The Supreme Court has cleared the death sentence of Jamaat-e-Islami chief Motiur Rahman Nizami who orchestrated the massacre of Bangladesh’s best brains in 1971 using his ruthless Al-Badr militia.
His dreaded Al-Badr activists would break into universities and college hostels with 'kill lists' figuring intellectuals and professors committed to the cause of secular Bengali identity and murder them.
Many of them, were kidnapped and murdered a few days before the ultimate victory on Dec 16, 1971.
A four-member top appeals court bench led by Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha read out the summary of the verdict just after 9am on Wednesday.
The other senior judges on the bench were Justice Nazmun Ara Sultana, Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain and Justice Hasan Foez Siddique.
The International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) had ordered hanging of Nizami on Oct 29, 2014, for murders and rapes in Pabna and mass killing of intellectuals during the War of Independence.
The apex court has now upheld that verdict by throwing out Nizami’s appeal.
In 1971, Nizami was the chief of Islami Chhatra Sangha, then student wing of Jamaat. He also headed the Al-Badr militia created by the Pakistan army to suppress the Bengali rebellion.
The previous judgment had referred to his key role in the Razakar force and the Peace Committee, all working to suppress the Bengali rebellion.
The Al-Badr brigade had gone on a genocidal rampage to cleanse the Bengali nation-in-the-making of its best intellectuals, the lifeblood of secular Bengali nationalism that undermined Pakistan's founding principles.
When the verdict was pronounced, 72-year old Nizami was in Gazipur’s Kashimpur jail.
This former Industry minister was also given the death penalty in 2014 for arms trafficking in Chittagong’s sensational 10-truck arms haul case.
Nizami’s verdict is the sixth war crimes case judged by the apex court after the war crimes tribunal was set up in 2010.
Those inside the packed courtroom were joined by large crowds gathered outside the court premises in welcoming Wednesday’s verdict. Several processions were also taken out in various places to celebrate the verdict.
Nizami is the third former minister to be on death row over war crimes committed in 1971.
This is the second verdict of the top appeals court over the killing of intellectuals.
What happens now
According to the rules, the full verdict will be sent to the war crimes tribunal first after it is published.
The tribunal, on receiving it, will issue the death warrant and it will be then sent to the prison authorities and the district magistrate.
The jail officials will subsequently read out the warrant to Nizami.
The defence will then have a chance to file a review petition, which will not be equal to an appeal, according to a previous court judgment, within 15 days from the publication of the full verdict.
Once the review petition is resolved and if the death sentence is upheld, the war crimes convict will have the opportunity to seek mercy from the president and meet family members.
If the Jamaat leader declines to seek a review of the verdict or if he is denied pardon, the government then will order the jail authorities to hang him.
Motiur Rahman Nizami was arrested on July 29, 2010 for allegedly hurting religious sentiments.
On Aug 2, 2010, he was shown arrested for committing crimes against humanity during the Liberation War. But the trial began some two years later, on May 28, 2012.
Altogether, 26 prosecution witnesses, including the investigating officer, testified in Nizami’s trial. There were only four defence witnesses including the war criminal’s son Md Najibur Rahman.
The ICT in its 2014 verdict found eight of the 16 charges brought against Nizami proved beyond any doubt.
The Jamaat chief was sentenced to death for the charges No. 2, 4, 6 and 16.
They are the killing of around 450 people of Baushbarhi and Demra villages at Santhia in Pabna, and the rape of 30 to 40 women, the killing of nine and the rape of one of Karamja village, looting and arson attacks in that village, the murder of 52 of Dhulaurhi village and the orchestration and the killing of intellectuals.
Nizami was also sentenced to life in prison for the four other charges, No. 1, 3, 7 and 8.
They include the abduction and killing of Pabna Zila School teacher Kasim Uddin, conspiracy with Pakistan Army officers to commit war crimes and his complicity with the crimes committed at the physical training centre at Dhaka's Mohammadpur, and the killing of Sohrab Ali of Brishalikha village in the presence of his family members.
The other charge proved is the murder of several youths including Shafi Imam Rumi, son of ‘Shaheed Janani’ (Mother of the Martyrs) Jahanara Imam, at the MP Hostel in Dhaka.
He was, however, acquitted in eight other charges that the prosecution had failed to prove.
Nizami appealed against the death sentence on Nov 23, 2014. The defence brought 168 points in the appeal to seek his acquittal.
The appeal hearing started on Sep 9 last year and ended on Dec 8.
He flaunted national flag on his car
Born on Mar 31, 1943, in Monmothpur village of Pabna’s Santhia Upazila, Nizami succeeded Jamaat guru Ghulam Azam at the helm in 2000.
Earlier, from 1978 to 1982, he led the party’s Dhaka city unit.
He was given the post of the party's assistant secretary general in 1983 and then promoted to secretary general in 1988.
He got his Kamil degree in Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) from Dhaka’s Madrasa-e-Alia in 1963.
Nizami later graduated from the Dhaka University in 1967.
Inspired by the political preaching of Sayyid Abul A’la Maududi, who founded Jamaat-e-Islami Hind at Lahore in 1941, Nizami joined its student wing Islami Chhatra Sangha.
He swiftly rose through the ranks, operating in the then West and East Pakistan, and became Chhatra Sangha president in 1966.
Nizami retained the post for the following five years and throughout Bangladesh’s struggle for independence from Pakistan.
After the war, Nizami fled with Ghulam Azam to the UK.
In 1978, the then President Gen Ziaur Rahman repatriated them and brought Jamaat back into politics.
Nizami was elected to Parliament from Pabna-1 in 1986, 1991 and 2001 on a BNP-led coalition ticket.
He served as the agriculture minister until 2003 and thereafter as industries minister until 2006.
The sixth appeals verdict
Motiur Rahman Nizami's is the sixth appeal in war crimes cases to see the final verdict so far.
Jamaat assistant secretary general Abdul Quader Molla's was the first.
He was executed on Dec 12, 2013, after the Appellate Division had sealed the death sentence on Sep 17 the same year.
After exactly a year, the Supreme Court commuted Jamaat Nayeb-e-Amir Delwar Hossain Sayedee's death sentence to prison term until death.
The State has said that it will file a petition to review the commutation after the full appeals verdict was published recently.
The Appellate Division in the third war crime appeals verdict upheld the death sentence of another Jamaat assistant secretary general Mohammad Kamaruzzaman on Nov 3, 2014.
He was hanged on Apr 11 last year.
The Supreme Court upheld the death sentences of Jamaat secretary general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid on Jun 16 and BNP leader Salaudin Quader Chowdhury on Jul 29 last year.
Both of them were executed on Nov 22 same year.
Jamaat ideologue Ghulam Azam and former BNP minister Abdul Alim died while waiting for the hearing of their appeals.
Ghulam Azam was sentenced to 90 years in jail while Alim was supposed to spend the rest of his life in prison.