By S. Binodkumar Singh*
On June 27, 2019, the International Crimes Tribunal-1 (ICT-1) sentenced to death Mahbubur Rahman (69) for the murder of philanthropist Ranada Prasad Shaha, his son and 58 others during the 1971 Liberation War. The tribunal had framed three charges against Rahman on March 28, 2018, and the prosecution succeeded in proving the charges beyond any doubt. According to the first charge, Mahbubur, along with his father, brother and local Razakars (a prominent pro-Pakistan militia) and Pakistan Army men, raided the Kumudini Complex in the Mirzapur upazila (sub-Dsitrict) of Tangail District on May 7, 1971, looking for Shaha. On not finding him, they humiliated doctors, nurses, teachers, students and employees there. They then attacked Hindu-dominated villages – Baimhati, Andhara and Sarishadair – and killed 33 Hindu men. The second charge was that Rahman, along with local Razakars and Pakistan Army men, raided Shaha’s home at Khanpur village in Tangail District on May 7, 1971. From there, they abducted five persons – R.P. Shaha, his son, and three others – and took them to the Adamjee Burma Eastern Oil Depot. None of the persons abducted have since been traced. The third charge accused Mahbubur and the Razakars of abducting 24 Hindu civilians from Mirzapur on May 14, 1971. They were taken to Tangail Circuit House. 22 detainees were killed while two survived.
On April 24, 2019, ICT-1 handed down the death sentence for the Netrakona war crimes accused Hedayet Ullah Anju (80) and Sohrab Fakir (88). They were found guilty on all the six war crimes charges. Sohrab and Hedayet were jailed for 10 years for plundering, arson attacks and deporting Hindus from Modhukhali village in the Atpara upazila of Netrakona District on May 29, 1971. Sohrab and Hedayet were sentenced to death for murdering two villagers after torturing them in confinement, looting and setting fire to several houses in Mobarakpur village of Atpara upazila in Netrakona District on August 23, 1971. Separately both were handed death sentences for murdering Helim Talukder at Madan Dakhinpara village in Madan upzila of Netrakona District, on August 30, 1971. Sohrab was jailed for another 10 years for torturing Hamid Hossain of Madan Majpara village in Madan upzila of Netrakona District after abducting him on September 2, 1971. They got their third death sentences for committing genocide by killing seven Hindus in Sukhari village of Atpara upazila in Netrakona District after abducting and torturing them in confinement on September 3, 1971. Separately, both were jailed for another 10 years for setting Hindu houses ablaze and deporting them from Madan Dakhinpara village in Madan upzila of Netrakona District on September 6, 1971.
On March 28, 2019, ICT-1 sentenced Abdul Majid (70), Abdul KhalekTalukder (71), Kabir Khan (75), Salam Begh (65) and Nur Uddin (62) to death for their involvement in crimes against humanity during the Liberation War. The Tribunal found the convicts guilty on all seven charges framed against them. The tribunal found Majid, Khalek and Kabir guilty of abduction, looting and murder of three Hindu men, including one Hem Sundar Bagchi, in Rajpara village of Netrakona District on May 1, 1971, and sentenced them to imprisonment jail until death. The Court found Majid and Khalek guilty of abduction, confinement and torture of Abdul Gani Sarker aka Charu Miah in Barha village of Netrakona District and sentenced them to 10 years in prison. Majid and Khalek were found guilty of abduction, torture and murder of one Abdul Khalek of Barha village in Netrakona District on August 21 and given the death penalty. Majid, Khalek, Salam and Nur Uddin were also found guilty of abduction, torture and killing of one Mohir Uddin of the same village on August 27, and awarded the death penalty. All the accused were found guilty of abduction, torture and killing of four pro-liberation persons in between November 12 and 16, 1971, in different parts of Purbodhala upazila in Netrakona District and awarded the death penalty. Further, they were awarded the death penalty for the abduction, torture and murder of Siraj Mondol of Purbo Moudam village in Netrakona District on November 20, 1971. Majid, Khalek and Kabir were found guilty of raping a woman in Purbobudi village of Netrakona District. The jail terms would naturally be merged into the death sentence, the tribunal observed.
On November 5, 2018, ICT-1 found Liakat Ali (63) and Aminul Islam aka Rajab Ali (62) guilty of crimes committed during the Liberation War and sentenced them to death. The tribunal found the duo guilty on all seven charges framed against them, including the killing of 43 Hindu men in Krishnapur village under Lakhai upazila in Habiganj District; killing nine Hindu men in Chandipur village of Lakhai upazila in Habiganj District and 26 Hindu men in Gadainagar village of Lakhai upazila in Habiganj District; acts of genocide in Krishnapur, Chandipur and Gadainagar villages of Lakhai upazila in Habiganj District, which left eight Hindu men dead; the killing of one Rangu Mia in Nasirnagar village of Kishoreganj District; the killing of five men in Sabiyanagar village of Kishoreganj District; and the killing of another 10 men in the same village.
The War Crimes (WC) Trials, which began on March 25, 2010, have so far indicted 124 leaders, including 50 from the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI); 27 from the Muslim League (ML); 11 from Nezam-e-Islami (NeI); five from the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP); two each from the Jatiya Party (JP) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); 26 former Razakars; and one former Al-Badr member. Verdicts have been delivered against 88 accused, including 62 death penalties and 26 life sentences. So far, six of the 62 people who were awarded the death sentence have been hanged. On September 3, 2016, JeI Central Executive member Mir Quasem Ali (63) was hanged at Kashimpur Central Jail in Gazipur District; on May 11, 2016, JeI Ameer (Chief) Motiur Rahman Nizami (75) was executed at Dhaka Central Jail; on November 22, 2015, JeI Secretary General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed (67) and BNP Standing Committee member Salauddin Quader Chowdhury (66) were hanged simultaneously at Dhaka Central Jail; on April 11, 2015, JeI Senior Assistant Secretary General Mohammed Kamaruzzaman (63) was hanged at Dhaka Central Jail; and on December 12, 2013, JeI Assistant Secretary General Abdul Quader Mollah (65), who earned the nickname ‘Mirpurer Koshai (Butcher of Mirpur)’ was hanged at Dhaka Central Jail. 28 others are absconding and another 28 cases are currently pending with the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, out of 26 persons who were awarded life sentences, five persons have already died serving their sentences – former JeI Ameer Ghulam Azam (91), who died on October 23, 2014; former BNP Minister Abdul Alim (83), who died on August 30, 2014; former JeI National Assembly member S.M. Yousuf Ali (83), who died on November 17, 2016; former JeI member Gazi Abdul Mannan (88), who died on December 19, 2016; and former ML member Mahidur Rahman (88), who died on May 21, 2018. 13 others are absconding and another eight are lodged in various jails of the country.
Significantly, on July 10, 2019, the four-member bench of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain, completed hearing of arguments from both the state and defence on an appeal filed by JeI Assistant Secretary General ATM Azharul Islam challenging the ICT-1 verdict that sentenced him to death. On December 30, 2014, ICT-1 had awarded Azharul Islam a death sentence for his war crimes committed in Rangpur. He was found guilty on five of six charges. Azharul Islam filed his appeal on January 28, 2015. On June 18, 2019, the Appellate Division started hearings on the appeal. The Appellate Division can deliver its judgment any day on Azharul Islam’s appeal.
The Government is also trying to impound all movable and immovable assets of those convicted for war crimes in 1971. The demand to strip war criminals of their assets gained momentum in 2010, when the ICT set up by the Awami League-led Government began prosecuting Pakistan Army collaborators and war criminals. The process gained further momentum after a mass movement began at Shahbagh Square in 2013 to demand the maximum penalty for war criminals. The Government then promised to formulate new laws to seize assets of those convicted. On September 29, 2016, the Jatiya Sangsad (National Assembly) unanimously adopted a resolution to confiscate all movable and immovable assets of war criminals. Further, on January 17, 2019, Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Anisul Huq disclosed that the process for seizing the properties of the families of war criminals had been finalized.
Notably, Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Huq, after inaugurating the Muktijoddha (Freedom Fighters) Complex in Pabna District on June 29, 2019, declared that the Home Ministry was preparing a list of Razakars, who were involved in killing, arson and other crimes against humanity during the country’s Liberation War in 1971. He further stated that the graveyards of the freedom fighters across the country would be preserved in the same pattern to show homage to them. According to the War Crimes Facts Finding Committee, Bangladesh, there are about 5,000 mass graves across the country, where the Pakistan Army and its collaborators conducted genocide in 1971.
The JeI, which opposed Bangladesh’s birth, had already been in trouble after its senior leaders were handed down punishments for crimes against humanity. The Dhaka High Court, on August 1, 2013, in a landmark ruling, declared “illegal” Bangladesh’s biggest right-wing party, JeI, and banned it from contesting future polls, leaving the once-most powerful fundamentalist party with an uncertain future. Further, the Election Commission (EC) cancelled the party’s registration on October 28, 2018. Citing its failure to apologise for its role in the 1971 War and bring reforms to its constitution, on February 15, 2019, JeI Assistant Secretary General Abdur Razzaq quit the party. The following day, JeI’s Majlish-e-Shura (Central Governing Body) member Mojibur Rahman Monju, who had been vocal about reforms, was expelled from JeI for “breaching discipline” and “anti-party activities”. Over the following days, several other JeI leaders were expelled on similar grounds. On April 27, 2019, a group of former JeI leaders launched a new political initiative, the Jana Aakangkhar Bangladesh (JAB) headed by Mojibur Rahman Monju. The move came following differences of opinion within JeI over reforms and whether it would apologise to the nation for opposing the 1971 Liberation War.
Meanwhile, bilateral relations between Bangladesh and Pakistan have been strained since 2013, when Dhaka decided to hang several of the 1971 war criminals, and have plummeted further after March 26, 2019, as Bangladesh sought United Nations (UN) recognition for one of the world’s worst genocides, conducted by Pakistan Army, commencing on the fateful night of March 25, 1971, against the citizens of what was then East Pakistan. On March 25, 1971, upon secret order from Pakistan authorities, under ‘Operation Searchlight’, Pakistani Forces and their collaborators committed the most brutal and targeted mass killing in Dhaka City in particular and elsewhere in country, which continued throughout the night. Thousands of people from all walks of life, including students, teachers, intellectuals, religious minorities and members of different services, especially from the Police and the then East Pakistan Rifles, were slaughtered.
Recognising the genocide committed by Pakistani Forces during the 1971 Bangladesh war of independence, Adama Dieng, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, on March 24, 2019, pledged to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, “Though some countries may oppose, we will raise the issue of Pakistani genocide in Bangladesh during the Liberation War in the international forum.” Dieng visited Bangladesh ahead of the country’s Independence Day on March 26.
The achievements on the War Crimes Trials in Bangladesh are already remarkable. The new verdicts against the guilty have once again reaffirmed the Awami League-led Government’s determination to honour its 2008 General Election pledge to bring the War Criminals of the 1971 genocide to justice. However, as a number of cases are pending with the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, the eventual conclusion of the trials and appeals is far from over.
*S. Binodkumar Singh
Research Associate; Institute for Conflict Management