7 November 1922|
Dhaka, Bengal, (now Bangladesh)
23 October 2014 (aged 91)|
|Resting place||Moghbazar, Dhaka|
|Alma mater||Dhaka University|
|Occupation||Teacher, Leader of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh|
|Known for||Islamic Politics, war crimes|
|Criminal charge||Conspiracy and incitement in committing genocide|
|Criminal penalty||90-year prison sentence|
|Leader of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh|
|Preceded by||Abdur Rahim|
|Succeeded by||Motiur Rahman Nizami|
Ghulam Azam (Bengali: গোলাম আযম; 7 November 1922 – 23 October 2014) was a Bangladeshi politician convicted of war crimes by a Bangladeshi tribunal. During the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, he led the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, which opposed the independence of East Pakistan to Bangladesh. He led the party until 2000.
On 15 July 2013, a Bangladeshi special tribunal (the International Crimes Tribunal) found Azam guilty of war crimes such as conspiring, planning, incitement to and complicity in committing genocide, and gave him a 90-year prison sentence. The tribunal stated that Azam deserved capital punishment for his activity during Liberation war of Bangladesh but was given a lenient punishment of imprisonment because of his age and health condition. The trial has been criticized by several international observers, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Human Rights Watch, which was initially supportive of a trial subsequently criticized its "strong judicial bias towards the prosecution and grave violations of due process rights", calling the trial process deeply flawed and unable to meet international fair trial standards. Notably, it was at the center of the 2012 ICT Skype controversy.
As a leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, he led the formation of the Shanti Committees which were formed at the time of the Liberation War alongside other pro-Pakistan Bengali leaders. Azam was accused of forming paramilitary groups for the Pakistani Army, including Razakars, and Al-Badr. These militias opposed the Mukti Bahini members who fought for the independence of Bangladesh, and also stand accused of war crimes. Azam's citizenship of Bangladesh had been cancelled by the Bangladeshi Government because of his role during the Bangladesh Liberation War. He lived in Bangladesh illegally without any authorised Bangladeshi visa from 1978 to 1994, when the Bangladesh Supreme Court reinstated his citizenship.
Azam was arrested on 11 January 2012 on the charges of committing war crimes during the Bangladesh Liberation War by the International Crimes Tribunal in Bangladesh. The tribunal rejected the plea of bail after noting that there were formal charges against Azam of which it had taken cognisance.
Azam was born on 7 November 1922 in the then Bengal province of British India, the eldest son of Maulana Ghulam Kabir and Sayeda Ashrafunnisa. He attended a madrasa in his village of Birgaon, Nabinagar, Brahmanbaria in Comilla and completed his secondary school education in Dhaka. He then joined Dhaka University, completing BA and MA degrees in political science.
Early political career
While studying at the University of Dhaka Azam became active in student politics and was elected as the General Secretary of the Dhaka University Central Students' Union (DUCSU) for two consecutive years between 1947 and 1949. While General Secretary of the DUCSU Azam in 1947 submitted a memorandum on the union's behalf to the then Prime Minister of Pakistan Liaquat Ali Khan, demanding that Bengali be made a state language along with Urdu. Later in 1970 in a newspaper article Azam said "Bangla was a wrong decision with regard to the establishment of Pakistan since Urdu was widely used and all Muslims of the Indian subcontinent understand it."
In 1950, Azam left Dhaka to teach political science at the Government Carmichael College in Rangpur. During this time, he became influenced by the writings of Abul Ala Maududi and he joined Maududi's party Jamaat-e-Islami in 1954, and was later elected as the Secretary General of Jamaat-e-Islami's East Pakistan branch.
In 1964, the government of Ayub Khan banned Jamaat-e-Islami and its leaders, including Azam, was imprisoned for eight months without trial. He played a prominent role as the general secretary of the Pakistan Democratic Movement formed in 1967 and later as a member of Democratic Action Committee formed in 1969 to transform the anti-Ayub movement into a popular uprising. In 1969, he became the Ameer of the Jamaat in East Pakistan. He and other opposition leaders including future President of Bangladesh Sheikh Mujibur Rahman took part in the Round Table Conference held in Rawalpindi in 1969 to solve the prevailing political impasse in Pakistan. On 13 March 1969, Khan announced his acceptance of their two fundamental demands of parliamentary government and direct elections.
In the runup to the 1970 general election, Azam together with leaders of a number of other parties in East Pakistan (including the Pakistan Democratic Party, National Awami Party, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam and the Pakistan National League) protested at the Awami League approach to electioneering for, accusing them of breaking up public meetings, physical attacks on political opponents and the looting and destruction of party offices. During 1970, while Azam was the head of Jamaat-e-Islami East Pakistan, a number of political rallies, including rallies of Jamaat-e-Islami, were attacked by armed mobs alleged to be incited by the Awami League.
Bangladesh Liberation War
Activities during 1971 War
During the Bangladesh Liberation War, Azam took a political stance in support of unified Pakistan, and repeatedly denounced Awami League and Mukti Bahini secessionists, whose declared aim after 26 March 1971 became the establishment of an independent state of Bangladesh in place of East Pakistan. Excerpts from Azam's speeches after 25 March 1971 used to be published in the spokespaper of Jamaat named The Daily Sangram. On 20 June 1971, Azam reaffirmed his support for the Pakistani army by stating that 'the army has eradicated nearly all criminals of East Pakistan'.
During the war of 1971, it is alleged that Azam played a central role in the formation of Peace Committees on 11 April 1971, which declared the independence movement to be a conspiracy hatched by India. It is also alleged that Azam was one of the founding members of this organisation. The Peace Committee members were drawn from Azam's Jamaat-e-Islami, the Muslim League and Biharis. The Peace Committee served as a front for the army, informing on the civil administration as well as the general public. They were also in charge of confiscating and redistribution of shops and lands from Hindu and pro-independence Bengalis, mainly relatives and friends of Mukti Bahini fighters. The Shanti Committee has also been alleged to have recruited Razakars. The first recruits included 96 Jamaat party members, who started training in an Ansar camp at Shahjahan Ali Road, Khulna. During Azam's leadership of Jamaat-e-Islami, Ashraf Hossain, a leader of Jamaat's student wing Islami Chhatra Sangha, created the Al-Badr militia in Jamalpur District on 22 April 1971. On 12 April 1971, Azam and Matiur Rahman Nizami led demonstrations denouncing the independence movement as an Indian conspiracy.
During the war Azam travelled to the then West Pakistan to consult the Pakistani leaders. Azam declared that his party (Jamaat) is trying its best to curb the activities of pro-independence "Miscreants". Azam took part in meetings with General Yahiya Khan, the military dictator of Pakistan, and other military leaders, to organise the campaign against Bangladeshi independence.
On 12 August 1971, Azam declared in a statement published in the Daily Sangram that "the supporters of the so-called Bangladesh Movement are the enemies of Islam, Pakistan, and Muslims". He also called for an all out war against India. He called for the annexation of Assam.
Azam is also alleged to be the chief protagonist and to present the blueprint of the killing of the intellectuals in a meeting with Rao Forman Ali in Early September 1971. In accordance with this blue print, the largest number of Bengali intellectuals assassinations performed by Pakistani Army and the local collaborators, on 14 December 1971.
On 20 June 1971, Azam declared in Lahore that the Hindu minority in East Pakistan, under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, are conspiring to secede from Pakistan. On 12 August 1971, Azam declared in a statement published in the Daily Sangram that "the supporters of the so-called Bangladesh Movement are the enemies of Islam, Pakistan, and Muslims". For his part, Azam denies all such accusation and challenges that proof be brought forward to justify them. However, he later admitted that he was on the list of collaborators of the Pakistani army, but denied he was a war criminal.
The military junta of Yahya Khan decided to call an election in an attempt to legitimise themselves. On 12 October 1971, Yahya Khan declared that an election will be held from 25 November to 9 December. Azam decided to take part in this election. On 15 October, the Pakistani government suddenly declared that 15 candidates were elected without any competition. According to the declaration of 2 November as many as 53 candidates were elected without any competition. In this election Jamaat won 14 of the uncontested seats.
Former caretaker government adviser, human rights activist and witness for the prosecution Sultana Kamal said- "In brutality, Ghulam Azam is synonymous with German ruler Hitler who had influential role in implementation and execution of genocide and ethnic cleansing". In response to this statement the defence counsel pointed out that the comparison was a fallacy and 'fake with malicious intention' as Hitler held state power, which Azam did not and that in 1971 General Tikka Khan and Yahya Khan held state power. Prosecutor of ICT Zead-Al-Malum said- “He was the one making all the decisions, why would he need to be on any committee? Being Hitler was enough for Hitler in World War II.”
Leader of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh
Government of newly independent Bangladesh, banned Jamaat-e-Islami and cancelled Azam's citizenship due to his alleged role during the Bangladesh Liberation War. Azam lived in exile in London until he was allowed to return home in 1978.
Jamaat's rehabilitation began when Ziaur Rahman became president after a coup in 1975 and lifted the previous ban on religious parties. In 1977, Zia removed secularism in the constitution, replacing it with Islamic ideals, further clearing the way for Jamaat-e-Islami to return to political participation. In 1978 Azam returned to Bangladesh on a temporary visa with a Pakistani passport and stayed as a Pakistani national after his visa expired, refusing to leave a country he considered his home by birth-right. His stay was however unwelcome in Bangladesh, and he was beaten by sandals by an angry mob at the footsteps of the Baitul Mukarram Mosque while attending a funeral in 1981.
In the 1980s, Azam was particularly critical of the military rule of General Ershad after he seized power in a bloodless coup in 1982 and Jamaat-e-Islami took part in demonstrations and strikes as well as other opposition parties such as the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). He proposed a caretaker government system to facilitate free and fair elections, which was adopted in 1990. In the Bangladeshi general election, 1991, Jamaat-e-Islami won 18 seats and its support allowed the BNP to form a government.
During this time, he acted unofficially as the Ameer of Jamaat-e-Islami until 1991, when he was officially elected to the post. This led to the government arresting him and an unofficial court called The People's Court was established by civilians such as Jahanara Imam to try alleged war criminals and anti-independence activists. Imam held a symbolic trial of Azam where thousands of people gathered and gave the verdict that Azam's offences committed during the Liberation War deserve capital punishment. In 1994, he fought a lengthy legal battle which resulted in the Supreme Court of Bangladesh ruling in his favour and restoring his nationality.
In the 1996 election, Jamaat won only three seats, and most of their candidates lost their deposits. Azam announced his retirement from active politics in late 2000. He was succeeded by Motiur Rahman Nizami.
War crimes trial
Arrest and incarceration
On 11 January 2012, Azam was arrested on charges of committing crimes against humanity and peace, genocide and war crimes in 1971 by the International Crimes Tribunal. His petition for bail was rejected by the ICT, and he was sent to Dhaka Central Jail. However, after three hours he was sent to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) hospital for a medical check-up due to his old age. According to The Daily Star, Azam was allowed to remain in a hospital prison cell despite being declared fit for trial by a medical team on 15 January. The same paper later acknowledged that he had been placed there due to his "ailing condition".
Azam's health has deteriorated rapidly since being imprisoned. His wife, Syeda Afifa Azam was reported in several newspapers as being shocked at his treatment, stating that he has become very weak and has lost 3 kilograms in a month due to malnutrition. She described his treatment as "a gross violation of human rights" even though he was kept in a hospital prison cell.
Azam's wife complains about him being denied proper family visits and access to books, saying that this amounted to "mental torture". The Daily Star reported that Azam's wife and his counsels were allowed to meet him on 18 February. On 25 February 2012, The Daily Star reported that Azam's nephew was denied a visit at the last minute just as he was about to enter the hospital prison room. This is despite the application for the visit being initially approved.
Islamic activists from different countries expressed their concern for Mr. Azam. The International Union of Muslim Scholars, chaired by Yusuf al-Qaradawi called the arrest "disgraceful", and called on the Bangladesh government to release him immediately, stating that "the charge of Professor Ghulam Azam and his fellow scholars and Islamic activists of committing war crimes more than forty years ago is irrational and cannot be accepted".
The judicial process under which Azam is on trial has been criticised by international organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. So far, the ICT has sentenced two of the accused to death and has given a life sentence to another.
Azam was convicted of war crimes during the Bangladesh Liberation War by the International Crimes Tribunal-1 of Bangladesh. The charges against Azam were conspiring, planning, incitement to and complicity in committing genocide, crimes against humanity, and other war crimes and torture and killing of a police officer Shiru Mia and three other civilians. He was found guilty on all five charges and sentenced to 90 years in prison. The judges unanimously agreed that Azam deserved capital punishment but was given a lenient punishment because of his age and health condition.
In a press release, Jamaat Acting Secretary General Rafiqul Islam said the International Crimes Tribunal's verdict against Azam was nothing but a reflection of what AL-led 14-party alliance leaders had said against him [Ghulam Azam] in different meetings. Pro-BNP newspaper Daily Amardesh, whose publication is currently ceased for publishing false news to instigate violence reported that the evidence presented before the court against Ghulam Azam consisted of newspaper clippings published during 1971."
Ghulam Azam died of a stroke on 23 October 2014 at 10:10 pm at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) while serving jail sentences for crimes against humanity during Bangladesh Liberation War. His death was reported by Abdul Majid Bhuiyan, director of BSMMU. Ghulam was kept on life support since 8 pm of that day. He was also suffering from kidney problems. Azam was buried at their family graveyard at Moghbazar, Dhaka on 25 October. His namaz-e-janaza was held at Bangladesh's national mosque Baitul Mokarram. The funeral was attended by hundreds of thousands of mourners. Different quarters of the country protested against taking Azam's body to the national mosque because of his war crimes conviction and his opposition to the independence of the country.
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Maulana Abdur Raheem
| Ameer of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh
Motiur Rahman Nizami