The International Crimes Tribunal-1 yesterday framed 23 specific charges against detained BNP leader Salauddin Quader Chowdhury in connection with genocide and crimes against humanity committed during the Liberation War of 1971.
The charges include murdering civilians; collaborating with the Pakistani occupation army to kill and torture unarmed people, looting of valuables and torching of houses and other properties; persecuting people on religious and political grounds; and committing atrocities on the Hindus.
According to the charges, legislator Salauddin was involved in the killings of more than 200 people, including the much-talked-about killing of Nutan Chandra Singh, founder of the herbal medicine brand Kundeshwari Oushadhalaye.
Tribunal Chairman Justice Md Nizamul Huq, while reading out the charges against Salauddin, said on the morning of April 13, 1971, Salauddin led the Pakistani army to Kundeshwari Oushadhalaye of Gahira in Chittagong and entered Nutan's home.
"At that time he [Nutan] was performing his prayers in the temple: he was dragged out by you [Salauddin] from his prayer room," read the presiding judge of the tribunal, while Salauddin, aged 63, sat in the dock.
"You [Salauddin] told the Pakistani army that you had instructions from your father [Fazlul Quader Chowdhury, president of Pakistan (Convention) Muslim League] to kill him [Nutan] and after hearing that the army opened fire on him and he fell down receiving bullet injuries," Justice Nizamul said.
"While Mr Singh [Nutan] was trembling, you [Salauddin] shot him again to confirm his death and after that you along with the Pakistani army left the place of occurrence," the tribunal chairman said.
Nutun was only one of the 111 people who were killed that day by Salauddin, his accomplices and the Pakistani soldiers, according to the charges. Nutun was killed around 9:30am but the killings of the day actually began around 6:00am and it went on until 5:00pm in five places.
The 111 people, who were killed that day, were mostly of the Hindu communities of Raojan's Moddhaya Gohira Hindu Para, Jagot Mollo Para, Unsattar Para and Sultanpur village.
On that day many were left injured, their houses looted and torched, the charges read.
Liberation mongers including a large number of Hindus were also forced to leave the country due to the atrocities committed by the BNP leader and his accomplices, the charges said.
Yesterday was fixed for delivering the order on the charge framing hearing against the BNP standing committee member and lawmaker Salauddin.
The charge framing against Salauddin was the second done by Tribunal-1 since its formation on March 25, 2010. It was also the second case at the tribunal to go into trial. Jamaat-e-Islami leader Delwar Hossain Sayedee was the first to go through charge framing and he was facing trial at the tribunal too.
After framing charges yesterday, the tribunal set April 29 for commencement of the trial of the case through opening statements of the prosecution and examination of prosecution witnesses. "The proceedings will take place every workday until further order," the tribunal said.
Later on, Salauddin's defence counsel Fakhrul Islam claimed that the framing of charges was illegal since the court did not hear their petitions before issuing the charge-framing order.
Salauddin in court yesterday did not seem at all worried about the proceedings going on. He had a smile on most of the time when the tribunal chairman was reading out the charges against him.
Apart from his lawyers, Salauddin's wife, son and daughter were also present in the courtroom during yesterday's charge framing proceedings and some of them too went on smiling.
According to parliament records, Salauddin was born on March 13, 1949, at Gahira of Rawzan upazila in Chittagong to Fazlul Quader Chowdhury.
Prosecutor Rana Dasgupta told The Daily Star later on, Salauddin's father Fazlul, president of Pakistan Convention Muslim League, was captured by freedom fighters when he was trying to flee to Myanmar through using the Karnaphuli river at the end of the war.
Salauddin had fled the country in September, 1971.
Soon after the independence of Bangladesh, six criminal cases were filed against Fazlul, including one for killing Nutan Chandra Singh. Salauddin was also an accused, said Rana.
He said Salauddin's father was in prison after the emergence of Bangladesh as he was facing charges. In 1974, he died of a cardiac arrest in jail. After the death of his father, Salauddin returned to Bangladesh.
According to the charges, Salauddin was directly involved in abduction, confinement and torturing of unarmed civilians. He controlled a torture centre named "Goods Hill" where many people were taken for persecution.
He perpetrated the offences in Chittagong between April 4 and September 2, 1971. He often led teams of Pakistani occupation army and Razakars (collaborators). After the war began, peace committee (collaborators) and the Razakar force were formed to help the Pakistan occupation forces.
The 23 charges against Salauddin cover crimes against humanity; genocide; attempt, abetment or conspiracy to commit such crimes; complicity in or failure to prevent commissioning of such crimes, according to different subsections of Section-3(2) of the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973.
If convicted he could get the death penalty. The International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973, allows a convicted person only to appeal to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court against his conviction and sentence.
On December 16, 2010, law enforcers arrested Salauddin in another case and on December 19 he was accused of war crimes during 1971. He was produced before the tribunal on December 30, 2010.
The prosecution pressed 24 specific charges against Salauddin on November 14 last year. On November 17 last year, the tribunal took the charges into cognisance.
Last month, the tribunal heard arguments from the prosecution and the defence on charge framing.
Tribunal Chairman Justice Md Nizamul Huq along with two judges--Justice Anwarul Huq and AKM Zaheer Ahmed--passing the order on charge framing yesterday gave an introduction to the case.
They also introduced themselves and explained the context of the crimes the tribunal was dealing with. In its order, the court mentioned the submissions of the prosecution and defence.
The tribunal also narrated a brief history of the partition of India in 1947, Bangladesh's liberation in 1971, formulation of International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973, and formation of the tribunal in 2010.
After reading out the charges in English, the presiding judge asked Salauddin, "Mr Chowdhury, you have heard and understood the aforesaid charges?"
Salauddin replied that he neither heard nor understood the charges.
Justice Nizamul Huq then said as the charges were read out before Salauddin, it would be presumed that he has understood the charges.
"Your presumption is completely wrong," Salauddin told the tribunal chairman.
The judge then asked Salauddin whether he pleaded guilty or not guilty.
"To what?" was the response of Salauddin.
"The charges," said the tribunal chairman.
"What charges?" said Salauddin.
The tribunal chairman then asked the court clerks to record: "He [Salauddin] said that he was not guilty."
"I certainly did not understand your charges," said Salauddin.
Under the tribunal's rules of procedure, the accused will get three weeks for preparing his defence if he pleaded not guilty.
According to the historical record, three million people were killed and a quarter million women were raped in the nine-month-long genocide and war crimes committed by the Pakistani occupational forces and their local collaborators.
Ten million Bangalees had to flee to India and become refugees. Millions of others were displaced inside the country during the Liberation War in 1971.