It was the Hindus of Shariatpur who were targeted by Sulaiman Mollah and Edris Ali Sardar during the Liberation War in 1971.
With the intent to wipe out the Hindu community, the duo along with the Pakistan army men and their associates killed more than 200 Hindus in Palang of Shariatpur and raped at least 15 Hindu women. Their atrocities forced around 1,500 Hindus to leave the country.
Forty-five years after their crimes, a special tribunal yesterday found their participation and complicity to the offences and handed down death penalty to fugitive Edris for the crimes.
The International Crimes Tribunal-1 did not hold Sulaiman responsible for the crimes as he had died during trial. The 84-year-old accused died of old age complications on October 26 during the closing arguments of the case.
The court handed down death penalty to Edris alias Gazi Edris, the 67-year-old from West Kashabhog village under Shariatpur Sadar upazila, for two charges in connection with two acts of genocide.
Edris, who was a leader of Islami Chhatra Sangha, the then student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, joined Razakar force in 1971. He was given jail until death for another charge related to the killing of two Hindus and looting of Hindu houses. He was also jailed for seven years for forcing the Hindus to leave the country.
On the execution of the death penalty, the tribunal said Edris could be executed “by hanging or shooting” as decided by the government. The tribunal also directed the home secretary and the inspector general of police to ensure his arrest and, if need be, take the Interpol's help.
With the latest verdict, two war crimes tribunal have so far delivered 27 judgements. Fifty-one people were convicted and 29 of them were sentenced to death.
Four other cases are now on trail at the Tribunal-1.
HINDUS WERE TARGET
The prosecution in November last year pressed four charges against Sulaiman and Edris and all the charges were related to killings, rapes, lootings, and the deportation of the Hindus.
Reading out the summery of the 486-page judgment, the three-member tribunal led by Justice Anwarul Haque, said, “In the case in hand, it has been proved that target of organised or systematic and planned attack as proved was the Hindu community, the residents under the Police Station Palang.”
The other members of the tribunal are Justice Md Shahinur Islam and Justice Md Shohrowardi.
“The case in hand carries some distinguishing pattern, nature and extent. All the events involving the offences of genocide and murder as crimes against humanity happened in daytime. Perpetration of the offences happened in an extreme diabolical way,” reads the judgement.
“The accused were conscious and culpable part of the common design.” Their acts and conducts were “intended to wipe out the Hindus”, it adds.
RAPE: A TOOL FOR DESTRUCTION
Two of the 15 rape victims testified before the tribunal.
“Their pitiful testimony reminded us once again how brutal the Pakistan occupation army and their local collaborators were in slaughtering the supreme honour of countless women in 1971 during the War of Liberation by using rape as a tool to further their policy and plan,” observed the tribunal.
The court said many of the rape victims were still alive carrying on life with the trauma, but very few women prefer to come forward with their untold tormenting stories due to social ostracism.
“But in the case in hand, two victims of 'genocidal rape' and sexual violence committed upon them in captivity came on dock … the victims are 'war heroines' indeed as they sacrificed their supreme honour for the cause of our independence.
“Nothing is enough to heal their untold pains and give back what they lost. The sacrifice they laid has become a part of our great War of Liberation. Nobody will dispute it. Thus, the society and the nation should recognise them with due honour which will rather make the rest of their lives filled with enormous grace,” the tribunal added.
CHARGES AND PUNISHMENT
According to the first charge, Sulaiman and Edris along with 100-150 Pakistan army men attacked Angaria, Kashabhog and Modhyapara in Palang (now Shariatpur sadar) on May 22, and killed around 200 Hindus and one Abdus Samad Sikder, and looted and burned all the houses.
The second charge says the accused along with 100 Pakistan army men attacked Malopara and Rudrakar villages on May 23 and shot dead a priest before looting and burning down all the houses. They forcibly took around 20 women and 10 to 15 men from the villages to a Pakistan army camp in Madaripur where the women were raped for three days before being released and the men were shot dead.
The tribunal handed down death penalty to Edris for these two acts of genocide.
Justice Shohrowardi, however, in his part of judgement gave different views about the “mode of the genocide” committed in two charges, prosecutor Tapos Kanti Baul told The Daily Star.
Justice Anwarul Haque and Justice Shahinur Islam said acts of genocide were committed in these two incidents for “'killing members of the group' and 'causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group,'” while Justice Shohrowardi said acts of genocide were committed here for “killing members of the group,” said Tapos.
All the three judges, however, gave unanimous punishment in the charges, the death penalty.
According to the third charge, the accused along with eight to 10 Pakistan army men attacked and looted the house of one Shailendra Krishna Paul in the upazila in June, 1971, and killed two Hindu guards.
The tribunal sentenced Edris jail until death for the offences.
Edris was also awarded seven years of rigorous imprisonment in the fourth charge, which says the accused and the Pakistan army intimidated around 1,500 people into leaving Bangladesh between March 25 and December 10 of 1971.
The sentences of imprisonment will run concurrently and other sentences will be merged with the execution of death penalty, the tribunal said.
Prosecutor Zead Al Malum said the prosecution were happy with the judgement as they had been able to prove all the charges. State-appointed defence counsel Gazi MH Tamim, however, said he was aggrieved by the judgement and expressed the hope his client would be acquitted if he surrendered and filed an appeal with the Supreme Court.
According to the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973, a war crimes convict can file an appeal with the SC within 30 days from the date of the verdict's pronouncement.