Forty-two years after liberation, a panel of judges yesterday sentenced Ghulam Azam to 90 years in prison for masterminding crimes against humanity, genocide and other wartime offences in 1971.
The former Jamaat chief, now 91, was found guilty on all five charges the prosecution stacked against him, according to the verdict by International Crimes Tribunal-1.
The man -- 49 years old in 1971 -- was complicit with the perpetrators in planning, conspiracy and incitement which resulted in massive atrocities during the nation's struggle for freedom from Pakistan.
“We are convinced in holding that accused Prof Ghulam Azam was the pivot of crimes and all the atrocities revolved around him during the War of Liberation,” the three judges said in the long-awaited verdict.
The judges said Ghulam Azam deserved the gallows but he was given prison terms due to his old age. But the jail term, seen as too lenient for Ghulam Azam, the symbol of war crimes, frustrated many justice seekers.
Wearing a white punjabi, white sandals, white Islamic prayer cap and a blue and white chequered lungi, Ghulam Azam sat through the three hours the tribunal took to read out the summary of the 243-page judgment.
The three judges read out three parts of a 75-page summary beginning at 11:45am in an overcrowded courtroom.
The tribunal said Azam had committed the crimes through his party Jamaat-e-Islami and its wings.
"From the facts of common knowledge, we hold that any order or direction given by a religious leader like accused Ghulam Azam was always considered more powerful than that of an army general,” the judges said.
"Having considered the attending facts, legal position and the gravity and magnitude of the offences committed by the accused, we unanimously hold that he deserves the highest punishment, i.e. capital punishment,” the judges said.
His age and heath condition were “extenuating circumstances” for the lenient view in punishing him, said Tribunal-1 Chairman Justice ATM Fazle Kabir, and member judges Justice Jahangir Hossain Selim and Justice Anwarul Haque.
The judges then pronounced their unanimous decision of giving him imprisonment in different terms on different charges.
The tribunal awarded him 10 years' imprisonment each for conspiring and planning to commit crimes against humanity and genocide. It gave him 20 years each for incitement to and complicity in committing crimes against humanity, genocide and other war crimes. It also sentenced him to 30 years for torture and the killing of police officer Shiru Mia and three others.
"The period of the aforesaid sentences awarded to the accused shall run consecutively or till his death," the judges ordered.
The prosecution as well as the defence expressed dissatisfaction over the verdict and said they would appeal with the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. According to the law, both sides would get 30 days from the delivery of the judgment to file an appeal.
The prosecution had expected capital punishment for Ghulam Azam while the defence wanted his exemption from all charges.
Ghulam Azam was ameer (chief) of East Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami during the Liberation War in 1971. He also became ameer of Bangladesh Jamaat in 1991. He left the party's top post in 2000, through handing over charge of the party to war crimes accused Motiur Rahman Nizami.
In the nine-month war of independence, Ghulam Azam and his party played an active role in trying to prevent the birth of Bangladesh and collaborated with the Pakistan army in the killing of 3 million Bangalees and the rape of more than a quarter million women.
With yesterday's verdict over, Ghulam Azam was sent back to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University where he has been taking treatment since his arrest in January, 2012.
Before the delivery of the judgment commenced, Justice Fazle Kabir said Ghulam Azam's case was an exception among other war crimes cases, as he had been accused of superior responsibility.
“Ghulam Azam, as civilian superior, masterminded all the atrocities committed on the soil of Bangladesh through his subordinates in 1971.”
The accused was the head of East Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami but that position did not give him the licence to form militia forces with intent to attack unarmed civilians, the verdict said.
"Accused Prof Ghulam Azam as a de facto superior acted in such a manner which tends us to hold that his prime object was to annihilate the Bangalee nation in the name of protecting Pakistan,” the judges said.
Ghulam Azam had failed to prevent his subordinates from committing atrocities which substantially aided and contributed to crimes against humanity, genocide and other crimes in 1971.
“It is also undeniable that the accused was the most influential member of the Central Peace Committee, which was formed with intent to resist the independence of the country,” the judgment said.
Citing a 1971 news report, the verdict said Ghulam Azam had his party men join the Razakar force and Peace Committees to fight pro-liberation people.
"It is found on evidence that paramilitia Bahinis [forces] were mostly formed by his subordinates and as such their superior-subordinate relationship was duly established."
The tribunal explained how the superior responsibility of Ghulam Azam was proved against the defence argument that he held no such status and that he had no command over the Pakistani army and its auxiliary forces during the Liberation War.
Justice Kabir said, “A civilian superior need not to be the official superior of the perpetrators; rather a de facto command over the perpetrators is enough to hold someone responsible.”
“The then ameer of the Jamaat-e-Islami is a superior officer in its true sense for the persons with whom he had a superior subordinate relationship,” said the tribunal.
ALL CHARGES PROVED
The prosecution relied upon documentary evidence to prove the first two of the five charges.
The charge of conspiracy to commit crimes against humanity was based on six incidents while the second charge -- planning to commit crimes against humanity -- was based on three incidents.
The judgment read: Defence witness Abdullahil Aman Azmi during cross-examination admitted that his father went out of their house on March 26, 1971, in a car and witnessed evidence of the massacre and destruction in Dhaka carried out by the Pakistan army the previous night.
Despite that, Ghulam Azam along with like-minded leaders met the then governor of East Pakistan, Lt Gen Tikka Khan, as part of a conspiracy and to plan crimes against humanity and genocide with the help of collaborators.
The verdict said the circumstantial evidence led the court to believe that the accused was guilty of the crime of conspiracy and planning, which resulted in his subordinate paramilitia forces carrying out crimes against humanity and genocide on a large scale.
The third charge was on inciting crimes against humanity and genocide during the Liberation War and was based on 28 incidents. The prosecution again relied on documentary evidence to prove the charge.
Quoting a report of the Daily Ittefaq on December 2, 1971, the judgment said Ghulam Azam termed freedom fighters the enemy force. He said the Razakars (auxiliary force of the Pakistani army) were enough to stop the so-called freedom fighters. He had asked the then military government of Pakistan to increase the number of Razakars.
The tribunal said the above statement amounted to a clear incitement to commit crimes against humanity and genocide during the Liberation War.
The fourth charge was on Ghulam Azam's complicity in war crimes committed during the Liberation War.
As per documentary evidence, the convict intentionally praised the role of the Pakistan army and its collaborators and urged the government to supply modern weapons to them.
The judgement said Ghulam Azam had effective control over the auxiliary forces and the prosecution submitted a lot of evidence on atrocities committed by the Pakistan army and its auxiliary forces across the country.
The fifth charge was brought against Ghulam Azam for the murder of Sub-Inspector Siru Miah, his son and two other civilians on November 21, 1971, the night of Eid-ul-Fitr.
The prosecution produced eight witnesses to prove the charge. The tribunal said the 11th prosecution witness, who was also apprehended with Siru Miah by the Razakars and was present until the killing, supported the allegation brought against Ghulam Azam.
Narrating the whole incident, the judgement said Ghulam Azam as the ameer of Jamaat-e-Islami could have saved their lives by directing his subordinate Peyara Miah, who was a leader of Brahmanbaria Peace Committee. The court said Ghulam Azam did not save them intentionally.
It was not the first time Ghulam Azam had been tried and convicted for his crimes committed during the Liberation War.
He was tried for his crimes 21 years ago in the symbolic and unprecedented people's court where a few lakh people tried him in absentia. The Gono Adalat (People's Court) had at the time sentenced him to death.