On charges of conspiracy during the liberation war

The war crimes tribunal of Bangladesh has indicted Ghulam Azam, founder of Jamaat-E-Islami in former East Pakistan, on charges of incitement, conspiracy, planning, murder, abetment and failure to prevent crimes against humanity during the country's liberation war in 1971.

The International Crimes Tribunal-1 framed the charges on Sunday and fixed June 5 for starting the trial of Mr. Azam, who is considered the guru of Jamaat, that took up arms to defend Pakistan alongside the Pakistani army in the Bangladesh war in 1971.

Mr. Azam (79), under custody since January 11, pleaded not guilty and denied the charges. Earlier, the tribunal dismissed a petition seeking discharge from the charges brought by the prosecution against Mr. Azam who left the country days before Bangladesh was freed and returned home during the tenure of Gen. Ziaur Rahman in 1978. The prosecution charged the Jamaat leader with 62 counts of crimes against humanity.

The International Crimes Tribunal-1, set up on March 25, 2010, to try crimes against humanity during the Bangladesh war, read out five charges against the founder of Jamaat, which is the largest Islamist outfit in the region.

Justice Nizamul Huq, reading out the charges, noted the arguments of both the prosecution and the defence along with the court's observations as his court gave its third indictment order — the first being another Jamaat leader Delwar Hossain Sayedee on 20 counts and the other against BNP leader Salauddin Quader Chowdhury on 23 counts. “It is a significant moment in the history of Bangladesh,” said the judge.

The order stated that the tribunal had prima facie case against Mr. Azam on the basis of formal charges, witness statements and other documents.

Heinous atrocities

The indictment order noted that Mr. Azam had been part of the 12-member delegation that met Lt. Gen. Tikka Khan, the martial law administrator of East Pakistan, on April 4, 1971 which suggested that he had thereby endorsed the heinous atrocities committed by the Pakistani Army from the very outset, since it was after the night of March 26, 1971 Pakistani occupation forces had descended upon the Bangladeshi civilians across the country.

The order went on to note the numerous meetings between Mr. Azam and central figures of the Pakistani junta of 1971 like Gen. Yahiya Khan, then President, along with Mr. Azam's inciting speeches at meetings and rallies. The charges linked Mr. Azam with the Razakars, through his position in the central Peace Committee and Jamaat-e-Islami.

On Dec 12, 2011, the prosecution brought a 52-point charter of charges against Mr. Azam and appealed for his arrest. He was produced before the tribunal on January 11 and sent to jail the same day. Since then, he has been kept at the prison cell of a Medical University for better treatment considering his ill health.

The key Jamaat leader was instrumental in setting up the infamous Peace Committee at the national level, and 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.

The Al Badr is alleged to have spearheaded execution of the intellectual elites of Bangladesh just days before the victory on December 16, 1971. Mr. Azam also spoke in favour of Pakistan to West Asian countries during the war, according to the prosecution.

Jamaat remains the key ally of the main opposition BNP led by Khaleda Zia. Two Jamaat leaders, also behind bars for war crimes charges, have even served as Ministers during Ms. Khaleda's last tenure between 2001 and 2006.

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