Senior journalist Abed Khan, a former editor of the daily 'Samakal', has verified a newspaper report implicating Jamaat-e-Islami leader Delwar Hossain Sayedee in torture and persecution during the Liberation War.
Khan, the 26th prosecution witness, deposed at the war crimes tribunal on Thursday in a case against Jamaat executive council member Sayedee. He told the court that the February 2007 report in his newspaper had stated that Sayedee was at the scene of loot and plunder at Parerhat market, under Pirojpur district.
The International Crimes Tribunal, set up to try crimes against humanity during the 1971 Liberation War, has indicted Sayedee on 20 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Defence counsel Mizanul Islam, who had met with an accident on Feb 12 on his way to Dhaka, was back in court on Thursday and led the cross-examination.
Islam is expected to resume once the court returns from lunch recess at 2pm.
Abed Khan told the court that the report, published on Feb 10, 2007 when he was editor, was a compilation of dispatches from district correspondents. Roughly translated from Bengali, the headline read 'Jamaat godfathers beyond reach' — at a time when a military-stewarded interim government had taken up an initiative to tackle corruption.
Sayedee was among four Jamaat leaders named in the report, said Abed Khan, 67, a journalist for nearly 50 years. He said the report stated that Sayedee had led a group in loot and plunder of several shops at Parerhat, which resulted in a libel cases against him.
The Jamaat leader was sued for Tk 100 million in damages in Pirojpur but the case was later dismissed.
Prosecutor Haider Ali took the opportunity to include the report as a court exhibit.
Also the founding editor 'Kaler Kantho', Abed Khan was asked about some details of the report.
Once the prosecutor was done asking him about the report, Khan proceeded to speak his mind with the leave of the court.
JOURNALIST SPEAKS HIS MIND
Tribunal chairman Nizamul Huq told him that the court would only accept what was relevant to the case.
To this, Khan said that as a freedom fighter he was aware of certain facts, having witnessed those events first hand. He said he wanted to use this opportunity to speak for a tribunal that is prosecuting war crimes charges.
Khan then went on say how Jamaat-e-Islami, whether before liberation or afterward, had never really deviated from Abul A'ala Maududi's core principles, which did not have any place for nationhood or nationalism.
Khan said Sayedee's actions and sermons only strived to establish those values and principles.
The journalist said Jamaat had always opposed democratic movements in Pakistan, or later in Bangladesh. He also mentioned that Maududi, the Jamaat founder, had been sentenced to death for inciting an anti-Ahmadiyya riot in Punjab, Pakistan.
Maududi was subsequently acquitted and his later actions suggest that he became a stooge of the Pakistan government in the early 1950s, the former Samakal editor said.
He told the court that beginning with the Language Movement of 1952, Jamaat had not been in favour of democratic movements. As instances, he mentioned the 1954 national elections, 1962 anti-army movement and education movement, the six-point movement of 1966 and the subsequent movement for self-governance.
He also said Jamaat emerged in its "true form" after the assassination of Bangladesh's founding president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, along with most of his family members, in 1975.
DEFENCE UP IN ARMS
When Abed Khan went on to say that Jamaat had emerged as a full political force during the military regimes of Ziaur Rahman and Hussain Mohammad Ershad, Nizamul Huq said this would not be included in the court records.
Khan then continued saying that Jamaat's political influence had extended quite far and even went as far as to form government. He was stopped once again, as the defence started an uproar by this time.
Defence counsel Tajul Islam rose to say that this was no place for political lectures, and suggested that the witness should go to the Paltan grounds to make such statements.
Khan said given the general context, it is evident that the seven-man squad of Sayedee included member of Razakars, Al Badr and Al Shams.
Taking up the cross-examination, Mizanul Islam started with the historical perspective that Abed Khan had deliberated upon.
However, the first few questions had more to do with Khan's personal ties.
Mizanul Islam: Is the founder of East Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami Party, Maulana Abdur Rahim, a close relative of yours?
Abed Khan: Yes, by marriage.
Islam: Maulana Akram Khan is also a relative?
Mizanul Islam then proceeded to establish a historical perspective, showing that pre-Liberation War politics in Pakistan saw several personalities playing unexpected roles.
He referred to Abdul Jabbar Khan and Fazlul Quader Chowdhury being speakers of the same Parliament in the late 1960s. Khan was also made to confirm that Jabbar Khan's son Rashed Khan Menon is an ally of the present Awami League-led government and heads the parliamentary standing committee on education ministry.
Menon's younger brother Shahidullah Khan is publisher of New Age, which was held in contempt of the tribunal. The court will rule on that matter on Feb 19.
Fazlul Quader Chowdhury's son Salauddin Quader Chowdhury is a BNP Member of Parliament from Chittagong and is behind bars at present, charged with crimes against humanity.
FIRST CASE TO TRIAL
Sayedee's is the first case to proceed to the trial stage at the tribunal. The prosecution on Sept 4 proposed framing of charges against him on 31 counts for crimes against humanity and genocide.
On Oct 3, the tribunal indicted Sayedee on 20 counts.
The tribunal also sent Jamaat's former chief Ghulam Azam to jail on Jan 11. His indictment hearing began on Feb 15 and the tribunal is expected to rule on a second bail petition on Feb 23.
Besides Sayedee, Jamaat chief Matiur Rahman Nizami, secretary general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujaheed and assistant secretaries general Mohammad Kamaruzzaman and Abdul Quader Molla, and Bangladesh Nationalist Party's standing committee member and MP Salauddin Quader Chowdhury have been detained on war crimes charges.
The tribunal granted conditional bail to former BNP lawmaker and minister Abdul Alim on March 31 last year. The bail was extended further on Jan 16, ordering him to be present in the court on Mar 15 when the prosecution has been directed to submit formal charges against the BNP leader.