The International Crimes Tribunal yesterday framed 20 specific charges against Jamaat-e-Islami leader Delawar Hossain Sayedee for committing genocide and crimes against humanity during the Liberation War of 1971.
The charge framing represents a watershed in the country’s history as it marks the beginning of the war crimes tribunal’s first trial since its formation on March 25 last year.
Sayedee, aged 71, sat in the dock throughout the 80-minitue proceedings. He pleaded not guilty after the court read out the charges.
The charges include murdering civilians; collaborating with the Pakistani occupation army to kill and torture unarmed people, loot valuables and torch houses and other properties; persecuting people on religious and political grounds; and committing atrocities on the Hindu community.
According to those, Sayedee was directly involved in abduction, confinement and raping of some girls. He raped a Hindu girl on several occasions. He also forced some Hindus to convert to Islam, an act the court considers a crime against humanity.
He perpetrated the offences in Pirojpur between March 25 and December 16, 1971, sometimes as part of a group of individuals and sometimes as a member of Shanti (peace) Committee. He often led teams of razakars (collaborators).
After the war started, Peace Committee and Razakar Bahini were formed to collaborate with the Pakistan occupation forces.
The 20 charges against Sayedee, Jamaat nayeb-e-ameer, cover crimes against humanity; genocide; attempt, abetment or conspiracy to commit any such crimes; and complicity in or failure to prevent of commission of any such crimes, according to different subsections of section 3(2) of the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973.
The offences carry a maximum sentence of death.
One of the charges cites Sayedee’s involvement in killing three Bangalee government officials in the then sub-division of Pirojpur and throwing their bodies in the Baleshwar river.
Foyzur Rahman Ahmed, father of famed writer Humayun Ahmed and noted educationalist-writer Muhammad Zafar Iqbal, was among the three. He was a police officer.
The other two were Saif Mizanur Rahman and Abdur Razzak, deputy magistrate and sub-divisional officer (in charge).
The prosecution pressed 31 specific charges against Sayedee on July 11. Three days later, the tribunal took the charges into cognisance. Last month, it heard arguments from the prosecution and the defence.
Tribunal Chairman Justice Md Nizamul Huq along with its two other members–Justice ATM Fazlul Kabir and AKM Zaheer Ahmed– started the proceedings at 10:30am yesterday.
Though charge framing was the only item on the day’s agenda, the tribunal issued a show-cause notice against national daily New Age for publishing an article, which it said was contemptuous and written with the intention of blemishing the tribunal’s image.
Passing the order on charge framing, the court gave an introduction to the case, first in its history. It also introduced itself and explained the context of crimes it is dealing with.
Besides, the tribunal narrated a brief history of the partition of India in 1947, Bangladesh’s liberation in 1971, formulation of International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973, and formation of the tribunal in 2010.
After reading out the charges in English, the presiding judge asked Sayedee if he was guilty or not.
At that point, Sayedee’s counsel Tajul Islam said the charges should be read out in Bangla too so that his client can understand those properly before pleading guilty or not guilty.
He repeatedly demanded the court allow Sayedee to consult with his lawyers before pleading anything.
In reply, Justice Md Nizamul Huq asked Tajul not to say anything that might taint his own image. The judge then directed the police to bring Sayedee to the front dock.
At that time, Tajul hurriedly walked towards Sayedee and whispered something in his ears.
Seeing this, Justice Nizamul Huq said: “Tajul sahib, this is not fair. Now he [Sayedee] is talking to the tribunal.”
After the court read out the charges in Bangla, Sayedee said he had understood the charges when those were read out in English. He also asked for the court’s permission to consult with his lawyer.
The judge told him there was no scope for him to consult with his lawyer at that stage, and that he was supposed to plead guilty or not.
In response, the Jamaat leader said he wanted to say something before pleading anything.
After the court gave him the permission, Sayedee gave a 15-minute speech, reciting verses from the Quran.
He claimed he is a “victim of lies and political vengeance” of the government.
Complaining that a prosecutor mispronounced his name, Sayedee told the tribunal chairman: “As you’ve recently performed hajj, I expect you to ask the prosecutor about it.”
He then went on to explain the value of judges to Allah.
He said there have been no complaints against him in the years following the Liberation War. But when he became a member of Majlish-e-Sura of Jamaat in 1980, he started being referred to as a former member of Shanti Bahini and razakar.
“Let me say this in clear terms, I’m not a razakar. Indian razakars call me a razakar,” Sayedee said, adding that he never worked against humanity and that he rather spoke for humanity in many countries.
“Every line, word and sentence in the investigation report is a lie,” he told the court. “I was never a razakar or Al-badar. Those who prepared this false [report] have no fear of Allah.”
He said the entire proceedings and the case against him are stage-managed. He claimed he was never part of any of the activities mentioned in the charges and he never held any meeting with the Pakistani army for even a minute.
He appealed to the court for exemption from the “false accusations”.
“I’m an innocent man,” he said, “Allah’s curse will befall them who have isolated me from the people and humiliated me.”
Terming his accusers “dictators”, he said he would wait to see Allah’s gazab (wrath of god) and lanat (curse) come down on them.
Tribunal Member AKM Zaheer Ahmed then told Sayedee that framing charges does not mean he will be punished. He also explained the process of holding the trial.
The court has set October 30 as the date for opening statement of prosecution and examination of prosecution witnesses.
“The proceedings shall take place every workday until further order,” it said.
Sayedee’s counsel Tajul Islam sought three months’ time for preparations to defend his client. The court, however, did not respond to his prayer.
According to the tribunal’s rules of procedure, the accused will get three weeks for preparing his defence if he pleads not guilty.
The International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973, allows a convicted person to appeal to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court against his conviction and sentence.