The International Crimes Tribunal began hearing the framing of formal charges against former Ameer of Jamaat-e-Islami Professor Ghulam Azam on Wednesday, despite a request for an adjournment on the hearing pending. Earlier in the day, a second bail petition was heard for Azam, and the tribunal said that it would make a decision on this matter on February 23.
The tribunal had ruled that the adjournment petition would be heard after lunch, and the court reconvened at 2:15pm. But upon seeing that none of the senior lawyers were present, tribunal chairman Justice Nizamul Huq asked the prosecution to begin with its formal charge against Azam. Justice Nizamul Huq is a controversial figure, whom the International Criminal Law Bureau has labelled a man who “has has a visible and apparent interest and bias in these proceedings”, given his part in writing reports used as evidence for the prosecution.
As the chief prosecutor began, a senior defence counsel, Tajul Islam, pointed out that there was still an adjournment petition pending. However, Justice Huq said that the petition would be duly heard, but in the meantime the prosecution should continue reading out formal charges, which he said would take five to six hours.
At 2.30pm, Azam’s chief counsel, Barrister Abdur Razzaq arrived and expressed his concern that the defence counsels would not have time to prepare, as the defence had not received DVDs of the documents of the case from the prosecution, and the documents received were illegible. He stated, “when we are asking for an adjournment, we are asking for adjournment of the proceedings for both the sides.”
Justice Huq insisted that the adjournment petition would be heard after the prosecution had read out the charges, and the defence were told they would get enough time for preparation, as it would take time to read out the formal charges. Tajul Islam pointed out the farcical nature of proceedings, asking, “What is the point of adjournment if we still have to sit at the court room?”
Another judge, Zaheer Ahmed, intervened and allowed Razzaq to leave the courtoom, saying, “Not the entire defence team really needs to be here when the charges are merely being read out.” The prosecution continued to read out charges until 4pm, and will continue on Thursday.
Earlier in the day, the court heard a bail petition for Azam, in which Razzaq argued that Azam should be granted bail on humanitarian grounds, as the 89-year-old man was suffering from various complications and losing weight. The counsel cited a number of news reports documenting the retired leader’s illness, as well as stating, “He has been kept at the hospital for the last one month and five days. That is obvious proof that the man is ill.”
Azam spoke at the tribunal, saying that “they are gradually killing me before the trial is done” by giving him only very poor quality food. He also said that he is so weak that he needs someone to accompany him to the toilet, so he would like to stay at home with his wife and family in his last days. However, his statement was ignored by the judges, who said that the lawyers should convey any messages on behalf of him.
After hearing the petition, the tribunal said it wanted to address all points made by the counsels of both sides and would give its verdict on Feb 23.