Professor Ghulam Azam has shown great fortitude in coping with his current conditions whilst under arrest. He is allowed very little contact with family members, and until recently was not given access to reading or writing material. In addition, he has not been provided with basic amenities such as air conditioning in his prison room, which is leading to unnecessary hardship in the current heat in Dhaka. Family members have been concerned that he has lost weight under these conditions.
Nevertheless, he remained strong during his court appearance last week, calling attention to the actions of Sheikh Mujeeb in forgiving those who had campaigned against the creation of Bangladesh. He also emphasised the political nature of the accusations, highlighting the fact that Jamaat-e-Islami had never been accused of war crimes until after the 2001 elections, once JI had formed a coalition with BNP. He was not allowed to speak for very long before being cut off, however it showed his determination to clear his name.
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Ghulam Azam was formally charged with war crimes by the International Crimes Tribunal today. We call for international standards of justice to be applied in the ICT – currently it falls far short of this and we are concerned that a fair trial will not be possible given the political aims of the trial.
Al Jazeera reported the news as follows:
Former Bangladeshi opposition leader, Ghulam Azam, has been indicted by a special court for alleged atrocities including genocide and murder during the nation’s 1971 liberation struggle against Pakistan.
Azam, 89, the former head of the Jamaat-e-Islami party who was indicted on Sunday, is accused of creating and leading pro-Pakistan militias which carried out many killings and rapes during the nine-month-long war.
Wheelchair-bound Azam pleaded not guilty after the charges were read out to him for two hours by Judge Nizamul Huq, who set June 5 as the start of the trial.
“The International Crimes Tribunal charged him with crimes against humanity, genocide, murder, rape, abduction, arson and other crimes under international law,” state prosecutor Ziad Al Malum told AFP news agency.
Azam is the third and most high profile opposition figure to have been charged since the government set up the tribunal in 2010 to try suspects.
Both Jamaat and the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party have dismissed the court as a “show trial”, while Human Rights Watch has said procedures used by the tribunal fall short of international standards.
Bangladesh government figures estimate more than three million people were killed in the war by the Pakistani army and local pro-Pakistan militias, although independent researchers put the figure at between 300,000 and 500,000.
This article first appeared in the Saudi Gazette.
The injustice meted out to Prof. Ghulam Azam, former leader of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, is unjustifiable on all counts and totally unacceptable. A well-known respectable figure in the Islamic world, Azam is renowned for his piety, righteousness, honesty and trustworthiness. He is now implicated in crimes against humanity that were allegedly committed 40 years ago. This is not only surprising and astounding but also highly condemnable. How can anybody justify detaining a 90-year-old man who retired from politics more than 10 years ago, throwing him into an isolated prison cell and putting restrictions on who can visit him?
Ghulam Azam was the leader of Jamaat-e-Islami in East Pakistan. It is well known that Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami, headed by Abul Ala Maududi, the founder of Jamaat-e-Islami, was always with the opposition, and therefore, its leaders, including Azam, were detained several times during the time when Pakistan was united.
When the political crisis erupted in Pakistan after the 1970 general elections, the military ruler Yahya Khan announced the postponement of convening the National Assembly and that resulted in civil disobedience being declared by the Awami League, which scored a sweeping victory in East Pakistan in the elections. These developments followed a military crackdown on protesters and a series of political detentions, and that resulted in a nine-month-long civil war, which ended with India’s military intervention that was decisive for the establishment of the independent state of Bangladesh in place of East Pakistan.
Ghulam Azam took a political stance in support of a unified Pakistan and vehemently opposed division of the country. He was also against the atrocities perpetrated by the Pakistan army in East Pakistan. When the war with India broke out, Ghulam Azam was in West Pakistan.
After the defeat of the Pakistan army in the war and its surrender to Indian troops, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was released from jail and returned to Dhaka to take over the leadership of the new independent state. He promulgated a war crime law, and as per the law, 195 people were charged with war crimes. All of them belonged to the Pakistan army and they included no Bengali civilians. Then, Mujibur Rahman issued a general amnesty for all of them saying: “I want to show that Bengalis know how to forgive.”
Regarding the war crimes of Bengali civilians, the new government enacted a law to punish those who extended support to the Pakistan army. Subsequently, more than 100,000 civilians were arrested. None of these people remain under detention with charges of committing crimes against humanity. All of them, except for 752, were released following a general amnesty announced by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Of the 752 people, none were political figures.
But now, after 40 years, a number of prominent figures – all of them leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, including Ghulam Azam – have been detained. This move has elicited massive condemnation from international human rights organizations as well as from eminent lawyers from a large number of Western countries.
Ghulam Azam has been a victim of political vendetta several times. In 1993, he was detained for 16 months by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party government. Later, he was released after the Bangladesh Supreme Court pronounced the following unanimous verdict: “There is nothing to directly implicate the petitioner Ghulam Azam in any of the atrocities alleged to have been perpetrated by the Pakistani army or their associates – the Rajakars, Al-Badr or Al-Shams. Except that the petitioner was hobnobbing with the military junta during the war of liberation, we do not find that the petitioner was in anyway directly involved in perpetuating the alleged atrocities during the war of independence.”
But now this issue has once again been raised after 40 years during which time there were no criminal cases registered against any of those who remain under detention. This was the situation during the periods of the successive governments, including the incumbent Awami League government, which ruled the country from 1996 to 2002. No one was implicated in any crimes against humanity. What then is the justification for the detention of such a respectable figure as Ghulam Azam after a gap of 40 years?
— Dr. Ali Alghamdy is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at email@example.com __
This article first appeared in the Saudi Gazette.
A flawed trial process results in the miscarriage of justice. But if a trial itself is based on a biased motive and contrived charges, then the result is injustice.
Injustice indeed has been done to Bangladesh’s nonagenarian political figure Professor Ghulam Azam, who was arrested in January this year and has been kept in solitary confinement ever since.
The former leader of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh has been unjustly accused of crimes against humanity committed during the 1971 independence struggle. He is awaiting trial by the International Crimes Tribunal, whose legality and scope have been questioned by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the UN Human Rights Council, and US Ambassador for War Crimes Stephen Rapp.
Ironically, the court which was set up to try Prof. Azam for crimes against humanity has not even defined what “crimes against humanity” means. Stephen Rapp during his third visit to Bangladesh last November raised this issue. He also called for the participation of foreign counsel, which he said, was very important to ensure that uniform or generally agreed standards are observed.
Laurel Fletcher, clinical professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley, said, “Such trials run the risk of turning into political show trials, where laws are bent to produce predetermined results.”
The Tribunal, which remained defunct for 40 years, was revived in March 2010. But its character is still undetermined. At present, it lacks international character because of the lack of a number of legal provisions.
The case against Prof. Azam smacks of a vendetta. He is facing charges on 62 counts. If convicted he faces execution by hanging. The three-judge Tribunal earlier this month deferred to May 2 its decision as to whether it will frame charges against him.
Prof. Azam, who supported the unity of West and East Pakistan and opposed a military solution to political problems, denies any wrongdoing. The trial is politically motivated because no one has been tried for war crimes committed by pro-independence forces and for the massacre of Biharis. Prof. Azam, too old and infirm to appear in court, has been denied bail. Members of his family are not allowed to meet him on a regular basis. He has no access to books.
He is being treated like a convicted hardcore terrorist even though he has yet to be charged with any crime.
Bangladesh is a signatory to a number of international human rights conventions, including the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court, and the world expects it to uphold the ideals of these accords.