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.