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Azhar Trial Tribunal irks with IO for inadequate inquiry

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Staff reporter
The International Crimes Tribunal-1 on Sunday came down heavily on the designated investigator who had inquired into the happenings in Rangpur during the 1971 Liberation War, raising a question about his professional sincerity.
The tribunal expressed its displeasure as to how an investigation officer (IO), who deals with the four decades-old war crimes, could collect documents and evidence relating to all the allegations made against an accused by merely visiting Rangpur on a couple of days.
Even the IO did not refer to any book published on the Liberation War in Rangpur over its ‘Town Hall’ that had been turned into a makeshift army torture centre for Bangalee young men and females, observed the tribunal.
Terming a big incident the atrocities at Rangpur Town Hall in 1971, the tribunal further opined that a series of documents remained unearthed over the atrocities perpetrated by the Pakistan army and their collaborators.
It appears that more evidence over the matter should have been placed in this regard, said the tribunal, terming callousness in the investigation on Rangpur Town Hall.
The tribunal came up with its views when the designated prosecutor Barrister Tapos K Baul made his summing up-arguments on charge No. 5 made against detained accused ATM Azharul Islam, a 1971 Al Badr commander.
As the prosecutor apparently tried to establish the charge No. 5 mostly by hearsay witnesses (PWs) with one female prosecution witness, a Birangana (war victim), the tribunal interrupted him and said it’s unusual as all the PWs selected from outside Rangpur made evidence on Town Hall atrocities.
“Why the IO could not produce any PW who lived in the town in 1971?” the tribunal questioned.
In reply, prosecutor Tapos Baul admitted the limitations of the prosecution in this regard, saying “the prosecution could not collect all the required material evidence despite hard efforts due to the very old event that passed four decades.”
Besides, he said, it was a very difficult task for the part of the prosecution to find PWs as they usually were reluctant to provide evidence apprehending fear or future harassment.
When asked by the tribunal whether a single eyewitness evidence was enough to prove the charge No 5, the prosecutor claimed that the defence counsel during cross-examinations of the PWs had confirmed the time, place and presence of accused Azharul beyond any reasonable doubt.
Moreover, the prosecutor urged the tribunal to consider the prosecution witnesses’ (PWs) collective memory and old evidence principles scheme in proving the charges by applying the principles of International Criminal Law Jurisprudence (ICLJ) in dispensation of justice.
The prosecution summing-up arguments remained inconclusive for the fifth day.
The three-member tribunal, headed by Justice M Enayetur Rahim, adjourned the proceedings for Monday.
On November 12, 2013, the tribunal framed charges against ATM Azharul Islam for his involvement in crimes against humanity, including genocide, during the Liberation War in collaboration with the Pakistan occupation army, dismissing his discharge plea.
Also assistant secretary general of Jamaat-e-Islami, Azharul faces six counts of charges of crimes against humanity during the 1971 Liberation War like killing, abduction, confinement, torture, loot, arson, rape and genocide in Rangpur district.
A week after submitting the formal charge by the prosecution, the tribunal on July 25, 2013 took cognisance of the charge against Azharul as it found a strong prima facie case against the accused under subsections 3(2) and 4(1) (2) of the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act 1973.
According to the prosecution case, Azharul had been involved in the killing of more than 1,200 unarmed innocent civilians in Rangpur during the Liberation War in collaboration with the Pakistan occupation army.
It mentioned that Azharul Islam had played a key role in the killing of intellectuals, cultural personalities, physicians and lawyers in different areas of Rangpur during the 1971 war.
On August 22, 2012, police arrested Azharul from his Moghbazar house in the capital in connection with the war crimes case, after the tribunal issued a warrant for his arrest upon a prosecution plea.