Azam defence questions witness credibilty

Jamaat-e-Islami guru Ghulam Azam’s defence continued with the closing arguments on Thursday, questioning the credibility of prosecution witnesses including the case investigators.

Published : 14 March 2013, 08:51 AM
Updated : 14 March 2013, 08:51 AM

A three-judge International Crimes Tribunal-1, set up to try crimes against humanity during the 1971 Liberation War, indicted the former Jamaat chief for five war crimes including complicity, incitement and conspiracy.

The first war crimes tribunal of Bangladesh heard Azam’s senior counsel Mizanul Islam go through the testimonies of prosecution witnesses and point to contradictions.

The defence lawyer also discussed a number of documents that the prosecution had submitted and wondered aloud why the prosecution had even submitted such documents that apparently attempted to establish such matters that were not even being denied.

These included the infamous Operation Searchlight that began on the night of Mar 25, 1971, and Ghulam Azam being a member of the central Peace Committee.
Mizanul Islam said, “But we have not denied these matters at all. What is then the point of submitting such documents.”
He also pointed to a number of other prosecution documents that he said had little relevance to the allegations against Azam.
His continued deliberations on such material triggered Prosecutor Zead-Al-Malum to address the tribunal and say that the prosecution had submitted all the available material. “But they are not all exhibits.”
The prosecutor suggested that the defence need not go into the documents that were not exhibits, to which the defence counsel cited a provision of the law to show that he could indeed.
When Malum said the defence counsel was ‘misinterpreting’ the law, Mizanul protested and said the prosecutor should not even have interrupted his arguments and waited for his turn.
Later during the day, tribunal Chairman Justice ATM Fazle Kabir addressed Prosecutor Sultan Mahmud saying that in his experience as Chairman at both the tribunals – the judge headed the second tribunal before he was moved to the first – he found that the prosecution was more taken with proving the allegations against an individual before proving the premise.
He said in a criminal case, the prosecution first had to prove that the crime had indeed occurred and then prove that the accused was responsible.
“It does not really matter whether the defence has admitted to something or not. The prosecution must prove the entire case on its own,” he said.
Justice Kabir said that the prosecution would first have to prove that Ghulam Azam was indeed within the Peace Committee. And then they could go into the charges against the man who headed Jamaat’s, what was then, East Pakistan unit in 1971.
The defence is set to continue with the closing arguments. Although Mizanul Islam prayed that the case be fixed on Mar 20, presumably on account of two days of countrywide general strikes, the tribunal did not oblige him and indicated it would sit again on Mar 18.
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, the 90-year old former Carmichael College professor has been kept at the prison cell of the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University for better treatment considering his delicate health.

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

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 — 61 counts — including incitement, conspiracy, planning and complicity on May 13, 2012.