The International Crimes Tribunal-1 is set to deliver the long-awaited verdict in the war crimes cases against Jamaat-e-Islami chief Motiur Rahman Nizami today, more than four months after the deferment of the judgment in June.
The alleged chief of the infamous Al-Badr force is facing 16 charges, including his role in eliminating the Bangalee intelligentsia just before Bangladesh's victory on December 16 in the 1971 Liberation War.
To ward off violence centring the pronouncement of the verdict, authorities yesterday deployed paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) at different parts of the country including the capital.
The judgment is going to be delivered nearly a year after the completion of the trial proceedings, which went through different hurdles, including tribunal reconstitution, rehearing of closing arguments and deferment of the verdict.
The prosecution sought capital punishment for Nizami claiming that they had been able to prove 15 out of 16 charges. The defence, however, termed the case “politically motivated" and appealed for Nizami's acquittal, saying the prosecution couldn't prove any charge.
If convicted, the 71-year-old might have to walk the gallows. However, Nizami, Jamaat Ameer since November 2000, has already been given death penalty in the sensational 10-truck arms haul case in January this year.
Nizami played a key role in forming the four-party alliance ahead of the 2001 election and led his party, which fought tooth and nail against the birth of Bangladesh, to taste state power along with their key ally the BNP. Nizami and Jamaat's second man Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed, who was convicted in war crimes last year, became members of Khaleda Zia's cabinet, amid protests from the country's pro-liberation minds.
Five top Jamaat leaders have already been punished for their 1971 crimes and three other top leaders are being tried in two war crimes tribunals.
Having assumed the power with a landslide victory in 2009, the Awami League-led government formed the International Crimes Tribunal in 2010 to bring the perpetrators of 1971 to book. Later another tribunal was constituted for speedy handling of wartime offences. The tribunals so far have delivered nine judgments and five more cases are awaiting verdicts.
Fixing the date of verdict at 11:03 yesterday, Justice M Enayetur Rahim, the chairman of the ICT-1, directed the jail authorities to produce Nizami before the court by 10:30am today [Wednesday] “positively”.
The word “positively” reminds the incident of June 24, when the all-set tribunal had been compelled to defer Nizami's verdict as the jail authority didn't produce the accused citing his “sickness” on the day, frustrating thousands of justice seekers.
Following the order, Nizami was shifted from Kashimpur jail to Dhaka Central Jail around 8:00pm. There, jail doctors conducted a health check-up and found him sound, Farman Ali, senior jail super of Dhaka jail, told The Daily Star last night.
Nizami, president of the then Jamaat-e-Islami student wing Islami Chhatra Sangha that turned into Pakistan army's auxiliary force Al-Badr during the Liberation War, was arrested on June 29, 2010, in a criminal case and later shown arrest in war crimes cases.
The ICT-1 framed 16 charges against Nizami on May 28, 2012. According to the charges, Nizami had conspired with the Pakistani army, planned and incited crimes; was complicit in murders, rapes, looting and destruction of property; and was responsible for commissioning of internationally recognised wartime crimes in 1971.
But, it took around one and a half years for the completion of the trial, thanks to the lack of preparation of the prosecution and a range of dilatory tactics of the defence.
The tribunal first kept the case awaiting verdict on November 13 last year. But the proceeding faced further delay when tribunal's chairman Justice ATM Fazle Kabir went on retirement without delivering the judgment. His successor reheard the closing arguments and kept the verdict waiting again on March 24.
The tribunal could not deliver verdict on June 24 due to Nizami's sudden “illness” forcing the court to keep it waiting again.
Meanwhile, to prevent any untoward situation centring on the verdict, the government yesterday deployed BGB personnel across the country.
The paramilitary troops were deployed at 7:00pm, a BGB official told The Daily Star.
Earlier in the afternoon, State Minister for Home Asaduzzaman Khan told reporters at the secretariat that the government would resist any anarchy attempt “at any cost”.
WITNESSES IN FEAR
Prosecution witnesses from Santhia upazila of Pabna were concerned about their security centring on the Nizami verdict, reports our Pabna correspondent.
“We are now worried about the safety of our family as Jamaat men will try to take revenge if the verdict goes against Nizami,” said freedom fighter Johurul Haque, one of the eight prosecution witnesses from Santhia.
Local police, however, claimed they have taken "adequate" steps to ensure safety of the witnesses.
"We have taken security measures across the upazila ahead of the verdict. We have also ensured special security arrangement for the witnesses. Mobile teams have been deployed around the residences of the witnesses,” said Sahed Mahmud, officer-in-charge of Santhia Police Station.
Unlike the other verdict days, Jamaat yesterday didn't call hartal for today. However, the party is likely to announce protest programmes including countrywide daylong hartal for Sunday, and instant processions and rallies at different parts of the country if the verdict goes against them.
Talking to The Daily Star, Jamaat leaders of Pabna and Dinajpur yesterday said they had taken preparations to wage instant protests following the announcement of the verdict.
Jamaat high-ups held an emergency meeting yesterday evening to layout their action plan following the Nizami verdict, party insiders said. However, they disclosed neither the decisions taken there nor the venue of the meeting.