War Crimes Trial: First witness testifies

THE International Crimes Tribunal Wednesday recorded the first witnesses’ deposition narrating how Jamaat-e-Islami leader Delawar Hossain Sayedee and other collaborators helped the Pakistani occupation forces to commit atrocities and crimes against humanity in 1971.

Prosecution witness and freedom fighter Mahabubul Alam Hawlader of Pirojpur completed his deposition Wednesday while witness and freedom fighter Ruhul Amin Nabin of Pirojpur began giving his deposition to the court recollecting the events that took place 40 years ago.

Hawlader, who was 20 in 1971, worked as a spy for the freedom fighters.

He narrated how Sayedee spearheaded groups of collaborators to loot over 60 houses and shops, and how he ordered the killing of Bisha Bali, a Hindu resident of Umedpur village of Pirojpur.

Sayedee, 71, stood on the dock at the back of the courtroom during the five-and-a-half-hours proceedings, with an hour’s break.

He is the first among the seven accused of war crimes during the Liberation War with 20 specific charges were brought against him on October 3. A total of persecution 68 witnesses are supposed to give their depositions against him.

Hawlader, who introduced himself as a businessman before the court, was not allowed to share his address for security reasons.

He identified Sayedee in the dock and said he knows Sayedee. “During the war, I was serving as a freedom fighter in the Sundarbans freedom fighters’ camp. My responsibility was to act as a spy and collect confidential information for the freedom fighters,” he said.

According to Hawlader, Major Ziauddin Ahmed and AKM Awal of the Sub-Sector-9 assigned him to be a spy.

“Throughout Pirojpur, the collaborators and peace committee members conducted rapes, arsons, and murdered many innocent people and members of the Hindu community,” he told the court. “They also handed many women over to the Pakistani occupation forces so that they could be raped.

“As a spy, I observed all these criminal activities and delivered the information to the Sundarbans freedom fighters’ camp.”

“During the war of liberation in 1971, I remained in my residence,” Hawlader told the court.

He recollected the historic speech of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on March 7, 1971, and how people from all walks of life prepared for war.

Many went to India for training. Many received guerrilla training within the country. They collected weapons from their localities and formed resistance against the occupation forces, he said.

“With no solution in sight, the Pakistani forces formed an anti-liberation force, comprised of collaborators, called the Peace Committee with Ghulam Azam, Gulzar AKM Yousuf and Khan Mohammad Afzal of Pirojpur among others,” he added.

Members of the peace committee directed Jamaat-e-Islami members in different parts of the country to form local peace committees and kill freedom fighters and Liberation War supporters in their areas.

The Parer Haat peace committee of Pirojpur was formed in this process.

Hawlader identified Sayedee, Sekandar Ali Shikder, Danesh Ali Majumder, Mohammad Salehuddin, Mawlana Azhar Ali Talukder, Mohsin, Abdul Karim, Habibur Rahman Munshi, Sobhan Mawlana and Hakim Kari among others as members of the peace committee of Parer Haat.

Most of the members were from local madrasas and anti-liberation organisations, he said.

As Sayedee joined student politics while studying in alim class at Pirojpur’s Shashina Madrasa, the madrasa authorities suspended him, he added.

According to Hawlader, Pakistani occupational forces came to Pirojpur in the first week of May, 1971.

“On the morning of May 7, I was outside the house and heard that the occupational forces are coming to Parer Haat. And the Parer Haat peace committee members were waiting at the rickshaw stand to greet them,” he said.

“I went to Parer Haat and hid myself near the rickshaw stand. I saw 52 Pakistani army men arrive on 26 rickshaws and members of the peace committee greeted them,” he added. Sayedee, fluent in Urdu, spoke to Captain Ezaz, a captain of the occupation forces.

The collaborators then guided the Pakistani forces inside Parer Haat bazaar.

“They pointed Captain Ezaz to the shops and homes of Hindus and Awami League activists supporting the Liberation War,” said Hawlader, “Captain Ezaz than ordered his forces to raid those [shops and houses].”

After the raid had started, Hawlader saw the situation getting worse and he distanced himself from the spot.

According to Hawlader, he later came to learn that some 30 to 35 shops and homes were looted in the raid.

“The items looted during the raid were distributed under the leadership of Sayedee,” he told the court.

During the raid, the Pakistani forces found approximately 20kg of gold (22 sher) in an iron safe buried under the shop of Makhan Saha, who was a big businessman in Parer Haat, Hawlader said.

Sayedee personally had led the raid at Madan Saha’s store, located in the northern side of Parer Haat, he claimed.

“After finding so much gold in one room, Captain Ezaz named it Shonar Parer Haat [golden parer haat],” he added.

The looted items were taken to Sayedee’s father-in-law’s house in the same area.

“The collaborators created a fund with the looted goods and the gold, which totalled to around Tk 15 lakh [at that time],” said Hawlader, adding that Sayedee himself traded the looted goods.

“He used the money to make buildings and other assets in Khulna and Dhaka,” said Hawlader.

While Sekandar Shikder and Danesh Ali Mollah were the leaders of collaborators, Sayedee, being fluent in Urdu, had managed to build a close tie with Captain Ezaz, he said.

On June 2, Hawlader fled with a group of freedom fighters as he heard that the collaborators were coming to get them.

Later that day, he came to learn that the collaborators led by Danesh, Sekandar, Sayedee, Momin Hawlader, Hakim Kari and Habibur Rahman Munshi had attacked a Hindu-majority area near Umedpur village.

There they looted some 25 houses including those of Chitya Ranjan Talukder, Jahur Talukder, Bisha Bali, Shukur Ali and Anil Mandal.

According to Hawlader, the collaborators also tied ailing Bisha Bali to a coconut tree and beat him up.

“Sayedee then ordered the collaborators to shoot Bisha Bali. One collaborator shot him dead.”

Recounting the events of the day, Hawlader said After the Pakistan army had sprayed the area with bullets, he along with a group of people hid inside a nearby jungle.

“Some people of the peace committee and the Razakar Bahini were going towards my home around noon that day. They put pressure on my bother Abdul Mazid and tortured him as he refused to tell them the whereabouts of freedom fighters and the Awami League men,” he said.

“They entered the house, looted 10 tolas of gold ornaments, Tk 20,000 from an almirah and looted two tolas of gold from my mother’s room, and vandalised furniture costing around Tk 30,000. They damaged our valuables worth around Tk 3 lakh.”

“I seek trial of the people who committed crimes against humanity, war crimes, and killed lakhs of people during the Liberation War in 1971,” he told the court concluding his around two-hour-long testimony.

Before Hawlader began his deposition, the three judges’ panel headed by its Chairman Justice Nizamul Huq, rejected two petitions filed by Sayedee.

One was filed seeking adjournment of the depositions while the other for necessary copies of some documents from the prosecution.

The tribunal ordered the defence to submit a list of their witnesses and documents before it by December 14.

In response to another petition submitted by the defence counsels, the tribunal said the superintendent of police will decide whether they (defence lawyers) would be given police protection while visiting the places of offences allegedly committed by Sayedee.

Mizanul Islam, a counsel for Sayedee, started cross-examination of Hawlader Wednesday. He asked the witness whether there is any evidence in the court that was seized by the investigators from him.

Hawlader replied in the negative.

The lawyers for Sayedee told the court that they were not prepared to cross examine Hawlader and that they want to start cross-examination of the witness on December 11.

The court then fixed December 11 for Hawlader’s cross examination. After Hawlader, second prosecution witness Nabin began his deposition. He is scheduled to resume his testimony today.

Nabin, who was 21 then, said he heard over the radio and television that the International Crimes Tribunal was formed in Bangladesh and that the investigation team of the tribunal would probe the crimes committed during the Liberation War.

“I submitted a compliant to the tribunal chief on July 20 last year seeking justice against the war crimes, and this is my statement,” he said.

Nabin said the Pakistani occupation forces formed peace committee, Razakar, Al Shams and Al Badr militia forces with the help of some agents and leaders and activists of Jamaat-e-Islami.


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