Defense lawyers for convicted war criminal ATM Azharul Islam are preparing a petition containing at least 10 grounds for seeking review of the Supreme Court verdict, that upheld his death penalty for his involvement in genocide and crimes against humanity during the 1971 Liberation War.
The review petition will be filed with the apex court on April 5 when it will reopen after its ongoing closure, Advocate Shishir Manir, a lawyer for the Jamaat-e-Islami leader, told The Daily Star yesterday.
The SC was originally scheduled to reopen on March 29 after an annual vacation. But the authorities have declared general holidays at all courts across the country till April 4 due to the coronavirus outbreak.
"We have almost prepared the review petition for ATM Azharul Islam, including 10 to 12 grounds on which the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court may consider to exempt him from the charges brought against him", Shishir Manir said, adding that statements of the witnesses don't fully support the incidents of charges brought against Azharul.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told The Daily Star that his office will oppose the review petition when the Appellate Division holds hearing on it.
If the SC dismisses the review petition, Azhharul will have an option but to seek clemency from the president confessing to his guilt, he said.
"If the Supreme Court dismisses the review petition and the president rejects the mercy petition of Azharul Islam, if he seeks review and mercy, there will be no legal bar for the authorities concerned to execute the death sentence of Azharul," the attorney general said.
The SC on October 31 last year upheld the death sentence of ATM Azharul Islam. A four-member bench of the SC's Appellate Division, headed by Chief Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain, by a majority view delivered the verdict around five years after the International Crimes Tribunal-1 handed down capital punishment to Azhar for crimes committed in Rangpur in 1971.
It upheld four charges against Azhar, but acquitted him of another. The SC released the full text of the verdict on March 15 this year, clearing the way for Azharul to move a petition seeking review of the verdict.
Azhar (67), who is now in Gazipur's Kashimpur Jail-2, was the commander of notorious Al-Badr force and president of Chhatra Sangha, the then student wing of Jamaat -- a party which opposed the country's liberation -- in Rangpur during the 1971 war.
Law Minister Anisul Huq earlier told The Daily Star that the government would execute the apex court verdict on completion of all legal procedures.
Expressing satisfaction at the judgement, he had said Bangladesh has moved one step ahead in ensuring justice and rule of law.
Five Jamaat leaders have already been executed for committing crimes during the Liberation War, while another senior leader, Delawar Hossain Sayedee, was serving jail time for the same offences, until he died.
OFFENCE AND PUNISHMENT
As a leader of Islami Chhatra Sangha and the Al-Badr, Azhar played a significant role in the atrocities and aided the Pakistani occupation troops in committing horrific crimes, according to ICT-1 that handed the capital punishment.
The court said the verdict was delivered for his involvement in killing 1,400 civilians in Jharuarbeel, a wetland in Rangpur's Badarganj upazila.
Terrified of the marauding Pakistan army and its local collaborators, they had fled their homes and took shelter at Jharuarbeel, but men, women and children from a dozen villages still could not save themselves from the cold-blooded savagery on the summer noon of April 17, 1971.
Pakistani army men and armed members of local Chhatra Sangha surrounded the villagers crouching in the swamp bushes, and unleashed a bloodbath. Within five hours, they killed some 1,200 innocent people.
Azhar planned and himself took part in the massacre. He and his men also picked up more than 200 Hindu people and students from the area, and killed them after taking them to an unknown place.
The SC court upheld the ICT verdict for the offences, and also for the killing of at least 14 people in Badarganj upazila in Rangpur and murder of four Hindu teachers of Rangpur Carmichael College and wife of one teacher. Azhar was a student of the teachers and a resident of the upazila.
The SC also upheld his five-year imprisonment for torturing a freedom fighter and his brother.
The court, however, acquitted him from another charge of raping a woman in Rangpur Town Hall. The tribunal had given him 25-year jail for the charge.
Two war crimes tribunals have so far delivered 41 verdicts against 95 accused. Of them, 69 have been sentenced to death, while more than thirty appeals are now pending with the SC.
Jamaat leaders Motiur Rahman Nizami, Abdul Quader Mollah, Muhammad Kamaruzzaman, Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed, Mir Quasem Ali and BNP leader Salauddin Quader Chowdhury have been executed for war crimes.