By S. Binodkumar Singh*
After 45 years, justice was done on December 5, 2016, for crimes committed during the Liberation War in 1971. The International Crimes Tribunal-1 (ICT-1) handed down the death penalty to Edris Ali Sardar aka Gazi Edris (67), a leader of the Islami Chhatra Sangha, the then student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI).
Sulaiman Mollah aka Soleman Moulvi (84) was also charged along with Sardar, but he died of old age complications on October 26, 2016, during the closing arguments of the case.
Four charges were proved beyond doubt against Edris who has been on the run — he was awarded death on two counts, imprisonment for life in one and seven-year jail term in another. The first charge that earned Edris death was for killing 200 Hindu people by firing shots indiscriminately on May 22, 1971, in Shariatpur District. The second charge earning him death was for killing 20 Hindus on May 23, 1971, in Madaripur District.
The third charge that earned him life in prison was for torturing and killing Lalit Mohan Kundu and Shuresh Goon by stabbing them with a bayonet in mid-June 1971, in Shariatpur District. Edris was also awarded seven years’ rigorous imprisonment on a fourth charge, for intimidating around 1,500 people into leaving Bangladesh between March 25 and December 10, 1971.
Thus far, the War Crimes (WC) Trials, which began on March 25, 2010, have indicted 74 leaders. These comprise 44 from JeI; 12 from the Muslim League (ML); five from Nezam-e-Islami (NeI); four from Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP); two each from the Jatiya Party (JP) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); four former Razakar members; and one former Al-Badr member.
Verdicts have been delivered against 51 accused — these comprise 29 death penalties and 22 life sentences. So far, six of the 29 convicts 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.
Twelve others are absconding and another 11 cases are currently pending with the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, out of 22 persons who were awarded life sentence, three persons have already died serving their sentence — former JeI Ameer Ghulam Azam (91), who died on October 23, 2014; former BNP Minister Abdul Alim (83), who died on August 30, 2014; and former JeI National Assembly member S.M. Yousuf Ali (83), who died on November 17, 2016. Another seven are lodged in various jails of the country.
Remarkably, on August 31, 2016, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed, reaffirming her determination to continue the trial of war criminals, stated: “We have completed the trial of Bangabandhu (Sheikh Mujibur Rahman) killing case and executed the verdict. We are also holding the trial of war criminals which Bangabandhu started and implementing the judgments and we would continue it.”
On August 14, 2016, five condemned killers of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman — Syed Faruque Rahman, Sultan Shahriar Rashid Khan, Bazlul Huda, A.K.M. Mohiuddin Ahmed and Mohiuddin Ahmed — were hanged at Dhaka Central Jail.
Further, Minister for Law Anisul Huq on December 11, 2016, said the government is drafting a law to impound assets of war criminals. The families of war crimes victims and several organisations — including the Ekattarer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee and Ganajagaran Mancha — which are demanding the death penalty for all war criminals, have also been demanding confiscation of war criminals’ properties.
Nevertheless, on September 8, 2016, Law Minister Anisul Huq cautioned: “The children of war criminals are not innocent. They are hatching conspiracies and will continue it. We have to remember that and stay alert against them. We have to continue our war against their conspiracies.”
Further, on November 9, 2016, blaming anti-liberation forces and aides of BNP Chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia for instigating attacks on Hindus, Health Minister Mohammed Nasim observed: “The killers and looters who don’t believe in Bangladesh’s liberation carried out the attack on the Hindus of Nasirnagar. The attack was aimed at demeaning the Sheikh Hasina-led government and making Bangladesh look like it is not safe for the Hindus. The attackers will be tried at the speedy trial tribunal.”
On October 30, 2016, more than 100 people were injured when some 3,000 local Muslim zealots, armed with sticks and sharp weapons, vandalised and looted 17 temples and over a hundred Hindu houses and business establishments in the Nasirnagar and Haripur unions of Nasirnagar upazila (sub-District) of Brahmanbaria District.
On November 4 and 5, 2016, another six houses of Hindu families were set on fire in the same area. Attacks on Hindus are not unusual in Bangladesh, but it is rare to see multiple large crowds targeting temples in an organised way as they did on October 30, 2016.
Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League (AL)-led government, which came to power on January 6, 2009, has shown enormous courage in going ahead with the War Crimes Trials, and the completion of this process will eventually prove to be an important chapter in the history of Bangladesh, bringing some measure of justice to millions who had suffered at the hands of the Pakistan Army and its collaborators in Bangladesh.
The War Crimes Trials are the unfinished agenda of the Liberation War, and need to be sustained, despite efforts of anti-liberation forces and their sympathisers in the diaspora and international community to disrupt the process.
*S. Binodkumar Singh is a Research Associate at the New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent to [email protected]