeniable that a massive genocide took place in 1971 in the then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) which is perhaps the greatest massacre after the atrocities of the Second World War.
“This massacre can only be compared with the slaughters committed by Nazis under the leadership of Hitler.”
“And that genocide was committed by Pakistan and their collaborators in this country,” he added.

Then Justice Hossain took over and read out the rest of 75-page summary verdict.

The most prominent protégé of controversial politician of the subcontinent, Maududi who founded Jamaat-e-Islami, Azam, standing in the dock, quietly awaited judgment as all three judges made statements one after another.

This was a case that became a national war crimes justice cause celebre.

The former Pakistan provincial minister made a feeble protest -- or did he? --  when the verdict was being read out.

Rejection, tears, smiles

The conviction was greeted with ‘rejection’ and angry shouts outside the courthouse. There were smiles too.

A group of freedom fighters outside the court burst into tears and lamented that the man they viled so much "kind of got away scot free", said bdnews24.com Correspondent Golam Mujtaba Dhrubo at the scene.

One of the prosecutors, Tureen Afroz, also wept as she came down the stairs, says bdnews24.com Correspondent Suliman Niloy, while one of Azam's sons Abdullahil Amaan Azmi, a former Brigadier in Bangladesh army, smiled in the courtroom.

News from Shahbagh’s Ganajagaran Mancha which has been demanding death to all war criminals was one of “rejection”.

The Mancha supporters took out processions in protest and put up blockades on the roads. They later called a day-long general strike for Tuesday.

Sector Commanders’ Forum said the freedom fighters were “dissatisfied” and urged the prosecution to appeal.

Tension inside

Inside the courtroom, the atmosphere was tense. Tanim Ahmed says the three-month wait, which he described as very unusual, led to apprehensions and speculations.

"In many ways, it is the watershed, setting the benchmark for others to follow."

Security was tighter than ever before. "There was longer procedure and were more stages of screening, resulting in fewer people actually getting in compared to previous judgement days."  

In the past several months, Jamaat has spearheaded violent street campaigns to thwart the trial of their leaders particularly in their strongholds as deadly violence over the trial has left over 100 people dead.

The sombre finale to trial of Azam, "who sat almost motionless", marked a dramatic turnaround for the man who once fought tooth and nail to prevent the birth of Bangladesh. He remains a figurehead for the powerful remnants and sympathisers of Pakistan in a deeply polarised society.

It also represents a symbolic moment for generations of Bengalees as they still come to terms with the legacy of his campaigns in 1971 that made him more reviled than any other perpetrator.

'No justice at all'

The chief Jamaat counsel, Abdur Razzaq, also the party’s Assistant Secretary General, said it was a travesty of justice. “We will most certainly appeal against this decision.”

Keeping with the trend of verdict-day protest, Jamaat has enforced a nationwide shutdown which many see as a prelude to letting loose violence.

A former general secretary of the Dhaka University Central Students’ Union who claimed to have joined the Language Movement of 1952, Azam’s verdict came after an unusual three-month wait since the hearing ended on Apr 17.

Perhaps the most significant trial in Bangladesh’s history, the ‘ICT-BD Case No. 6’ began on May 13, 2012 and went on for almost a year, through hiccups, including an application for retrial that was squashed and numerous adjournments due to the absence of the defence.

The Carmichael lecturer

A political science graduate who later went on to teach for a while at the Carmichael College in Rangpur, Azam was brought to court on Jan 11, 2012 and was sent to jail that day. He was transferred to the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University because of his delicate health that same day.

On Dec 12, 2011, the prosecution brought a 52-point charter of charges against Azam and pleaded for his arrest. Later, following the tribunal order, charges were re-arranged and presented to the tribunal on Jan 5.

Ghulam Azam’s indictment hearing began on Feb 15 and the court charged him on May 13.

Azam was 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 the core group of right-wing backers of the Pakistani Army, who came out strongly in support of a united Pakistan and mobilised infamous social platforms centrally.

He 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 current chief of Jamaat, Matiur Rahman Nizami, is in custody and facing charges as the key organiser of Al Badr.

The Al Badr is widely known 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 fled the country sensing a lost war, stayed in London for seven years and after the assassination of founding father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975, he returned to Bangladesh in 1978 during BNP founder Ziaur Rahman's rule. Having led Jamaat from the front for long, Azam retired from active politics in 1999.

His party remains a key ally of the main opposition BNP. Two Jamaat leaders, both behind bars facing 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.

(Tanim Ahmed reported from the courtroom and contributed to background, with additional reporting and contribution by Gazi Nasiruddin Ahmed, Jahidul Kabir, Monirul Islam, Mamunur Rashid, Ashik Hossain, Quazi Shahreen Haq (courtroom), Suliman Niloy (courtroom), Golam Mujtaba Dhrubo, Tanjir Rahman, Samin Sababa and Zoglul Kamal)

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher