Defended only by his son
The International Crimes Tribunal-1 began dealing with Ghulam Azam's case in December, 2011, but returned the charges to the prosecution as there were a number of flaws in the submitted charges.
The prosecution in the first week of January, 2012, submitted again 62 charges against him before Tribunal-1.
After submission of the charges, arresting Ghulam Azam turned out to be a big challenge for the government and law enforcers because there were widespread speculations of retaliation by Jamaat-e-Islami and Shibir cadres.
Ending all speculations, Ghulam Azam was sent to prison on a tribunal order when his lawyers brought him before the court on January 11, 2012, for his appearance.
Though the prosecution submitted 62 charges on January 5, 2012, the tribunal on May 13, 2012, indicted him on five charges of crimes against humanity based on 61 criminal incidents.
His crimes include murder and torture of unarmed people, conspiracy, planning, incitement and complicity to commit genocide and crimes against humanity during the 1971 Liberation War.
As many as 16 prosecution witnesses including seven “seizure-list” witnesses and the investigation officer testified against Ghulam Azam, while only the convict's son defended his father.
The first prosecution witness was produced before the tribunal on July 1, 2012. The investigation officer, also the last prosecution witness, began deposition on October 7, 2012, and the defence completed cross-examining him on November 4.
The tribunal fixed 12 witnesses to defend Azam, but the defence could produce only one of them before the court.
The lone defence witness, Azam's son Brig Gen (dismissed) Abdullahil Amaan Azmi began testifying in favour of his father on November 12, 2012.
The proceedings of the case apparently came to a halt after December 6, 2012, when the hacking of the then Tribunal-1 chairman Justice Nizamul Huq's Skype and email accounts came to light and his alleged conversation with an overseas legal expert was published by a Bangla daily.
Amid controversy, Justice Huq quit and the tribunal was reconstituted with Justice ATM Fazle Kabir at the helm.
After December 6, 2012, absence of the defence counsels and a torrent of petitions did not let the Tribunal-1 make much headway.
The defence filed a retrial petition and after extensive hearing the tribunal rejected the prayer on January 3 this year.
Recording the deposition of Azmi resumed on January 8. He gave deposition for 10 days and was cross-examined for six more days. The prosecution completed cross-examining the defence witness on February 11.
In the wake of continuous failure of the defence in producing their witnesses, the tribunal on February 14 closed taking testimony of further defence witnesses.
Prosecution and defence took two months to complete closing arguments that began on February 17.
Three months ago, on April 17 this year, International Crimes Tribunal-1 closed the war crimes case for verdict after the prosecution and the defence wrapped up their closing arguments.
The first phase in Ghulam Azam's trial was reached when the International Crimes Tribunal-1 jailed him for 90 years in total yesterday. Although he was found guilty of crimes that deserved capital punishment, the tribunal said it had given him jail terms considering his old age.
Now the challenge is to complete the second and final stage at the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court as there is a provision of appeal against the verdict by both prosecution and defence.
Many expressed their anger and frustration after the verdict was announced in Ghulam Azam's case yesterday. The verdict was the culmination of a longstanding struggle for justice since the birth of the country 42 years ago.
The trial of war criminals was an age-old demand, in which Ghulam Azam stood as the symbol of all war crimes committed in Bangladesh in 1971. Every time the movement for trying the war criminals gained momentum, he had always remained at the centre of it.