By Abdur Razzaq
I cannot exactly recollect my first meeting with Muhammad Kamruzzaman – most probably it was in the winter of 1979, and in London. I was given the responsibility to organise the Islamic youth movement in Britain. My Bar final examination was over, and I could devote myself fully to the task of organising the youth work with full vigour and enthusiasm.
Britain’s situation in the late seventies was quite different. Vast majority of Bangladeshis were ordinary wage earners. Their children were not much encouraged to go for higher education. By the age of 17 or 18 they were almost forced to leave school and work in the garment industry. Naturally organising the youth was not an easy task.
We started the youth work with only a handful of youth: it was a humble, slow beginning. During the Christmas holidays we decided to organise a youth camp in Birmingham. Subsequently it turned out to be a milestone in the history of youth movement in Britain. Indeed it laid the foundation of Islamic youth movement among the Bangladeshi young people.
It was difficult to find good guest speakers. Quite unexpectedly we learnt about the visit to England of Kamruzzaman, the then president of Bangladesh Islami Chhatro Shibir, the Islamic Youth movement in Bangladesh. No doubt he was the best guest speaker. We were absolutely thrilled. Kamruzzaman gave an inspiring speech and freely mingled with the youth, and reciprocally the young people became happy. Looking back 36 years it appears to me today that God had taken a historic service from Kamruzzaman in laying the foundation of the Islamic youth movement in Britain.
In February 1979 Shah of Iran fell and Iran had a revolution. Only a few months before the revolution, American president Jimmy Carter during his visit to Iran said, “In a troubled world Iran is an island of peace”. Then, I had the opportunity of having a long and detailed exchange of ideas with Kamruzzaman about the revolution, its influence in the Muslim world, and the future of Islamic movement all over the world. This was for the first time I had the opportunity of getting myself acquainted with his wisdom, power of analysis and political farsight.
In the summer 1982 I went to Bangladesh on holiday. At that time he was a journalist in the daily Sangram, the official media vehicle of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami. I met him in his office. While talking with him, he noticed in my hand papers related to my application to enrol as an advocate in Bangladesh. Before I said anything to him, the talented journalist sensed that I was planning to return to Bangladesh. He was happy and encouraged me to return. In December 1985 I returned to Bangladesh permanently. Since then we became close friends.
In the beginning of 1986 I invited him to a dinner. At that time he was the publicity secretary of Jamaat and as such a central leader. He accepted my invitation unhesitatingly.. I had a long discussion with him till late into the night. That day I noticed a striking similarity of our opinions, although there were issues on which we had differed. In the mid ninetees the Awami League, the Jatiyo Party and Jamaat were jointly agitating against the BNP government. I had differed with him about the style and characteristics of that movement. The result of the 1996 parliamentary election was not at all pleasant for Jamaat. For many reasons I was very depressed and did not keep in touch with him. One day he suddenly came to my law chambers, and during our conversation, commented: “Perhaps you are annoyed with us, and not keeping in touch and kept yourself fully occupied with your profession.” I cannot remember my reply, but understood very well what an exceptionally talented person he was and that he never forgets his friend.
He was couraguous and farsighted. Following the 2001 parlaiamentary election, Jamaat participated in the government. In 2003 -04 the government was rapidly losing popularity. Kamruzzaman put forward a proposal in the Executive Committee that although Jamaat participated in the government, those of us who are not in the cabinet should protest the mistakes and wrongdoings of the government. I concurred with him. Going a step further, I gave the example of Britain where back benchers of the party in power criticise even their own government. One day I read in the papers that Kamruzzaman criticised the coalition government for its failure to maintain law and order and its inability to control inflation. This proved his courage and wisdom.
In the recent past he was worried about the future of the Islami Chhatro Shibir, the student Islamic movement of Bangladesh. In 2009 the government prevented him from attending a conference in Singapore. He was upset. I talked with him about it. He said: “I am not worried about my fate, but I am really worried about the future of Chhatro Shibir.”
The so called war crimes Tribunal was formed in March 2010. He could clearly foresee what was going to happen to Jamaat leadership. Almost all his predications proved to be correct. Every year during the supreme court summer vacation I travel to Europe and America. Towards the end of June I came to London. A few days later the Ameer of Jamaat, the Secretary General and the deputy Ameer Maulana Delwar Hussain Sayeedi were simultaneously arrested. I had the plan to travel to Germany, and a date was fixed for my visit to the German Foreign Ministry. However, because of these arrests I cancelled my visit to Germany and quickly returned to Bangladesh. An additional reason for my early return was to apply for anticipatory bail in the High Court for Kamruzzaman, and Abdul Quader Mollah, who was executed in December 2013 on false charges of crimes against humanity. Both of them attended the High Court for bail on 13th July. I represented them. Without any justifiable cause, the attorney general applied for an adjournment. Without opposing the attorney general’s adjournment application, we applied for interim bail. The senior judge agreed, but for the junior judge’s dissent bail was refused. Then we got the information that all the doors of the supreme court were shut except the main entrance. We had no difficulty sensing what was going to happen, and understood the real purpose behind the attorney general’s adjournment application. We were certain that Abdul Quader Mollah and Kamruzzaman would be arrested as soon as they get out of the supreme court premises. The question confronting us was who should be the first to get out. Before anybody said anything, Abdul Quader Mollah undauntedly said, “I am going first, Kamruzzaman after me. No room for arguing about it.” Such a couraguous and unhesitating decision of Mollah stunned me. No sooner had he crossed the supreme court main entrance than the police arrested Mollah. Next was our turn to say goodbye to Kamruzzaman. We all prayed for him, and with tears in our eyes said goodbye. Amongst many others Dr Syed Abdullah Muhammad Taher was also present. Police arrested him as soon as he crossed the the supreme court main entrance, although they should have refrained from arresting him out of respect for the rule of law. Thus 13th July was the last day in their life when both the martyers – Abdul Quader Mollah and Kamruzzaman- enjoyed their freedom and liberty..
Regarding the trial before the war crimes Tribunal he used to say, “Why are you taking so much trouble defending us? The outcome is predetermined.” His trial was before the Tribunal Number 2. After the evidence was taken it was the time for closing submissions by counsel which had two aspects: one was the interpretation of the International Criminal Law, and the other the analysis of witness statements and documentary evidence. I devoted my utmost to get the grip on the international criminal law, and thoroughly studied the oral and documentary evidence. I argued for consecutive 4 or 5 days. At one stage, the Chairman of the tribunal told me, “We are quite keen to hear your submissions on international law, but you need not have to take the trouble of analysing the oral and documentary evidences which you could have assigned to some other lawyer.” The chairman’s statement may have some merit, but I did not want to deprive myself of the historic opportunity of arguing Kamruzzaman’s case. The honourable chairman was not supposed to know my personal relationship with Kamruzzanman. We were arguing his case vigorously, and he was listening from the dock silently. When I finished my arguments, he expressed his gratitude. A few days later I received a letter he wrote from the prison in which he praised our professional expertise and expressed gratitude. I was indeed overwhelmed by his courtesy. It was unfortunate, and painful to me that I was not present in Bangladesh to defend him before the supreme court. For the past 16 months I am in exile in London.
In November of 2014 the supreme court dismissed his appeal, and efforts were under way to execute him hurriedly without exhausting all the legal formalities. About that time his eldest son, called me and said, “Uncle, my father’s fate has possibly been sealed, but if it were possible to organise international protest, like in the case of Abdul Quader Mollah, then we the members of the family would have got some consolation.” A few days later, we noticed with pleasant surprise the outpouring of protests from both sides of the Atlantic including the United Nations, asking the Bangladesh government not to execute Kamruzzaman before exhausting all the legal formalities. Consequent upon such protests the government was forced to place a moratorium on the execution. The international community continued with such protests till the last moment on the 11th April when he was finally executed. Undoubtedly, the war crime tribunal has lost all its credibility in the eyes of the international community.
War crime trials are not new. Seventy years ago, the first such trial was held in Nuremberg after the second world war. In later years trials of war crime and crimes against humanity took place, amongst others, in Tokyo, former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leon, East Timur and Lebanon. In most such cases the accused were either army personnel, or from people who held state political authority. It may be recalled that in 1971, the year in which Kamruzzaman was accused to have committed those crimes, he was only a 19 year old student. Yet the allegation against him was that he had power and authority over a highly disciplined army like that of Pakistan. It is both incredible and unprecedented. Kamruzzaman had been denied justice. Revenge seekers may have rejoiced at their victory of putting him to death, but they do not know with what words the Lord of the worlds will welcome him in the hereafter. It is said in the Quran: “When he was told, ‘enter the heaven’, he said, “would that my people knew that my Lord has forgiven me and included me among the honoured ones.”(36:26-27).
Politics is a difficult and complicated matter. Politicians need farsight. How mature Kamruzzaman’s power of political analysis was, and how farsighted he was can be gleaned from the letter he wrote from the prison in November 2010. Despite facing death sentence, he was more concerned for the nation than for his life. He was able to fathom the depth of the complicated political issues of Bangladesh and put forward proposals for coming out of the politics of conflict and revenge, and to build a political environment of peace and understanding. In that letter he emphasised strongly that that was the only way forward for the political and economic emancipation of Bangladesh. He also analysed the present existential crisis of the Jamaat and made 11 forecasts all of which proved to be correct within a period of only four years. I regret I could not fully appreciate his farsightedness during his life time.
Muhammad Kamruzzaman will never return to us. The world said good bye to him at 10-30pm Saturday 11 April 2015. He is now in the care of the Lord of the heavens. The Quran unequivocally announced: “Do not count as dead those who are killed in the path of God. They are alive and well cared for by their Lord.” (3:169)
Today I find it difficult to believe that Kamruzzaman is no longer with us; cannot believe I shall not be able to welcome him in my residence; very hard to believe he will never visit my Law Chambers. I will never hear his voice over telephone, nor will I be able to see his smiling face.
Kamruzzaman was a rare personality. From this far away country, and in the autumn of my life, I am wondering if and when another Kamruzzaman will appear in the arena of Bangladesh Islamic movement. We are praying to our Lord to accept his martyrdom. May God grant him an exalted place in the best of the heavens and fill the void he left behind.
The author is a barrister and senior advocate in the supreme court of Bangladesh and chief Defence Counsel in the Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal.