Ghulam Azam, considered by many as the symbol of war crimes during the Liberation War of Bangladesh, was yesterday indicted on five charges of crimes against humanity.
After framing the charges, the International Crimes Tribunal-1 set June 5 for the trial to begin with opening statement from the prosecution.
The charges against Ghulam Azam include involvement in murder and torture of unarmed people; and conspiracy, planning, incitement and complicity to commit genocide and crimes against humanity during the 1971 war.
The charges were based on 60 incidents of crimes against humanity.
Ghulam Azam was the ameer of East Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami during the Liberation War. He campaigned across Bangladesh and even in Pakistan (then West Pakistan) in an attempt to foil the liberation efforts.
He played a key role in forming Shanti (peace) Committee and Razakar, Al Badr and Al Shams forces, which actively helped the Pakistani forces in committing massacres across the country. Three million people were killed and over two lakh women were raped during the nine-month war.
Yesterday, Tribunal-1 Chairman Justice Md Nizamul Huq read out the charges with an introduction to the formation of the tribunal, a brief history of the Liberation War, a profile of Ghulam Azam and submissions of the prosecution and the defence along with the court's views on the case.
Justice Md Anwarul Haque and AKM Zaheer Ahmed are the other members of the three-member tribunal.
Justice Huq said the materials in hand support that Ghulam Azam had conspired with the occupation forces, planned and incited crimes, and was complicit in crimes against humanity; and he was responsible for commissioning of international crimes in 1971.
He did these by delivering speeches, issuing directives, making press comments and meeting heads of different civilian and army administrations, the tribunal chairman said.
“There is no bar to holding the trial after 40 years,” Justice Huq said while reading out the charges between 10:40am and 12:45pm yesterday.
“The tribunal also found that the trial can be held [against Azam] for offences committed in 1971 under this [International Crimes Tribunal] act of 1973.”
Ghulam Azam sat still in the dock as the tribunal chairman read out the charges.
The 89-year-old was wearing a Jinnah cap (a brown cap named after Pakistani leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah) and white punjabi and pajamas.
He was produced before the tribunal at 10:35am in a wheelchair. He first took a seat in the dock at the back of the courtroom. Following requests from his counsels, the tribunal allowed him to sit in the dock near the judges' bench.
On permission, the former Jamaat ameer stood up, grabbed his crutch with the right hand and walked to the dock unaided.
After the charges were read out, he was asked if he pleaded guilty or not guilty.
At that, he stood up and delivered a 10-minute speech.
He said, “I don't consider myself guilty.”
He said he was on the list of collaborators of Pakistani forces but claimed he was not a war criminal.
One of the charges against him was involvement in the torture and murder of 38 people in Brahmanbaria on November 11, 1971, including Shiru Miah, a sub-inspector of Mohammadpur Police Station.
The Pakistani forces with the help of their collaborators -- Razakar and Al Badr Bahini -- killed the 38 after receiving a written order from Ghulam Azam, the charges said.
The tribunal also charged him with conspiring to commit crimes on six occasions upon which different crimes against humanity were perpetrated across Bangladesh.
The former Jamaat chief was charged with planning to commit crimes on three occasions, which resulted in different crimes against humanity committed across the country.
He was also charged with 28 instances of provoking crimes and his complicity in 22 incidents of crimes against humanity.
The five charges against Ghulam Azam cover crimes against humanity; attempt, abetment or conspiracy to commit such crimes; other crimes under international law; complicity in or failure to prevent commissioning of any such crimes; and liability for crimes as an accomplice and commander, according to the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973.
If convicted, he could get the death penalty. The act only allows a convict to appeal to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court against his conviction and sentence.
The tribunal took the charges into cognisance on January 9 this year, four days after the prosecution placed the charges. Ghulam Azam was sent to jail on January 11 after the tribunal rejected his bail.
Among other family members, Ghulam Azam's wife and his son former Brig Gen Abdullahil Aman Azmi were present at the courtroom during the charge framing yesterday.
After the indictment order was passed, they had lunch in the courtroom during the recess.
After the proceedings, Abdur Razzaq, chief counsel for the Jamaat leader, told the media that the tribunal had passed a “completely wrong order”.