The International Crimes Tribunal-1 yesterday found five Patuakhali men guilty of committing crimes against humanity during the Liberation War in 1971 and sentenced them to death.
The five, who were members of notorious Razakar force, were given the punishment for participating and assisting the Pakistan army in the killing of 17 people, rape of 15 women and torture of several others in Itbaria village of Patuakhali Sadar upazila in May of 1971.
“The accused persons in exercise of their affiliation with the locally formed Razakar Bahini deliberately collaborated with the Pakistani occupation army in accomplishing the monstrous crimes as arraigned in both the charges framed,” the tribunal said.
The convicts are Esahaq Shikder, 83, Abdul Goni Hawlader, 72, Md Awal alias Awal Moulavi, 69, Abdus Sattar Pyada, 65, and Solaiman Mridha, 86. All of them hailed from Patuakhali Sadar and are behind bars.
Tribunal Chairman Justice Md Shahinur Islam and members Justice Amir Hossain and Justice Md Abu Ahmed Jamadar read the summary of 159-page judgement in presence of the convicts and their family members, the prosecution and the defence.
All the convicts were involved with Convention Muslim League, an anti-liberation political party, and joined locally formed Razakar Bahini, an auxiliary force of the Pakistan army, to commit the crimes.
“The accused persons not only simply accompanied the gang but they actively participated, by act of assistance, substantial contribution and facilitation forming part of systematic attack to the commission of devastating activities, abducting numerous women and killing a large number of civilians,” the judgement reads.
Zead Al Malum, conducting prosecutor of the case, expressed satisfaction over the verdict saying, “We have got justice.”
Bangladesh Chhatra League brought out a procession in Patuakhali welcoming the verdict and held a rally attended by several ruling Awami League leaders.
Defence counsels Abdus Sattar Palwan and Abdus Salam Khan said their clients would appeal to the Supreme Court.
According to the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973, a war crimes convict can file an appeal with the SC within 30 days from the date of the verdict's pronouncement.
With the latest verdict, the war crimes tribunals have so far delivered 34 judgements against 78 people. Fifty-two of them have been sentenced to death.
According to the first charge, the five along with a group of Pakistan army personnel attacked Itbaria village on May 4, 1971 and looted some 15 houses, tortured about 20-25 people, injured about 10-15 others and killed 17 civilians.
“It has been found proved that the gang formed of the Pakistani occupation army and Razakars including the accused persons deliberately and in a planned way conducted the killing of numerous civilians of village Itbaria on discriminatory ground,” the tribunal said.
“The attack continued for hours together and in presence of relatives of victims,” the tribunal said and handed down death penalties for the offence.
According to the second charge, the accused along with the Pakistan army men abducted 15 women from the village the same day and took them to a joint camp of Razakars and the Pakistan army set up at Patuakhali Circuit House.
The accused, their accomplice Razakars and the army men tortured and raped them in turn for 10 days and released them when they became sick.
The tribunal said the accused, despite being Bangalees, consciously opted to facilitate the victims' confinement.
“They [accused] by their act consciously participated in perpetrating the gravely shocking crimes upon the defenceless women at the army camp which was in fact a rape camp,” it added.
The victims of recurrent rape in captivity have been carrying the trauma they sustained like “a bullet for the rest of their lives” and the stigma of such grave sexual invasion destroyed their families, the tribunal observed.
“The perpetrators used the act of rape as a weapon which was more powerful than a bullet. Rape is thus a living death,” the special court said.
The tribunal clearly affirms that crimes committed towards the women “are more serious even than the offence of mass killing” and are “exceptionally shocking to the human conscience”.
It handed down death penalty for this offence too. However, the sentence for two charges would naturally be merged, the tribunal added.
The tribunal said these women, including the six who testified, are a few of hundreds of thousands of women who had sacrificed their supreme honour for the cause of independence.
“The rest of their lives must be allowed to go on with utmost honour. In fact, they fought by laying their highest self-worth, for the cause of our independence. It is time to unlock the collective voice to recognise and honour our great mothers and sisters, the war heroines,” it observed.