IHRC is disappointed but not surprised by the decision today by Bangladesh’s Supreme Court to uphold the conviction of the leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami for crimes against humanity during the country’s liberation war against Pakistan in 1971.
Motiur Rahman Nizami, aged 72, was convicted last October on four charges of war crimes during the 1971 liberation war. He had already been convicted of smuggling arms to Assamese insurgents and sentenced to death in January last year.
He is expected to be executed in the coming months unless he requests a review of the Supreme Court verdict, or is granted clemency by the president – which is unlikely.
Mr Nizami, who served as a highly respected member of parliament between 1991-1996, had denied the charges saying that they were politically motivated. Nizami became the second opposition leader to be sentenced to death in what international human rights groups have universally condemned as a witchhunt by the ruling Awami League against its political rivals.
Mr Nizami’s trial, like the others that preceded it, was beset with controversy relating to the admission of hearsay evidence, inconsistency of prosecution witnesses, failure to allow cross-examination of prosecution witnesses, and draconian limits placed on the number of witnesses – the defence could present in court while no limits applied to the prosecution.
Evidence corroborating Mr Nizami’s assertion that he was not present at the location of some of the crimes of which he is accused was discounted by the judges. During his trial prosecution witnesses gave widely differing accounts of Mr Nizami’s whereabouts and some even categorically recall Mr Nizami not being present at the site of the atrocities.
There is also evidence to show that prosecution witnesses were pressurised by the government and tutored by the prosecution and compelled to be a witness against the Appellant. Mr Nizami’s counsels have also been subject to harassment and intimidation by officials.
Human rights organisations and opposition groups have condemned the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) set up in 2010 by the ruling Awami League to investigate atrocities carried out during the 1971 war for failing to meet international standards of justice. They have accused the ruling Awami League of using the ICT as a tool with which to weaken its political opponents. Almost the entire leadership of the Jamaat-e-Islami currently stands accused of war crimes.
The ICT has been beset with allegations of irregularities. Mr Nizami and his supporters have accused judges and the prosecution of conspiring with each other to secure a conviction through secret liaisons, and failing to allow the defence enough time to prepare its case. They have also accused the Awami League of systematically undermining the independence of the country’s judiciary since it came to power in 2008, packing the upper courts with judges who are its supporters.
In November 2015 Jamaat-e-Islaami Secretary General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid was hanged along with BNP leader Salauddin Quader Chowdhury for war crimes. Another former leader of the popular Jamaat-e-Islami party, Abdul Kader Mullah was hanged in December 2013 after also being found guilty of war crimes.
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