Controversial Verdict by the politicized War Crimes Tribunal against well known Islamic Cleric in Bangladesh
On 21 January, 2013 the International Crimes Tribunal in Bangladesh passed it first verdict. This was a a death sentence awarded against Abul Kalam Azad (AKA). The circumstances in which such verdict has been passed are controversial.
1. The Speed with which the trial was conducted (Trial completed in 1 month)
1.1 Of all the cases of the being heard in the International Crimes Tribunal-2, the case of AKA came before the Tribunal-2 last. AKA was indicted after all the other accused In Tribunal-2 (i.e. (i) Abul Quader Mollah, (ii) Md. Kamaruzzaman, (iii) Ali Ahsan Md. Mujahid and (iv) Abdul Alim) were indicted. Yet his verdict has been declared before all others.
1.2 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 AKA, (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].”
1.3 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.
1.4 On 4 November, 2012, 20 days after the above conversation AKA was indicted.
1.5 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.
2. Examination and Cross Examination
2.1 Examination and Cross Examination of 22 Prosecution Witnesses completed over 13 working days.
3. The Verdict.
3.1 AKA was awarded the death sentence. The verdict was passed on 21 January, 2013 (less than one month after closing arguments).
3.2 In the introductory paragraphs of the verdict, the Tribunal-2 went out of the way to describe Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami (BJI) as having “substantially contributed in creating the para-militias forces (auxiliary forces) for combating the unarmed Bengalee civilians in the name of protecting Pakistan”, although BJI as an institution has not been charged/indicted.
3.3 AKA is also described as a “close associate of Ali Ahasan Mo ham mad Mujahid” (who is also on trial) thereby prejudicing his (Mujahid’s) trial.
4. The trial was conducted in absentia.
4.1 The Tribunal heard and convicted AKA in absentia.
5. State Defence Lawyer conducted the case on behalf of the Accused.
5.1 The Tribunal-2 appointed a relatively unknown lawyer, Abdus Shukkur Khan to defend AKA’s case. He had not appeared in any major case before defending AKA. He is the Co-Chairman of Khilkhet Branch of the Bangladesh Awami League.
5.2 He was unable to answer questions on points of law put to him by the Tribunal. Moreover, he also made patently incorrect submissions. His submissions indicated that he had no understanding or experience of international criminal law.
5.3 His cross examination of vital witnesses was also short and ineffectual.
6. Copy of the Full Verdict
6.1 Copy of the Full Verdict was neither handed to the defence counsel nor to the family of AKA. In fact, the Tribunal, made a particular point of clarifying that none would be given as AKA was absconding.