By Abdullah Mahmood
Mr. Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid, Secretary General of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami (BJI) and former minister of the government of Bangladesh, was sentenced to death by the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) in Bangladesh on 17 July 2013 on alleged charges of crimes against humanity during the Bangladesh liberation war of 1971. He has also been accused of heading the auxiliary force, Al-Badr. A total of seven charges were brought against him by the prosecution team, of which Mr. Mujahid was acquitted of two. He was, however, given the death penalty on three charges, and the life sentence and a five-year jail term for the remaining two charges.
Unlike other such special courts as those in Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Cambodia, etc., Bangladesh’s ICT is not endorsed by the United Nations. Human Rights Watch, International Bar Association and other international bodies have said that its procedures fall short of international standards. Independent observers opine that the current government is using the tribunal as a tool of repression against the opposition BJI and its political ally, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
In his immediate reaction to the verdict at the court, Mr. Mujahid denied all accusations against him and boldly declared that he is 100% innocent and a victim of 100% injustice. Citing Qur’anic verse (85: 8), he further added that his only ‘crimes’ are his belief in Allah and his involvement in the Islamic movement.
In what follows, we take a closer look at the three charges (charges 1, 6 and 7) on account of which he was sentenced the death penalty in light of the evidences put forward by the prosecution team:
Charge-1 indicts Mr. Mujahid for abducting and killing martyred journalist Mr. Serajuddin Hossain in 1971 even though he was only a first year student of Dhaka University at that time. It is alleged that on the night of 10 Dec 1971, several monkey-cap clad civilian youths arrived at the residence of Mr. Serajuddin Hossain, the then executive editor of daily Ittefaq, and led him away. Mr. Hossain has never been heard of or seen ever since. The prosecution claims that few months earlier Mr. Hossain wrote an article in the daily Ittefaq supporting the liberation war and the freedom fighters. Few days later, a counter piece was written by certain Al Mujahidee in the daily Sangram, where the writer counter-argued in favor of a united Pakistan. The prosecution connected the said article to Mr. Serajuddin’s disappearance and argued that the author Al Mujahidee is Mr. Mujahid (although no evidence was provided) and accused him of killing Mr. Hossain.
Interestingly, however, the Ittefaq article under question was authored by a staff reporter; and anyone familiar with newspaper editorial policy knows well that an executive editor would never publish an article under the guise of a staff reporter. The prosecution witness of this charge was the eldest son of the deceased (Mr. Shaheen Reza Noor, 58), who categorically admitted to not knowing who wrote the counter article in the Daily Sangram. Thus, the prosecutor’s claim about the write-up of Mr. Hossain does not stand under close scrutiny; which in itself is the only alleged link connecting Mr. Mujahid to the death of the intellectual Mr. Hossain. Moreover, Mr. Hossain’s family had lodged a murder case in 1972. Certain Khalil confessed to the court about his involvement in the killing and was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Mr. Shaheen Reza Noor further added in the court that, since independence, he and his family members have written numerous articles describing the missing incident of his father. But they have never mentioned Mr. Mujahid as the perpetrator or the mastermind of Mr. Hossain’s death in any of them.
Charge-6 is about Mr. Mujahid’s supposed involvement in the murder of intellectuals at Physical Training Institute (PTI) in Dhaka’s Mohammadpur, which was an army camp during the war. The only evidence put forward by the prosecution team is the statement from one 58-year old Rustam Ali who himself did not make any claims about the murder of intellectuals. He just narrated in the dock that, one day he saw several unidentified men at the Institute gate and later on came to know that one of them was Mr. Mujahid. It is worth mentioning that Mr. Rustam Ali was in his early teens during the 1971 war.
Mr. Rustam Ali’s father was a PTI employee during the 1971 war, and had delivered a number of interviews based on his experience, in different media outlets on this matter. Yet, for some mysterious reasons, the prosecution did not produce Mr. Rustam Ali’s father as a witness. Nor did it produce the then Principal of PTI as a witness. Both of them are alive and should know the PTI incidents of 1971 better. During cross examination, the witness Mr. Rustam Ali admitted to have forged his educational certificate in order to secure a 4th class government job. Despite all these facts, the prosecution used the unreliable memory of this fraudulent person who was only a minor during 71 to give the death sentence against Mr. Mujahid!
Most surprisingly, although Mr. Mujahid is alleged to have killed many intellectuals at PTI, none of the victims were identified. Nor were any of their family members produced as prosecution witnesses.
Charge-7 was about murdering 8-10 Hindus in Bakchor village of Faridpur in May 1971. One of the victims was the father of Shakti Shaha (now 57) who testified against Mr. Mujahid. Shokti Shaha claimed to have witnessed the killing firsthand from the top of a tree situated in the garden of his sister’s house which was 4-5 houses (60-70 yards) away from the alleged murder site. Shokti Shaha, who resides permanently in India, gave his primary statement to the investigating officer from his work place in India in 2011. However, he categorically told the court, under oath, that he had only been to India three times in his lifetime, the last of which was in 2006. Such a blatant lie did not seem to have discredited his credibility as a witness in the eyes of the prosecution and the judges. Furthermore, this witness told the court that he knew Mr. Mujahid since his childhood as Mr. Mujahid’s younger brother, who is junior to him by two years, was the classmate of his elder brother, who is 20/25 years senior to him!!
Shokti Shaha further stated that he was never interested in seeking justice for his father’s murder and was not even aware that a case had been lodged after liberation by his elder brother against the killers of his father. This elder brother is still alive and living in Faridpur, but was not produced as a witness, although he would definitely have been a better informed witness.
Finally, the investigating officer (IO) of the case admitted to the court that, during his investigation, he did not find a single case filed against Mr. Mujahid anywhere in Bangladesh for his alleged crimes against humanity. He further informed that he did not find Mr. Mujahid’s any involvement with the auxiliary forces of the Pakistani army such as peace committee, razakar, Al Badar and Al Shams.
Mr. Mujahid was merely an undergrad student during the liberation war. He was not in any way part of the policy making procedure. He did not hold any executive post of any government body. Moreover, the prosecution could not prove him having attended meetings with the army officials or the civil government high ups of the then Pakistani regime.
Despite all these facts, the verdict accused Mr. Mujahid of heading Al Badr, although the IO had categorically denied having found his involvement in any auxiliary force. Purely based on conjecture and rumor, the judgment linked Mr. Mujahid’s student organization Islami Chatra Sangha (ICS) to Al Badr forces; and that to show his connection with Al Badr forces. For example, the judgment relating to charge-1 claims that the convicted Khalil was an Al Badr member and that Al Bard was part of ICS.
Similarly, in charge-6 the prosecution related Mr. Mujahid to Al Badr forces by portraying Mohammadpur PTI as Al Badr training camp, and by claiming that his alleged visit to PTI was in his capacity as Al Badr chief. The judgment put forward quotes from some books in support of this allegation even though none of those books mentions Mr. Mujahid’s name (not even in any hint). For example, the narration of a speech delivered by an ICS president on 10 December 1971, as described in the book titled Al Badr (written by Salim Mansoor Khalid from Pakistan), is cited in the judgment as a proof of Mr. Mujahid’s involvement. However, that particular ICS president has never been identified as Mr. Mujahid.
It is clear that Mr. Mujahid has been sentenced to death merely on the basis of the witness of three teenagers of 1971 even though many better informed individuals were alive during the process of Mr. Mujahid’s trial (The full verdict is available here).
The sentence against Mr. Mujahid is purely based on conjectures and is politically motivated. We appeal to the conscientious people to voice out against this gross injustice!
The author is a freelance writer and researcher in social and educational issues facing the contemporary society.