“The people of the country wanted maximum penalty for the leader of the razakars. The judge will have to agree that he did deserve it”

Ghulam Azam, in a wheelchair, was sitting in the dock in the jam-packed courtroom here when a 75-page excerpt of the 243-page judgment was read out on Monday. While Jamaat-e-Islami enforced a countrywide hartal, in which three people were killed and scores injured, Azam’s counsel said they would appeal against the verdict sentencing the 91-year-old Jamaat founder to 90 years’ imprisonment for crimes committed against humanity during Bangladesh’s war of independence in 1971.

The prosecution had in January 2012 brought 62 specific charges against Azam. In May this year, the war crimes tribunal indicted him on five charges of crimes against humanity based on 61 incidents of murder and torture of unarmed people; and conspiracy, incitement and complicity to commit genocide and crimes against humanity.

The indictment order said that at the time of the war in 1971 all leaders and workers of Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing, Islami Chhatra Sangha, later renamed as Islami Chatra Shibir, opposed, under Ghulam Azam’s leadership, the Bangladesh liberation movement.

Sixteen prosecution witnesses, including seven seizure-list witnesses and the investigation officer, testified against Azam, while his son alone gave evidence in his defence. One of the charges against Azam was that he was involved in the torture and murder of 38 people. The Pakistani forces with the help of their local cohorts — Razakar and Al Badr — killed them after receiving an order from him.

The tribunal also charged Azam with conspiring to commit crimes against humanity across Bangladesh on six occasions. The former Jamaat chief was charged with planning to commit crimes on three occasions. Azam left Bangladesh days before the country became independent after 93,000 Pakistani personnel surrendered to the joint India-Bangladesh command in Dhaka. He returned to Bangladesh with a Pakistani passport in 1978 and later became Jamaat chief.

Minutes after the tribunal verdict, the Gonojagoron Mancha started a demonstration at Shahbagh. Agitated youth there protested against the judgment, saying they would not stop until the tribunal revised its order. Mancha spokesperson Imran H Sarker said they were dejected. “We will continue demonstration till the Jamaat leader is sentenced to death.” The prosecution also expressed dissatisfaction, having failed to get him the death penalty. It said a decision to appeal against the verdict would be taken once it received a copy of the verdict.