Dhaka: Bangladesh Supreme Court today accepted appeals against a verdict sentencing fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami’s former chief Ghulam Azam to 90 years in prison for committing crimes against humanity during 1971 liberation war against Pakistan.
The five-member apex court bench headed by chief justice M Muzammel Hossain fixed on December 2 for hearing appeals on the July 15, 2013 verdict of the country’s International Crimes Tribunal, challenged both by Azam and the government, which is on the prosecution side.
Azam, now 93, is considered to be the prime collaborator with Pakistani troops, filed the appeal on August 5 last year seeking to overturn the sentence days after the Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal handed him down the 90 years prison term, claiming his innocence of the war crimes charges.
The government subsequently also filed an appeal seeking the capital punishment for Azam for “masterminding” the 1971 genocide, siding with the then Pakistani junta.
While delivering the verdict last year, the tribunal said Azam deserved death sentence for the gravity of the crimes he had committed in 1971, but his old age and poor health forced the three-member panel of judges to hand him down the 90 years of prison.
The tribunal at that time said Azam would have to languish in jail “until his death” if he could not exhaust the 90-year jail term in his lifetime.
The judgment also observed that Azam’s Jamaat-e-Islami acted as a “criminal organisation” by carrying out massive atrocities and torturing innocent people, mobilising infamous militia groups like Al-Badr, Al-Shams and Razakar to act as auxiliary forces of the Pakistani army.
The attorney general said Jamaat under Azam’s leadership in 1971 had carried out genocide and since the independence the party did not change its anti-liberation stance.
During the trial at the tribunal, Azam’s lawyers defended him saying he was opposed to the independence due to political reasons while prosecution lawyers compared him with German Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
Azam, the then chief of the Jamaat’s East Pakistan wing was indicted on five major charges and “found guilty of all the charges” in course of the trial.
The Supreme Court, however, last month, disposed one of the cases reducing the death sentence of key-1971 war crimes convict, Jamaat leader Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, saying he would now have to serve in prison “until his death”.
Of the 10 convicts, eight are Jamaat stalwarts and the rest two are leaders of its crucial ally Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of ex-prime minister Khaleda Zia.
Officially three million people were killed and 2,00,000 women raped.