Bangladesh war crimes trial: Key accused

  • 24 November 2014
  • From the section Asia

BBC News profiles the main defendants convicted at the tribunal in Bangladesh that is investigating war crimes committed during the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan. All have been found guilty - apart from one person - although some are still in the process of appealing to the Supreme Court.

Ghulam Azam - died in custody

Ghulam Azam
Mr Azam's supporters revered him as a scholar, but critics viewed him as a traitor

The former leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami was sentenced to 90 years in jail for crimes against humanity. Ghulam Azam, who was in his 90s, was the party's leader until 2000 when he retired from active politics. He died appealing against his conviction.

He denied all the charges against him, which included genocide, murder, abduction and arson. On 15 July 2013 a court found him guilty and sentenced him to 90 years in jail.

Azam is alleged to have created and led pro-Pakistan militias which carried out numerous murders and rapes during the nine-month war.

Described by his party colleagues as a writer and Islamic thinker, Azam was strongly opposed to Bangladesh's independence from Pakistan, arguing at the time that it would divide the Muslim community.

He also cautioned that an independent Bangladesh would come under the political and economic influence of neighbouring India.

Azam's supporters say he is widely respected across the Muslim world. But his detractors - mainly in the governing Awami League party - see him as a traitor.

In 1973, the government cancelled his citizenship for allegedly co-operating with Pakistani forces during the independence war.

Azam lived as an exile in Pakistan and the UK but returned to Bangladesh in 1978 when the country was led by Gen Ziaur Rahman - the assassinated husband of the country's current opposition leader Khaleda Zia.

The Supreme Court restored his citizenship in 1994.

Motiur Rahman Nizami - sentenced to death

Motiur Rahman Nizami
Mr Nizami campaigned vociferously against independence

The head of Bangladesh's largest Islamist party has been sentenced to death for war crimes committed during the independence war against Pakistan in 1971.

Motiur Rahman Nizami, 71, faced 16 charges including genocide, murder, torture and rape. Nizami was born in 1943 and has been an active supporter of the party since he was a student.

At the time of the 1971 war, he was president of Islami Chhatra Sangha, then the party's student wing, and vociferously campaigned against the division of Pakistan.

He is accused of setting up the al-Badr group, an auxiliary force which helped the Pakistani army identify and kill pro-independence Bengali activists.

Nizami, a Dhaka University graduate, has twice been elected to the Bangladeshi parliament, serving as a minister in the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led government from 2001-2006.

He has described the accusations as "the worst falsehood in history".

His supporters consider him to have been a competent and honest minister and an authority on Islamic teaching. They say he is widely respected in the Muslim world. Nizami has written about 20 books, mostly on Islam.

In 2009, he was judged to be among the top 50 most influential Muslims by an American Islamic think-tank.

Delwar Hossain Sayeedi - life in jail

Delwar Hossain Sayeedi
Sayeedi has travelled to the US and Europe to give lectures on the Koran

A prolific speaker and a well-known leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, the 72-year-old former MP had his death sentence overturned on appeal and is now serving life in jail.

He was found guilty in February 2013 of charges including murder, torture and rape.

Arrested in June 2010, he was the first suspect to be indicted by the tribunal in 2011.

State prosecutors accused him of working with the al-Badr group during the independence struggle and of carrying out numerous atrocities, including forcibly converting Hindus to Islam.

His critics say that during the war he formed a small group to loot and seize the property of Bengali Hindus and those who supported independence.

He denied all the allegations and after he was convicted there were widespread protests across Dhaka.

Sayeedi's supporters say that - like many of his co-accused - he is an Islamic scholar and a conscientious member of various social organisations.

He has travelled to the US and Europe to give lectures on the Koran and has written books on interpreting Islam.

Some British MPs opposed his visit to the UK in 2006 because of his alleged extreme views, particularly his comments against the US and British role in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid - sentenced to death in July 2013

Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid
Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid is regarded for his oratory

Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid, 64, is the secretary-general of the Jamaat-e-Islami and an influential figure within the party. He is appealing against his conviction.

He is highly regarded for his organisational skills and oratory.

The social welfare minister in the BNP-led government from 2001-2006, he was a student leader in 1971 and among those who supported a unified Pakistan.

His critics say he was also an al-Badr leader responsible for the killings of a number of pro-independence Bangladeshi leaders and intellectuals.

He strongly denied the allegations but the tribunal found him guilty of five charges, including abduction and murder.

Like many other Jamaat leaders he went into hiding soon after independence, but resurfaced after Gen Ziaur Rahman came to power in a military coup in 1977.

His supporters say his trial was nothing but a political vendetta by the ruling Awami League.

They also say he was a successful minister known for his honesty and integrity.

Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury - sentenced to death in October 2013

Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury
Salahuddin Chowdhury was convicted of genocide and murder

A former minister, Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury is a BNP MP and the most senior leader from the party to be sentenced for crimes against humanity. He is appealing against his conviction.

Better known as Saqa, he is the eldest son of the late Muslim League and Chittagong-based leader Fazlul Quader Chowdhury and a member of the BNP's main policymaking body.

His father was the Speaker of the National Assembly of undivided Pakistan in 1965 and campaigned for a united Pakistan.

The tribunal found him guilty of nine out of 23 charges including genocide, arson and persecuting people on religious and political grounds.

He was also accused of forcefully converting a number of Hindus to Islam.

The prosecution said that his father's residence in Chittagong was turned into a torture cell during the war. Chowdhury denied all the charges and the BNP - which did not exist at the time of the war - described his trial as a political vendetta.

Chowdhury complained at the time of his conviction that the verdict had come "from the [law] ministry", saying it had been available on the internet before it was formally announced in court.

Chowdhury's family alleges that he has been tortured while in custody and that his health has deteriorated since he was jailed. The authorities have rejected the allegations.

Muhammad Kamaruzzaman - sentenced to death May 2013

Muhammad Kamaruzzaman
Kamaruzzaman's lawyers insist that he has not received a fair trail

The assistant secretary-general of Jamaat-e-Islami was found guilty in May 2013 of masterminding what the prosecution described as one of the bloodiest single episodes in the independence war.

The Supreme Court has upheld his death sentence on appeal in early November.

The war crimes tribunal heard that he played a prominent role alongside Pakistani troops in the "slaughter" of at least 120 unarmed farmers in the remote northern village of Sohagpur which subsequently became known as the "village of widows".

Three women widowed as a result of the killings testified against Kamaruzzaman during his trial. They described how he led Pakistani troops to the village and helped the soldiers to line up and execute the farmers.

Kamaruzzaman was found guilty on five out of seven charges of crimes against humanity, including the murder and torture of unarmed civilians. His lawyers insisted that he had not received a fair trial.

Working as a journalist after independence, Kamaruzzaman tried on several occasions to become an MP but was unsuccessful in each attempt.

Abdul Kader Mullah - hanged December 2013

Abdul Kader Mullah, assistant secretary general of the Jamaat-e-Islami party since 2010 and a former executive editor of The Daily Sangram, was found guilty on five of six counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes on 5 February 2013.

In this photograph taken on 5 February 2013, Abdul Kader Mullah gestures as he walks with officials at the central jail in Dhaka
Abdul Kader Mullah was convicted in February 2013 and hanged in December

He was sentenced to death in September of that year after a failed appeal.

Mullah, who denied all the charges, was convicted of killing 344 civilians as well as rape and other crimes. Many of the atrocities for which he was convicted took place in Dhaka's Mirpur area, earning him the name "Butcher of Mirpur".

He was sentenced by the tribunal to life in prison - which caused huge anger among many Bangladeshis who took to the streets demanding he be put to death. Prosecution and defence lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court. On 17 September the court increased his life jail term to a death sentence.

Mullah was born in 1948 in Faridpur district. He joined Jamaat's student wing, then known as Islami Chatra Sangha (ICS), while studying for a science degree at Rajendra College in Faridpur in 1966. When leaders of the Jamaat opposed the independence movement in East Pakistan in 1971, Mullah joined the feared paramilitary force al-Badr, prosecutors said.

He was charged in December 2011 with abetting the Pakistani army and actively participating in the 1971 atrocities. Following his death sentence the attorney general ruled out an appeal, meaning his only chance of clemency would be a presidential pardon.