Professor Ghulam Azam

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ICT defence witness kidnapped

It is reported that on the 5th November 2012, a defence witness named Shukho Ranjan Bali was forcibly removed by a group of men as he entered the ICT tribunal premises. One of the men claimed the group was from the ‘detective branch’ and would take the witness to their offices on the instruction of a ‘higher authority’. Although the defence team appealed for help, there was no effort from the uniformed officers present to intervene in the abduction of the witness.

Since this incident, there has been no information about the whereabouts of the witness, which is a matter of deep concern for his family. A writ petition has been filed in the High Court challenging the legality of Ranjan’s detention. 


Toby Cadman speaks in New York

Toby Cadman spoke today at Columbia University, New York. This overview of the event:
“I spoke today at Colombia Law School along with Larry Johnson Adjunct Professor of Law and former UN Assistant-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, US Ambassador-at-large for War Crimes Issues Stephen J. Rapp and Pam Singh, Senior Counsel at Human Rights Watch at the lunchtime lecture entitled “Protecting the Rights of the Accused In Domestic Trials for Atrocity Crimes”.

As part of my presentation I called for greater engagement by the UN and the international community in general. In particular I made the point that the process in Bangladesh required urgent international oversight as the trial process had clearly displayed that there was neither the will nor the ability for the trials to be conducted under international standards.

Ambassador Rapp spoke of his Office’s engagement in the process and set out the recommendations he had made in May 2011. He spoke with disappointment that very few of his recommendations had been implemented. The Ambassador noted that a trial monitoring process had been initiated and would start to monitor the trials impartially and independently

Pam Singh spoke of HRW’s role in monitoring the trials and the recommendations it had made, many of which had been ignored by the Government. In particular Pam Singh spoke that this was not a model that should be followed in the future and made the point that Bangladesh had missed a perfect opportunity to bring an end to impunity and become a model of justice elsewhere.

A full transcript of the presentations will follow in due course.

I would like to extend my gratitude to Colombia Law School, the Human Rights Institute and Rightslink who co-hosted this important event.”

-Toby Cadman

Defence witnesses limited

The examination of prosecution witnesses has now ended, and despite a list of 2,939 witnesses willing to testify in defence of Ghulam Azam, the ICT has limited the number to 12. This clearly undermines the ability of the legal team to provide a robust defence, particularly as 16 witnesses were produced on behalf of the prosecution team. In addition, the tribunal rejected the petition for two expert witnesses for the defence, William Schabas, professor of International Law and Human Rights at Middlesex University and Jack Deverell, a former general with experience in Bosnia. No valid reason was given for this refusal by the court.

There has also been widespread speculation that the trial will be concluded by December 16th, Bangladesh’s ‘Victory Day’, thus providing more evidence that the trial has a foregone conclusion.


Professor Ghula…

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. 

Please continue to highlight Ghulam Azam’s plight, see ‘How You Can Help’ for more information. 

Ghulam Azam indicted

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.

Why detain Ghulam Azam after 40 years?


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 __

Stop the Witch Hunt against Ghulam Azam

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.

“JI did not create paramilitary forces”

This article appeared on on 30th March 2012

On the 2nd day of hearing of the case brought against the elderly leader & former Aamir of Jamaat e Islami, Prof Golam Azam, his advocate Barrister Abdur Razzak has said that Jamaat has never formed any Al Badr, Al Shams or Rajakar force. This case cannot run because the government has failed to give the reasons for the delaying of 40 years to start the judgement procedure. Since no authentic complaints are against him, the case should be closed. They have no proofs but few paper cuttings. There are no examples in the World where judgement has started after 40 years.
In the last 25th March, Barrister Razzak started presenting his logics. He finished the last part of hearing yesterday. On Thursday the favor’s side will give out the hearing and then the decision will be passed.
On the 2nd hearing, the aged Prof Golam Azam was brought at the tribunal in an ambulance. He was taken on the 2nd floor on wheel chair. Barrister Razzak commenced the hearing in his presence. He said that in the past 40 years there are no cases, complaints or even any GDs in any of the Police stations in the country.  No one filed any cases. If he did any crimes, there would have been cases in the last 40 years. The prosecution could not provide any logic for why this case was opened so late. There are no genuine evidences for supporting the cases against him. No information regarding the formation of Al Badr, Al Shams and Rajakar force by Jamaat e Islami is correct. These forces were not even auxiliary. Auxiliary forces are the ones those operate under the direct command of the Army.
On the part of the killing of Chiru Mia, in the hearing, Barrister Razzak announced it ridiculous and said, somebody took the order in an envelope in Dhaka and a group executed that order and no one in the group became criminal but instead, the man blamed is Golam Azam. How can that be? Where are the people who were into the killing? No descriptions of them are given. The first criminals should be the killers. Even if Golam Azam passed the order; he will be the next criminal. Where are the main killers? Since no info on them exits, the whole case is baseless.
Prof Golam Azam’s advocate Barrister Razzak further said that starting the judgement after 40 years is completely bizarre. Starting from Nuremberg to former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Cambodia and Hague’s international court; no examples like this exists. In the hearing on 25th March, the tribunal Chairman asked about the judgement of Cambodia. Barrister Razzak said, the war in Cambodia started in 1975 and ended in 1979. But internal war went on for 19 years. Within 3 years from the ending of the war, in 2001, a tribunal was formed with the help of the UN and the judgement initiated.  Barrister Razzak added that it is the duty of the government’s side to explain this unusual case to the tribunal. They could not present any logical facts. If they fail to satisfy the logical terms, then the judgement procedure should be closed. At a certain stage, Barrister Razzak gave an example of the highest court of Britain, The House of the Lords.
Barrister Razzak added, the government side has given charges against Golam Azam in which no materials were found for the eligibility of charge formation. In the law it is stated that mentioned things must include the name of the witness, where the crime was committed and the type of the crime. In this part, the favor is completely a failure. Prof Golam Azam is the victim of political jealousy and his crimes identified are only for his political statements. At that point, he (Barrister Razzak) raised many examples of War Crimes and said that tribunal at first gets sure on valid proofs that the charge can be put on the accused. Repeating the same incident the government has surpassed the law.
Giving reference from 1973, the Barrister said, Jamaat e Islami and Chatra Shangha, in no ways, fall under the definition of an auxiliary force. Jamaat e Islami was a political organization and Chatra Shangha was a student organization. Illustrating different sections of law, he further added, that even Rajakar does not fall under the category of an auxiliary force. He clearly said, Jamaat never formed Rajakar, Al Badr or Al Shams.
In 1972, on 2nd August, the back then government formed Rajakar passing an ordinance. The Chief of that force was a civilian appointed by the government.

Bangladesh’s 41st Independence Celebrations: A Marred Anniversary

This article appeared on The Platform on 31st March 2012 and was written by Mahin Khan. 


Last Monday, 26th March 2012, marked the 41st anniversary of the Bangladesh’s declaration of independence from Pakistan in 1971. The country’s Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina of the ruling Awami League (AL), publicly celebrated the nation’s most anticipated anniversary in Dhaka withmuch fanfare. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world in Washington DC, the prestigious National Press Club invited Dr Mohammad Nakibur Rahman, the son of the incarcerated Bangladeshi opposition leader, Matiur Rahman Nizami, and International Criminal Lawyer representing the opposition, Toby Cadman, to discuss one of the less savoury manifestations of the war memory today—the controversial International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) of Bangladesh.

On the pretext of war crimes allegations, the AL government in Bangladesh has rounded up the leadership of the most significant opposition parties, detaining them in a manner that has been characterized by the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Dententions as arbitrary and in breach of international law. These opposition leaders face the death penalty if found guilty by the ICT. Between growing criticism from proponents at the shortfalls and incompetence of the prosecution to ever increasing opposition from the international community at the questionable legal framework of the ICT and political opposition at the partisan bias it displays, the tribunal has come under mounting pressure. The way the Bangladeshi government has been conducting itself and the ICT over the past two years since its establishment has caused concern from all sides that justice will not be done.

Opposition leader’s son speaks out

The Washington press conference Dr Rahman expressed his grave concern that his father’s life was in danger as consequence of the persecution he is being subject to and the tribunal’s seeking the death penalty for those accused. He then proceeded to describe his father, as he has known him, as singularly humble, of gentle temperament and kind-hearted, stating that he had seen his father spend “sleepless nights worrying about other peoples’ welfare.”

Rahman noted that before 2008, there had never been any charge of illegal activity against his father, and that his exemplary public record had been impeccable. This changed with the ascent of the AL to government in 2008. The opposition leader suddenly began to be accused by the government of blasphemy, sedition, and finally, war crimes, all for reasons of “government vengeance”. Eventually, his 70 year old father was arrested, detained indefinitely, and subjected to torture. Rahman’s family have not been spared persecution either—he states that his mother and sister are routinely harassed when visiting his father, forced to wait long hours, and at times denied visitation altogether. His youngest brother, a 22 year old studying abroad, was denied the renewal of his Bangladeshi passport to return home by the regime and remains “stateless,” stranded abroad for several months. Rahman closed his remarks by asking people to seek out the truth about 1971 based on facts beyond the hearsay based propaganda currently in vogue.

Toby Cadman, an international criminal lawyer specialised in war crimes, was the second presenterat the conference. He began by noting that he would have liked to give this press conference in Bangladesh on this momentous day, but that he is no longer welcome there. On his last visit, he was refused entry on the order of the Home Minister, held at the airport for ten hours, and then unceremoniously thrown out of the country. Cadman stated that a number of allegations had been made against him, including attempting to enter Bangladesh unlawfully and mounting an international conspiracy to undermine the tribunal, all of which are false. As a senior international lawyer with a decade of experience in war crimes tribunals, he asserted that a fair tribunal is absolutely essential to address the crimes that were committed during the Bangladesh independence war, and should have been held forty years ago.

According to Cadman, however, the current tribunal falls far short of international standards of fairness and justice, despite claims to the contrary by senior Bangladeshi politicians and the Prime Minister herself. He pointed out that many prominent voices criticize the tribunal, including:Amnesty InternationalHuman Rights WatchThe UN Ambassador-at-large for War Crimes, Stephen Rapp, International Center for Transitional Justice, the International Bar Association,members of the House of Lords in the UK, members of Congress and the House of Representatives. Cadman added, “So, if I’m at the head of an international conspiracy, these are my co-conspirators, and the conspiracy is to ensure that our clients…receive a fair trial according to international standards.”

“an extraordinary tribunal that sits outside of the law”

Cadman was careful not to downplay the genuine enormity of the conflict of 1971, which is the premise of these trials—he suggested that the conflict could be considered one of the worst of its kind in modern history in that part of the world. This means, he added, that the process must be properly adjudicated, yet this is not currently the case. Cadman enumerated a long list of flaws in the legal process, including the fact that, in line with a constitutional amendment, those being tried by the tribunal are not eligible for fundamental universal human rights. Given these flaws, Cadman characterized the ICT as an “extraordinary tribunal that sits outside of the law.” The laws governing the present day tribunal were originally established for a military tribunal that was established in 1973, and Cadman noted that they need to be fundamentally reconfigured for the purposes of a civilian tribunal. Given that the death penalty is being sought, and that those targeted are all opposition political leaders, Cadman emphasized that the process had to be beyond reproach. As the tribunal stands, however, he feels this is far from the case.

In response to an audience question, Cadman admitted that it was indeed very difficult to consider the facts and not say this is a very politicized process, acknowledging that the political opposition and only one side of the conflict is being targeted. He added that the tribunal was established in March 2010, and about four months later the first arrests were made, commenting this was “probably the promptest investigations in war crimes history,” and thereby suggesting that the government already knew its targets, and so impartial investigations were not undertaken. Cadman’s hope, however, is that the Bangladesh government will hear the appeals that he and the international community are making to ensure that the process is made more fair.

The conference made clear the undoubtedly essential and belated nature of the ICT in the aftermath of what may be the most brutal event in South Asia’s modern history. However, it is clear the ICT cannot fulfill its purpose following its current approach. For those concerned about the future of Bangladesh, given the present path it pursues, to raise awareness in the international community about the shortcomings of this tribunal is essential to ensuring a trial that achieves the justice and catharsis it claims to seek rather than the division and conflict it continues to cause. Without significant international pressure, it seems unwise to expect anything like a fair process that is in keeping with international standards.

Toby Cadman Speaks at National Press Club

Barrister Toby Cadman and Mohammed Nakibur Rahman  (son of Motiur Rahman Nizami)  spoke at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington DC on 26th March. The Jamaat leader’s son spoke of his fears for the lives of the accused who are currently being detained by the Bangladeshi government on allegations of war crimes.

Nakibur Rahman spoke about his father’s character and simple lifestyle, and highlighted the political nature of the allegations. He also stated that his father was deprived of sleep and subjected to torture in custody. He also detailed the harassment suffered by other members of his family.

Toby Cadman focussed his remarks on the lack of international standards in the proceedings of the tribunal.  He also stated that the Bangladeshi government failed to respond to a letter from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary detention and commented that the government is trying to place deadlines on when the trial should be concluded, which places pressure on the tribunal and prevents a fair trial.

Further details can be found here