Death for death designer
He did whatever he could to stop the nation's birth. He led a ruthless militia to massacre unarmed civilians during the 1971 Liberation War.
Motiur Rahman Nizami didn't stop there. Towards the end of the war, he, aided by the Pakistan army, unleashed his force, Al-Badr Bahini, to wipe out the brightest sons and daughters of the soil to cripple the soon-to-be independent Bangladesh.
The Jamaat-e-Islami ameer, now 71, never repented for the cold-blooded savagery. Instead of being punished for the heinous crimes, he was rehabilitated after 1975. Nizami gained immense political clout and went on to become a minister during the BNP-led government's tenure from 2001 to 2006.
Forty-three years later, justice caught up with him as a special tribunal yesterday sentenced him to hang for the crimes. The tribunal found him to have exercised superior responsibility over his subordinates.
“No punishment other than death will be equal to the horrendous crimes for which the accused has been found guilty beyond reasonable doubt," Justice M Enayetur Rahim, chairman of International Crimes Tribunal-1, said in the judgment.
“It is well-proved that the accused being the chief of Islami Chhatra Sangha and Al-Badr Bahini whole-heartedly resisted the War of Liberation and also actively participated in the crimes against humanity in 1971.
"Justice is to make it sure that the perpetrators have to pay for what they have done. Considering the extreme gravity of offences committed, it is indeed indispensable to deliver justice to the relatives of brutally murdered intellectuals, professionals and unarmed civilians,” said the judge.
Nizami was found guilty on eight of the 16 charges brought against him.
Four charges brought him death: he was involved in the killings of intellectuals, murders of 450 civilians and rape in Bausgari and Demra, killings of 52 people in Dhulaura, killings of 10 people and rape of three women in Karamja.
Nizami was also sentenced to imprisonment for life on the charges of involvement in the killing of Kasim Uddin, and two others, and Sohrab Ali in Pabna, torture and killing at Mohammadpur Physical Training Centre and
killing of freedom fighters Rumi, Bodi, Jewel and Azad at Old MP Hostel in Dhaka.
Rumi is son of Shaheed Janani Jahanara Imam who initiated the movement for war crimes trial in independent Bangladesh. He and his fellow freedom fighters Jewel, Azad, Bodi and Jalal were picked up from different places in Dhaka in August 1971.
Pakistan army kept them confined to the Old MP Hostel. Except for Jalal, others were later killed on Nizami's instructions.
The tribunal, however, acquitted Nizami of the other eight charges, as the prosecution failed to prove his involvement in genocide, killing and incitement.
"We are of the unanimous view that there would be failure of justice in case capital punishment is not awarded for all the murders forming large scale killing as listed in the four charges as the same indubitably trembles the collective conscience of mankind,” the chief of the three-member tribunal said, pronouncing the verdict in a packed courtroom.
With the execution of the death penalty, other sentences will also merge into it.
Nizami, who already got a death sentence in the 10-truck arms haul case, was brought to the court premises in a prison van around 9:15am. He was produced before the tribunal at 11:00am.
Wearing white Panjabi-paijama, a grey waistcoat and a Jinnah cap, Nizami remained calm throughout the one-and-a-half-hour court proceedings.
Minutes after getting in the dock, he took off his tupi, kept it on a tray attached to the dock and sat on a chair with his hands crossed on his chest.
At the beginning, he was seen mumbling. Later, he sat through the court proceedings -- quiet. Most of the time, he kept his eyes closed, leaning back in the chair. He, however, opened his eyes a few times, rubbed his nose and touched his beard.
Justice Enayetur made introductory remarks before reading out the summary of the 204-page judgment at 11:05am. Tribunal members Justice Jahangir Hossain and Justice Anwarul Haque read out parts of the summary verdict amid tight security on and around the court premises.
Nizami, who became Jamaat ameer in November 2000, was arrested on June 29, 2010 in a lawsuit for hurting religious sentiments. Later, he was shown arrested in a war crimes case. He was given death penalty in the sensational 10-truck arms haul case in January this year.
So far, six top Jamaat leaders, including Nizami, have been sentenced for committing crimes in 1971. Three other top Jamaat leaders are being tried in war crimes tribunals set up in 2010 during the tenure of the Awami League-led government.
NIZAMI CONTROLLED AL-BADR
As president of Jamaat's then student wing Islami Chhatra Sangha (ICS), Nizami was ex-officio chief of Al-Badr Bahini in 1971 and “a civil superior officer in its true sense”, said the tribunal.
Being the chief of both the ICS (from 1966 to at least September 30, 1971) and Al-Badr, he had a superior-subordinate relationship with Al-Badr members.
"It has been proved by both documentary and oral evidence that Al-Badr Bahini was formed by the members of ICS over which the accused [Nizami] had exclusive control but he did not prevent his subordinates from committing atrocities and crimes against humanity during the Liberation War, 1971," it said.
"...as such, he was aware of consequence of his act and conduct that substantially encouraged, endorsed, approved, provided moral support to the Al-Badr men in committing the killing of intellectuals," the tribunal said.
Nizami's authoritative position in Al-Badr, both as de jure and de facto, is a clear indication that he had “effective control” over the members of Al-Badr, “the action section” of Jamaat.
And thus he cannot be relieved from the responsibility of planned crimes committed by Al-Badr men with whom he had a relationship, said the tribunal chairman.
Al-Badr was formed in Jamalpur immediately after the Pakistani army had entered the sub-division on April 22, 1971.
Towards the end of the war, Al-Badr members picked up noted intellectuals and professionals, who were considered the nation's conscience, from across Dhaka, and killed them. Their bodies were dumped at different places in Rayer Bazar and Mirpur.
As a leader, Nizami not only took part in crimes against humanity but also delivered provocative speeches to incite thousands of his followers to commit similar crimes during the Liberation War.
Though the tribunal didn't find him guilty of incitement, it took his speeches as an aggravating factor in adjudicating punishment.
On the defence's allegations that Nizami was being tried for political reasons, the court said, “We have no hesitation to hold that instant trial of the accused is not being held for political purpose. Rather 'the nation' has been discharging their unfinished task and obligation to millions of martyrs who sacrificed their lives for the Independence of Bangladesh.”
The verdict was greeted with cheers by Liberation War veterans outside the court and also by the youths who gathered at Shahbagh under the banner of Gonojagoron Mancha.
It took about 29 months to complete the proceedings in the war crimes case against Nizami.
His defence lawyers denounced the verdict, and said they would appeal against it.
"It is the most 'unhappy judgment'. It will not stand at the Appellate Division," said defence counsel Tajul Islam.
Following the pronouncement of the verdict, Jamaat-Shibir activists clashed with Awami League men and police in several districts, including Sylhet, Chapainawabganj and Rajshahi.
Expressing satisfaction, Law Minister Anisul Huq said the government would take necessary legal steps to have the appeal hearing completed quickly.
"I am satisfied with the verdict, and the government is also pleased with it," the minister told reporters at his Gulshan residence in the capital.
According to the law, a war crimes convict can file appeal with the Supreme Court within 30 days from the date of the verdict's pronouncement.
Nizami was taken to Dhaka Central Jail from the tribunal. He was later shifted to Kashimpur High Security Jail around 9:30pm.