Verdict any day
The war crimes trial of BNP leader Salauddin Quader Chowdhury has come to an end at the International Crimes Tribunal-1 and all that remains is the verdict delivery.
The tribunal kept the case awaiting judgment after the prosecution and the defence finished their closing arguments yesterday.
The prosecution sought the death penalty for the 64-year-old BNP standing committee member while the defence claimed that the prosecution had failed to prove any of the 23 charges against him and appealed for his acquittal.
The prosecution had brought in 41 witnesses, including an “eyewitness” who had claimed to have seen Salauddin shoot and kill Nutan Chandra Sinha, founder of the herbal medicine brand Kundeshwari Oushadhalaya, during the 1971 Liberation War.
The defence was able to bring in four witnesses, including the accused and his cousin, in its bid to prove Salauddin was innocent and that he was not in the country during the war.
Salauddin, who has been in jail since December, 2010, had hired, fired and reappointed his counsel during the case proceedings. He eventually had a tribunal-appointed lawyer defending him but he himself played the role of a lawyer during much of the proceedings.
If convicted, Salauddin, son of Muslim League leader late Fazlul Quader Chowdhury, could even be sentenced to death.
After the three-member Tribunal-1, with Chairman Justice ATM Fazle Kabir and members Justice Jahangir Hossain Selim and Justice Anwarul Haque, kept the case waiting for judgment, Salauddin asked the court to record his gratitude towards the tribunal for the “patience and consideration” it had for him.
“Whatever be the verdict, I want my gratitude to be recorded,” he said.
Justice Selim in response said, “We have given you as much opportunity as the law permits.”
The prosecution ended their four-day-long closing arguments on July 31. The defence then began its arguments and continued until around noon yesterday. The prosecution then responded to the defence arguments after which the judges put an end to the trial.
During the closing arguments yesterday, prosecutor Sultan Mahmud Simon pointed out “discrepancies” in the testimonies of defence witnesses.
Salauddin in his testimony said he had left the country for Karachi on March 29, 1971, and had returned to Bangladesh on April 28, 1974. Simon said during the war it only took six hours to fly to Bangladesh from Pakistan and it was possible for Salauddin to make frequent journeys.
Mentioning two books placed as evidence before the tribunal by the defence, Simon said one of those books had even listed Salauddin and his father as war criminals while the other mentions Salauddin in Bangladesh during the Liberation War.
Prosecutor Tureen Afroz said Salauddin had mercilessly killed, tortured, abducted and kept confined innocent people, including women, children and the elderly. He exhibited dreadful zeal and sadism, violent and cruel nature against the victims, she said.
On the defence's closing arguments, she said instead of attacking the prosecution's arguments, defence counsel Ahsanul Huq Hena had mostly propagated his “personal philosophy” and “personal knowledge”.
“It had not helped the defence of Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury in any meaningful way,” said Tureen.
She said the defence in its lengthy argument had failed to make any systematic submission to cast doubt upon the charges; rather they delivered a series of “unnecessary, irrelevant and boring anecdotes”.
She said most of the prosecution witnesses were victims of Salauddin's war crimes. She criticised Hena for calling the witnesses “a bunch of beggars and vagabonds”.
Earlier in the day, the defence questioned whether the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973, had a retrospective effect. The tribunal, which was constituted under the very act, did not entertain the defence petition.
On December 16, 2010, law enforcers had arrested Salauddin at Banani in the capital in connection with the torching of a car at Moghbazar on June 26 that year.
Later, he was shown arrested for his alleged involvement in crimes against humanity during the Liberation War, following an arrest warrant issued by a tribunal on December 19, 2010.
He was indicted on April 4, 2012, on 23 charges.
The charges include murdering around 200 civilians; collaborating with the Pakistani occupation army to kill and torture unarmed people, looting of valuables and torching of houses and other properties; persecuting people on religious and political grounds; and committing genocide.
The two tribunals, dealing with war crimes cases, have already delivered verdicts in six cases.
The Tribunal-2 had awarded war crimes convicts Kamaruzzaman, Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed and Abul Kalam Azad the death penalty and life imprisonment to Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Mollah. The Tribunal-1 handed down Jamaat leader Delawar Hossain Sayedee the capital punishment and the party's former chief Ghulam Azam 90 years' imprisonment.
Six other people are also facing trial at the two tribunals for allegedly committing crimes against humanity during the war.
Meanwhile, Tribunal-1 yesterday decided to begin the trial of fugitive war crimes accused BNP leader MA Zahid Hossain Khokon, also known as Khokon Razakar of Faridpur.