In Bangladesh More Muslims leaders in Death-row
Ignoring all internal and International conscious voices for justice and fairness, if Bangladesh presses ahead and carries out the executions, the consequences will be grave: the country will be diplomatically isolated and Bangladesh will emerged into a total political chaos and confused situation.
- By BDINN Desk
On January 21st, 2013 a Bangladesh tribunal delivered its first verdict, sentencing Moulana Abul Kalam Azad, a Bangladeshi Islamic cleric to death for crimes against humanity.
Azad, who for years presented a widely watched show on Islam on private and state-run television channels, is a former leading light of Bangladesh’s largest opposition Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami.
The 63-year-old TV host has been on the run for about a year. Azad’s death sentence has sparked criticism and condemnation in different other than opposition parties in Bangladesh.
The trial was held in absentia because Azad, a popular Islamic televangelist, has been missing for about a year, since his charges were filed. Azad is believed to have fled the country.
While the country’s ruling party, the Awami League, has praised the verdict, critics say the commission has been politically motivated since it was created in 2010.
Azad’s lawyer, Tajul Islam, who is defending nine accused war criminals, plans to appeal the verdict. He says the verdict was handed down on unchallenged evidence, and included unwanted comments against Azad’s Jamaat-e-Islami party. He accused the court of ignoring evidence presented by the defense, and called for a new trial.
“We have based so many arguments on law and facts that have been totally ignored in this judgment. This collusion of the chairman with the prosecutors and the witnesses discredits the entire trial process,” said Islam. “So, we think that the only option that remains is to hold the trial afresh.”
International rights groups have condemned the trial for not adhering to international standards.
The Economist magazine recently obtained access to Skype conversations and email exchanges that indicate the court’s chief justice may have been leaking confidential information. Chief Justice Mohammed Nizamul Huq has since resigned.
Human Rights Watch’s South Asia Analyst Tejshree Thapa says the email correspondences revealed by The Economist completely undermine the court’s independence.
Sam Zarifi, the Asia director for the International Commission of Jurists, says the court process has been so flawed; it raises the question of whether it might be best not to have a trial at all.
“Proving these charges, charges of crime against humanity, charges of rape as a war crime, charges of genocide, are actually quite complicated and need a lot of evidence and we didn’t see those kinds of procedural safeguards at all,” explained Zarifi. “This verdict actually doesn’t really advance the cause of justice.”
He says the court has little hope of helping Bangladesh find reconciliation from the 1971 war, during which some three million people were killed.
More in Death Row with March 2013
In total, 11 top opposition figures — nine from Jamaat and two from the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) — stand accused of war crimes.
Among those accused are Prof. Ghulam Azam, Maulana Delwar Hossain Sayeedi and Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury of Bangladesh who are prominent figures and enjoy high standing, respect and popularity among members of the Bangladesh community.
Many fear that those accused will be convicted and will be executed by March 25, 2013, the anniversary of the Pakistan army’s suppression of the insurgency of Awami League supporters led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. That was after Gen. Yahya Khan postponed convening the National Assembly (parliament) following the election in which the Awami League won the majority of seats required to form the federal government.
This is the reason the flawed International Crimes Tribunal is rushing through the trial process.
Looking at the way they (the judges of the Tribunal) are now scheduling some of the cases, it is evident that the Tribunal is prioritizing time.
There is no doubt that the government of Sheikh Hasina will do everything to execute these people because they are afraid that if they give them long-term prison sentences and if the governing party then loses the next election, then there is a risk that these people will be released by the new government.
There is also the notion that in order to garner sufficient mass support, they need to fulfill their election pledge and execute these people.
Attempt to execute in Dec ’12 foiled
That is why government prosecution team were trying to convict and ultimately execute at least three — Prof. Ghulam Azam, Maulana Delwar Hossain Sayeedi and Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury — on or by Dec. 16 of last year.
Even everything was set to issue final verdict on Maulana Delwar Hossain Sayeedi by that time.
Then a ‘scandal’ surrounding the tribunal exposed just days before the court was due to deliver the verdict in the trial of Delwar Hossain Sayeedi.
In almost all the media the issue of ‘Skype scandal’ came up. (Click for details)
A judge presiding over another tribunal resigned last December after the Economist reported that it had records of Skype and email conversations between him and a Belgium-based Bangladeshi lawyer that raised serious questions about the workings of the tribunal.
Defence lawyers claimed the judge had acted improperly and the conversation showed the accused could not expect a fair trial.
The judge swiftly resigned, triggering calls for the trial of Mr Sayeedi to be recommenced from the beginning.
The tribunal’s new presiding judge rejected the calls for retrial, but agreed to have the two legal teams make their final submissions again.
But ignoring the fare demand of ‘Retrial’ tribunal issued the verdict on Moulana Azad just to reassure the public that the trial process has not lost its way.
“If anyone has read the full Skype conversations and e-mail correspondence (summarized by the Economist) between Justice Nizamul Huq and the expatriate Bangladesh lawyer Ziauddin Ahmed, there is evidence of collusion between the prosecution, the tribunal and government ministers – at a level which appears to preclude the possibility of independent and fair trials’- remarked David Bergman in his personal blog (bangladeshwarcrimes.blogspot.ca)
Azad’s verdict: a ‘quick’ political stand
There was political influence to get this case heard and disposed of before all the other as is evident from the Skype Conversation between the former Chairman of the International Crimes Tribunal-1 and Dr. Ahmed Ziaudddin, an expatriate Bangladeshi lawyer based in Belgium, who was assisting the Tribunals from behind the scenes.
In a conversation on 14 October, 2012 (reported in Amar Desh on 9 December, 2012) Dr. Ziauddin suggests exerting pressure on Tribunal-2 from a ‘higher level’ to slow down Abdul Quader Mollah’s case and to deal with the case of Azad, (which was being heard in absentia) first.
Dr. Ziauddin told the former Chairman, “They [the Tribunal-2] have to be directed from a higher level that they should slow down things in [Abdul] Quader Mollah’s case. Slow it down and bring the others forward. Let them begin with the case of that absent accused, …..what his name …. Bachhu [i.e. Abul Kalam Azad].” (Translated from Bangla).
This conversation took place on 14 October, 2012. By such date the trial of Abdul Qauder Mollah was well advanced. 12 PWs had already been examined. On the other hand charges had not even been framed by the Tribunal-2 at this stage in the case of Abul Kalam Azad. On 4 November, 2012, 20 days after the above conversation AKA was indicted. On 26 November, 2012, the prosecution opened its case and examined the first witness.22 Prosecution Witnesses were quickly examined, and the Prosecution case was closed on 22 December, 2012, (within less than a month). No defence witness was examined. Both the Prosecution and the Defence concluded their summing up on 26 December 2012.
To most of the observer of the proceedings of the ‘Tribunal’ these ‘quick steps’ towards a major verdict of death sentence is nothing but to assure the people of Bangladesh that ‘everything is going fine in Tribunal’ and Awami League is in line with ‘fulfilling its election promise’ before the forth-coming election.
How fair is Tribunal?
The International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), which was set up in 2010 to try suspects for war crimes committed during the Bangladesh Liberation War, has faced intense criticism from the UN, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the International Bar Association among others for violating international legal standards.
Both Jamaat and the BNP have called the cases “politically motivated and farcical” and international rights groups have questioned the proceedings and found loopholes in the war crime laws.
The Bangladeshi government says the trials are fair and meet international standards.
They are neither international tribunals nor domestic tribunals. In practise ICT is something ambiguous, if it is an international tribunal, it should have international judges and international prosecutors and should be conducted under international law.
This is not a domestic tribunal either because it excludes domestic rules of procedure and evidence applied in all criminal cases in Bangladesh under the Criminal Evidence Act and the Criminal Procedure Act. Those charged with crimes under the jurisdiction of the tribunal are denied the fundamental freedoms and rights guaranteed by the country’s constitution to all its citizens.
Those charged with crimes under the jurisdiction of the Tribunal are denied the fundamental freedoms and rights normally enjoyed by Bangladesh citizens under the country’s Constitution. An accused person enjoys the full protection of constitutional rights including the provision for their enforcement under Article 44. But the first constitutional amendment (the recent insertion of Article 47A) prevents any person accused of crimes committed during the war of liberation from going to the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile demand for stopping of execution decision about Moulana Abul Kalam and others in trials has been raised by the International Jurist Union who recently send a 14 member’s team to Bangladesh in last December to observe the proceedings of an ongoing trial at the International War-crime Tribunal.
In a report published on Tuesday the union demanded that Bangladesh must refer the case (of Azad) to the International Criminal Court. Bangladesh is a State Party to the Rome Statute.
Stretching the point that the trial cannot be in the international standards the report says, ‘since the judge, the prosecutor and the investigating committee totally appointed by the Government, and the defendants are the members of two separate political parties, which are the opposition of the government, it is our point of view that it is not possible to be subjected to a trial in the international standards.’
Report raised a strong point that, if Bangladesh, as a state party to the Rome Statute, does not refer the case to the ICC or do not secure a fair trial, the United Nations may establish an inquiry commission, and as a result of a report of such a commission the United States Security Council may decide to refer the case to the Prosecutor of the ICC according to Article 13 (b) of the Rome Statute.
USA and UK have expressed their concern on this issue.
“However, we believe that any such trials must be free, fair and transparent, and in accordance with domestic standards and international standards Bangladesh has agreed to uphold through its ratification of international agreements”- State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a recent statement.
“The British Government is aware of concerns expressed by some human rights NGOs and legal professionals about proceedings at the International Crimes Tribunal. We hope that the International Crimes Tribunal addresses such concerns promptly and thoroughly to ensure the continued integrity, independence and reputation of the legal process in Bangladesh”- Foreign Office Minister Baroness Warsi has commented.