Trial of Mohammad Kamaruzzaman in Bangladesh: Justice Denied

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The trials are nothing but a mockery of justice. And Kamaruzzaman is the latest in a steadily growing line of victims

Mohammad Talukder

On the 10th of the Bengali month of Srabon in 1971, a terrible massacre took place at the village of Shohagpur, which lies deep inside Jamalpur district inside Bangladesh, a few miles away from the border with India. That day, as Afsan Chowdhury, a journalist and researcher describes, “The [Pakistan] army had come and attacked the village without any warning. No rounding up, no questioning, no identification, just shooting to kill. It came swiftly, suddenly as if the angels of death had no time for the niceties of murder. The villagers had walked out of their dilapidated homes at dawn and the efficient soldiers of Pakistan quickly finished them off.” A moving and excruciatingly spine-tingling account, the writer mentions the main abettor of the heinous crime, Kader daktar, the local village quack, who in order to redress a personal grievance involving an instance of theft of his property, went to the Pakistan army post miles away and told them that Shohagpur was a Muktibahini training camp. The unthinkable happened as the army swooped on the poor rural villagers and carried out a massacre that remains to date one of the worst in the midst of the 1971 war in the Indian subcontinent that resulted in the birth of Bangladesh. Testimony to the brutal nature of the massacre, Shohagpur is known as the Bewas’ (widows’) village.

Fast forward 43 years to 2014, and the Shohagpur massacre has been avenged, through the death sentence awarded to Mohammad Kamaruzzaman, senior assistant secretary general of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami. Mystifying as it may sound, that is the firm stand maintained by the government of Bangladesh.

On 3 November, 2014, a new bookmark was added to an ongoing chapter of political show trials, one of the blackest chapters in the history of Bangladesh, when the Supreme Court upheld the verdict in the case of Muhammad Kamaruzzaman, thereby confirming the death sentence imposed by the lower court, namely the International War Crimes tribunal (ICT), earlier on 09 May, 2013. As aptly summarized by Human Rights Watch in its post verdict statement, “Kamaruzzaman was originally arrested in July 2010 on the orders of the International Crimes Court (ICT), a specially constituted court set up to prosecute war crimes committed during the 1971 war. Kamaruzzaman was given no reason for his arrest, leading to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to classify his arrest as arbitrary and a violation of international law. Following a trial replete with procedural defects, Kamaruzzaman was sentenced to death in May 2013 after the ICT found him guilty of participation in and planning of the unlawful killings of civilians in the village of Sohagpur in collaboration with the Pakistani army. On November 3, the Supreme Court on appeal upheld the trial court’s conviction and sentence. Kamaruzzaman’s death sentence was the third in a war crimes case in less than a week.”

All seven charges against Kamaruzzaman were for ‘complicity’, something which in international law is known as ‘aiding and abetting’ in a crime, not being a principal, commander or a direct perpetrator in the crime. For the above charges to be taken into cognizance, one would have to be a personality with immense command and respect among the administration and the erstwhile armed forces, and atleast of a fair bit of age. However, given the fact that he was born on 4th July 1952, a critical blog piece dryly notes that, “He would have just turned 19 at the time of the 25th July/10th Srabon Shohagpur Massacre. He wasn’t to finish his A-level equivalents until 1972, before graduating in 1974 and completing a masters in Journalism at Dhaka University in 1976.” Combining the fact that Kamaruzzaman was 19 years old at the time, with the fact that Kamaruzzaman is absent from the scene recreated by the journalist Afsan Chowdhury in his well narrated piece on the Shohagpur massacre, brings to light the credibility of the calls both within and outside Bangladesh that the trials are nothing but utterly appalling tools of political and ideological repression. Further exacerbating the contention of the government and its supporters that the trials such as that of Kamaruzaman are much needed to heal old wounds and mete out “justice”, Hasan Iqbal, the son of the condemned pointed out, that no book on the subject before 2011 includes the name of Kamaruzzaman in connection to the Shohagpur massacre or the like.

The trials are nothing but a mockery of justice. And Kamaruzzaman is the latest in a steadily growing line of victims. Application of common sense in review of the case is enough to prove that Kamaruzzaman is an innocent man being framed for crimes that he simply had no links with whatsoever. Replete with deliberate instances of unfairness, such as limiting defence witnesses to 5 against allowing unlimited prosecution witnesses, or not allowing the defence to produce evidence on several occasions, the trial proceedings have time and again proved, that the war crimes tribunal was created on the concept of “guilty until proven less guilty”. The proceedings have been criticized ad nauseam by international organizations, personalities and rights organizations, who have noted with increasing alacrity the farcical nature of the trials. UN human rights experts, as before on several occasions, have expressed alarm regarding serious violations of fair trial and due process guarantees in the judicial proceedings before the Tribunal that were reported to them, as have the European Union and others such as the Human Rights Watch, International Center of Jurists, Center for Justice and Accountability and Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales among others. Eminent personalities such as Lord Avebury, Lord Carlyle and Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice at the US state department, Stephen J. Rapp have voiced their serious concerns at the alarming nature of the trial as well.

The concerns raised by Rapp regarding the trial are eye opening to say the least, as this transcript of his statement on the trial reveals, where he reiterated the position of the U.S. government on the trials, calling for a halt to the execution, given the “irreversibility” of the death sentence.

All aside, there is very real reason to be concerned that the government of Bangladesh is in hurry to execute Mohammad Kamaruzzaman, as evidenced by a stream of repeated threats delivered by government officials and ministers over the past few days on various media.  Keeping in mind the irreversibility of the death sentence and the need to ensure a fair trial, not only for the sake of a fair trial, but to ensure that justice is served against the true perpetrators of war crimes in 1971, regardless of identity or political affiliation, the death sentence of Kamaruzzaman must be cancelled immediately, focusing instead on restoring fundamental rights protection to the war crimes accused through annulment of Article 47A (1) of the constitution which specifically strips war crimes accused of their right to certain fundamental rights, including the right to an expeditious trial by an independent and impartial court or tribunal, and the right to move the courts to enforce their fundamental rights.

Source: World Bulletin