Ending all speculations, the first war crimes tribunal yesterday sentenced Jamaat leader Delawar Hossain Sayedee to death in its maiden verdict almost three years after its formation.
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The 73-year-old Jamaat-e-Islami nayeb-e-ameer was found guilty of murder, abduction, confinement, torture, rape, persecution, and abetment of torture, looting, forceful religious conversions and setting homes ablaze in rural areas of southern district Pirojpur during the Liberation War.
While thousands of people, ignoring the Jamaat-called hartal, gathered at Shahbagh in the capital yesterday and celebrated the verdict, Jamaat and student body Islami Chhatra Shibir sent a wave of violence across the country that claimed at least 33 lives.
The judgment turned the spotlight on the nine-month war in which the Pakistani army along with its collaborators had killed three million Bangalees and raped more then 200,000 women. About 10 million people had to flee to India as refugees and millions more were displaced inside the country during the war in 1971.
In the verdict, the judges of the International Crimes Tribunal-1 said, "The road to freedom for the people of Bangladesh was arduous and torturous, smeared with blood, toil and sacrifices. In the contemporary world history, perhaps no nation paid as dearly as the Bangalees did for their emancipation."
Sayedee was brought to the dock around 11:10am and the tribunal judges started reading out the 56-page summery of the verdict after an introduction in which it was said that the Sayedee of 1971 was being tried, not the MP Sayedee or the Sayedee known for his religious sermons or the political leader Sayedee.
Sayedee, then a 30-year-old grocer, was not involved in politics during the war. He could speak Urdu well as he had obtained the Alim degree from madrasa. He welcomed the Pakistani army at Parerhat Bazar of Pirojpur.
He formed the local Peace Committee and subsequently, as a member of Razakar force (auxiliary force of the Pakistan army), he actively took part in the atrocities committed by the Pakistani army and Razakar force on civilians, the Hindu community and pro-liberation people, the court said.
Later on in life, Sayedee started delivering religious sermons (waaz) in and outside the country. He has a few thousand fans. He used titles like "Allama" and "Moulana". He was elected parliament member twice, in 1996 and 2001. He joined Jamaat and became its nayeb-e-ameer.
In the summary of the judgment based on crimes committed four decades ago, Tribunal-1 Chairman Justice ATM Fazle Kabir said, "As judges of this tribunal, we firmly hold and believe in the doctrine that 'justice in the future cannot be achieved unless injustice of the past is addressed'.”
Even though Tribunal-2 had delivered judgments in two war crimes cases, one against Abul Kalam Azad and the other against Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Mollah, Tribunal-1 delivered its first verdict yesterday.
It was formed in March, 2010, before Tribunal-2 and it is dealing with three other cases.
Sayedee's case was also the first case to get rolling at the tribunals and it took Tribunal-1 18 months to conclude the trial. The trial was troubled by several obstacles: failure to produce witnesses by prosecution and defence, the so-called Skype controversy, and reconstitution of the tribunal and a barrage of defence petitions.
Sayedee was indicated on October 3, 2011. The prosecution had piled 20 charges against him for crimes he committed in Pirojpur in 1971.
However, Justice Kabir and tribunal members Justice Jahangir Hossain and Justice Anwarul Haque unanimously held Sayedee guilty in eight of the 20 charges of crimes against humanity.
Justice Kabir said the three judges were convinced with the evidence on record that the accused knowingly and on purpose stood against the War of Liberation and joined the Razakar force to resist the birth of Bangladesh.
"It is proved that the accused [Sayedee] as one of the Razakars or a person of a group of individuals took active part in the attacks directed against civilian population at Parerhat area, causing murder, deportation, rape, looting of goods, setting fire to the houses and shops of civilians, forceful religious conversion, inhuman acts and torture which fall within the purview of crimes against humanity," read the conclusion of the verdict.
Sayedee was sentenced to death in two of the charges even though found "guilty beyond reasonable doubt" in eight. He was sentenced to death for the abduction, torture and murder of Ibrahim Kutti and the killing of Bisabali in Pirojpur.
The tribunal said the gravity of the offences in the other six charges appeared to be lesser than that of the two in which he was sentenced to death. Since the tribunal had already awarded the capital punishment, they refrained from passing separate imprisonments for the six charges.
The prosecution examined nine witnesses to prove the charge of Kutti killing and setting fire to the houses of the Hindus at Parerhat.
Mofizuddin Posari, who was also captured by the Pakistani army and Razakars along with Kutti, testified against Sayedee. He said Sayedee as a member of the Razakar force captured them and ultimately the Pakistani army killed Kutti.
“We find no reason to disbelieve evidence of PW-7 [witness Posari] as to the murder of Kutti, destruction of houses of civilians in a large scale by setting fire which constitute crimes against humanity,” the tribunal said.
The prosecution examined three eyewitnesses to prove Bisabali's killing in Umedpur village in Pirojpur.
With the assistance of Sayedee, the Pakistani army attacked the Hindu-dominated neighbourhood of Umedpur village and looted valuables from homes.
“It is evident that one civilian named Bisabali was caught and tortured by Razakars, thereafter victim Bisabali was fastened to a coconut tree and she was shot dead by a Razakar at the insistence of accused Delawar Hossain Sayedee,” the tribunal said.
The judges said as per International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973, Sayedee be convicted and sentenced to death and be "hanged by the neck till he is dead".
Since the tribunals enjoy the status of the High Court, a convict has the right to file an appeal only with the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court within 30 days of the judgment delivery.
Defence counsels of Sayedee said they would appeal.
Terming the verdict an absolute deviation from justice, chief defence counsel Abdur Razzaq said the tribunal did “utmost injustice to Moulana Sayedee” through the verdict.
“The tribunal should have acquitted him from the charges. I think the prosecution couldn't prove a single charge,” Razzaq told reporters at his Dhanmondi home yesterday.
Several hundred lawyers, journalists and observers had gathered at the tribunal to witness the much-awaited judgment delivery in Sayedee's case yesterday.
High security measures were in place in and around the old high court building where the tribunals are. Many could not get in and had to wait outside.
In parts of the country, people of all walks of life brought out celebratory processions.
GUILTY IN OTHER 6 CHARGES
On May 7, 1971, Sayedee identified the houses and shops of the Hindus, and people who support Awami League and the Liberation War at Parerhat Bazar in Pirojpur. He as one of the perpetrators raided those shops and houses and looted valuables, including 22 shers of gold and silver from the shop of one Makhanlal Saha.
On May 8, 1971, Sayedee led a team of the Pakistan army to the house of Nurul Islam Khan, where he identified for the army Nurul Islam as an Awami League leader and his son Shahidul Islam Selim as a freedom fighter. Sayedee then detained Nurul Islam and handed him over to the army men who tortured Nurul Islam. His house was then looted and finally set on fire.
On June 2, 1971, Sayedee led a team of Peace (Shanti) Committee members, accompanied by the Pakistani army, to raid the house of Mahbubul Alam Howlader (freedom fighter) of Tengra Khali village in Indurkani. Sayedee and the team then detained Mahbubul's elder brother Abdul Mazid Howlader and tortured him, and looted cash money, jewellery and other valuables from the house.
During the final stages of the war, Sayedee one morning led a team of 50 to 60 Razakars into the attack on the Hindu-dominated neighbourhood of Hoglabunia in Pirojpur. Seeing the attackers, the Hindus managed to flee but one Shefali Gharami failed. Some Razakars entered her room and raped her. Being the leader of the team, Sayedee failed to prevent them from committing rape. He and the members of his team also set fire to the dwellings of the neighbourhood.
During the Liberation War, Sayedee led a group of 10-12 armed Razakars and Peace Committee members and surrounded the house of Gouranga Saha of Parerhat Bandar in Pirojpur. Sayedee and the others abducted three women and handed them over to the Pakistan army at Pirojpur where they were confined and raped for three days before being released.
During the war, Sayedee, being a member of Razakar and exercising his power, forced 100-150 Hindus of Parerhat and other villages to convert to Islam and compelled them to go to the mosque to offer prayers.