The government on Monday appealed to the Supreme Court seeking death penalty for key Jamaat -e-Islami leader Ghulam Azam for masterminding crimes against humanity, genocide, and other offences during Bangladesh’s 1971 War of Liberation .

Ghulam Azam (91), the party’s chief in East Pakistan in 1971, was sentenced to 90 years imprisonment by a war crimes tribunal on July 15. However, the tribunal said Azam deserved the gallows but was given prison terms considering his old age.

After submitting the appeal, M.K. Rahman, chief coordinator of the war crimes prosecution team, told journalists that the appeal has been filed under the amended probation of the International Crimes (Tribunal) Act-1973 which allows the prosecution to appeal against inadequate punishment given by war crimes tribunal to a convict.

It has been argued in the appeal that the International Crimes Tribunal-1 had acted beyond the law by not awarding the death penalty to Azam even though all the charges brought against him were proved beyond doubt. In the July 15 verdict, the tribunal said the Azam — 49 years old in 1971 — was complicit in planning, conspiracy and incitement of massive atrocities during the nation’s struggle for freedom from Pakistan.

Ghulam Azam has already challenged his prison term in the Supreme Court, seeking unconditional freedom.

Submitting the appeal, the government also prayed to the apex court to ban the politics of Jamaat since the war crimes tribunal has termed Jamaat as a “criminal organisation”.

Remand stayed

The High Court has stayed for six weeks the police remand for Adilur Rahman Khan, detained secretary of rights organisation ‘Odhikar’ and ordered the authorities to send him to jail immediately. However, the court permitted the police to interrogate him, if necessary, at the jail gate.

Mr. Khan was arrested on Saturday night for publishing a “false report” on the crackdown on Hefazat-e Islam, a radical Islamist organisation, in Dhaka’s Motijheel area two months ago. The drive was conducted by several thousand policemen as the Islamist militants caused a mayhem in Dhaka while demonstrating .

Condemning the arrest, many human rights bodies and political parties demanded that Mr Khan be released immediately. The Bangladesh National Human Rights Commission; hoped that all quarters would be aware so that his rights were not violated and he gets proper justice. Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), a leading human rights body, said such arrests would negatively affect the independent works of human rights activists; Transparency International, Bangladesh urged the government to refrain from such activities and behave responsibly with those arrested.

American Center Director in Dhaka, Viraj LeBailly, commented that in a democracy, it was essential that the government create an environment where organisations like ‘Odhikar’ can freely operate.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) demanded his immediate release of human rights activist and urged the government to ensure that he does not face any mistreatment while in detention. “Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina should publicly and personally ensure that Khan does not suffer any abuse while in detention,” Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW, said in a press release on Monday.

Khan was arrested under section 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act, for reporting false information about human rights abuses by the government forces during violent demonstrations by the Islamist Hefazat-e-Islami in Dhaka on May 5 and 6.

Death figure confusion

Despite claim by ‘Odhikar’ and opposition parties and Hefazat, the exact figure of death in the flushing out drive still remains a matter of debate. The NGO published a report on June 10 after “conducting a fact-finding drive” claiming that 61 people were killed. While the report put the death toll at 61, it gives detailed information only about three of the deceased and one missing person.

Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner Benazir Ahmed told the media on May 8 that 11 people, including a policeman, died during the May 5-6 unrest.

Hefazat and the BNP-led opposition alliance claimed that law enforcers killed “hundreds” in the drive. Human Rights Watch, in a recent report, said it believes that at least 58 people, including seven members of security forces, died. However, family members of the “dead Hefazat men” are yet to come out with their claims.

After the sensational claim by the ‘Odhikar’, the ministry information in a letter, asked for the list of the 61 people and their names, addresses and family details from the human rights body. In a reply to the ministry, the organisation refused to give the information, citing inadequate victim protection laws.