Amendment to law waits for months
The process to try Jamaat-e-Islami for its alleged crimes committed during the Liberation War in 1971 remains halted for months as the government has yet to take steps to amend the war crimes law.
Investigation into the anti-Liberation organisation's role in 1971 completed a year ago and the law minister, on several occasions, said the government would amend the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973 to pave the way to try Jamaat.
Trial of an organisation is not possible under the existing law, which does not specify punishment in case the organisation is found guilty of crimes.
But, no visible steps were seen as of now to amend the law that forced the prosecution to stop their work from filing a case against Jamaat, frustrating the justice-seekers and campaigners for the war crimes trial.
The Daily Star could not contact Law Minister Anisul Huq or Law Secretary ASSM Zahirul Haque Dulal as both were abroad.
Founded by highly controversial Abul Ala Moududi in 1941, Jamaat was banned twice during the Pakistani era in 1959 and 1964 for its communal role. It got banned again just after independence in 1971 but was allowed to return to politics after the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975.
Two special tribunals set up to deal with wartime offences in several verdicts put the spotlight on Jamaat's role in 1971 and termed it a “criminal organisation”. Jamaat never repented of its role in 1971.
Justice-seekers and war crimes victims and their families have long been demanding the trial of Jamaat as a party. Their demand received fresh vigour after February 5, 2013 when youths occupied the Shahbagh intersection in the capital demanding highest punishment for war criminals and a ban on Jamaat and pro-Jamaat student body Islami Chhatra Shibir.
Following the unprecedented movement, the government in February 2013 amended the ICT Act and an investigation agency in August the same year launched a probe into the war crimes allegedly committed by Jamaat.
The agency handed over the probe report to the prosecution in March last year with a recommendation to ban Jamaat and six other organisations, which were associated with the party in 1971, as it found involvement of these anti-liberation bodies in grievous crimes committed during the war.
After receiving the probe report and other documents, a seven-member prosecution team started working to prepare formal charges for initiating trial.
But 15 months after the latest amendment, the law minster in May last year said the amended war crimes act was not enough to try and punish any political party, as there was no provision in the amended law to punish a guilty organisation.
On several occasions later, he said the government would amend the law to make it eligible and on December 23 last year he said a proposal to bring necessary changes would be placed before the cabinet in January next, but to no avail.
On the deadlock, prosecutor Tureen Afroz, who led the prosecution team to prepare the case, said, “It is disappointing.
“We had proceeded with the work. A lot of time and energy has been invested. But we had to drop the process at the final stage as we, through media, heard that the government was going to amend the act,” she told The Daily Star.
“We [the prosecution] have nothing to do in amending law but to wait for the changes [in the act],” she added.
Sanaul Huq, a senior member of the investigation agency, said, “We think legal complicity should be removed quickly.”
Kazi Mukul, general secretary of Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee, which is campaigning for the war crimes trial for two decades, said: “We are aggrieved over this unnecessary delay.
“We don't understand the reason behind the delay. There is a lot of rumour [about the delay]… However, we are hopeful that the government would amend the law quickly and Jamaat would be tried,” he added.