'I was on list of collaborators'
Says Ghulam Azam, claims he was not war criminal
Ghulam Azam yesterday said he was on the list of collaborators of the Pakistani occupation forces. But he denied that he was a war criminal.
The 89-year-old said these after the International Crimes Tribuna-1 chairman Justice Md Nizamul Huq asked him if he pleaded guilty or not guilty of the five war crimes charges read out to him.
“I don't consider myself guilty,” replied Ghulam Azam, who stood up from his seat in the dock.
He then sought the tribunal's permission to say something and went on to give a speech of around 10 minutes.
In 1973, the then Bangladesh government of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman made a list of war criminals, he told the court.
“My name is not on that list."
The listed war criminals were pardoned at a meeting between the foreign ministers of Bangladesh, Pakistan and India.
“I was among those who were branded collaborators,” said the former chief of Jamaat-e-Islami, adding that he had then been pardoned.
The collaborator's act was formulated at the time and many were arrested, he said.
“There is no meaning of trying the collaborators, pardoning the real [perpetrators]. I was not on the list of war criminals. I am not a war criminal.”
Ghulam Azam's counsels in their submissions during the hearing of charge framing argued in the same manner, saying 195 Pakistani army personnel, who were the principal accused of committing war crimes, were pardoned and released from jail.
Therefore, there is no point of trying their abettors, the counsels argued.
During the charge framing yesterday, the tribunal said the ICT act is very clear to have been promulgated for the trial of persons who committed international crimes and the release of 195 prisoners of war, the collaborators order and the clemency extended to persons cannot bar the trial of the accused under the ICT Act 1973.
It is evidence alone that determines the principal offenders and their associates, and the release of the principal offenders cannot prevent the trial of the collaborators, the tribunal said.
In January 1972, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's government passed a law to try the collaborators and war criminals.
“Those who were punished for or accused of rape, murder, attempt to murder or arson will not come under general amnesty under section 1,” reads section 2 of the act.
According to historical records, out of 37,000 sent to jail on charges of collaboration, about 26,000 were freed following announcement of the general amnesty.
Around 11,000 were behind bars when the government of Justice Sayem and General Ziaur Rahman repealed the Collaborators Act on December 31, 1975. An appeal spree and release of war criminals en masse followed the scrapping of the law.
During the entire period, Ghulam Azam remained outside the country.
Yesterday, he told the tribunal that the term “war criminal” first surfaced after the 2001 national polls, following which the BNP-Jamaat led four-party coalition formed government.
“The Awami League and the BNP bagged almost equal percentage of votes in that election,” said Ghulam Azam.
Nevertheless, the AL won 58 seats in parliament and the BNP 197 seats, he said, adding, “Why such a big difference in the result? Because the Jamaat and the BNP were united."
This proves that the AL had lost the polls because of the alliance between the two parties, the court heard him say.
“Whenever there is an alliance, it is feared that the AL may lose the election."
Citing the election results at the Supreme Court Bar Association and teachers' associations at public universities, he said in many cases the AL could not win an election when the BNP and the Jamaat were united.
“The Awami League thinks the alliance should be broken and Jamaat should be eliminated from politics,” he said, “therefore, after 30 years, the Awami League [in 2001] decided to hold the [war crimes] trials to eliminate the Jamaat”.
The law for trying war criminals is now being used to try the collaborators, he said. “There is no logic behind trying me as a war criminal.”
“I say India helped us not for our liberation, but for its own interests,” he said.
As Ghulam Azam went on, the tribunal tried to assure him that he would be given the opportunity to speak further at a later stage of the trial.
“You are a highly educated person. You do understand that there are rules and laws,” said Justice Huq, requesting Ghulam Azam to take his seat. “We are sorry,” Justice Huq said.