SENTENCED JAMAAT LEADER ALI IS RICHEST WAR CRIMINAL
Top leader and financier of fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami and Bangladeshi media baron Mir Quasem Ali was sentenced to death by the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT)-2 for atrocities committed during the 1971 Independence War against Pakistan on Nov 2, three days after the party’s chief Matiur Rahman Nizami was awarded capital punishment on similar charges.
The ICT-2 found the 63-year old Islamist leader and business tycoon guilty of ten out of 14 charges, including murder, mass killings, torture, extortion, arson and other heinous crimes. He was given death sentence for torturing to death two juvenile freedom fighters and throwing their bodies into the Karnaphuli river in Chittagong during the Liberation War. The tribunal said in its verdict that eight of the charges brought against him had been proved while two were partially proved. He was also given 72 years in prison for various charges, including persecution, abduction and confinement.
Ali was arrested on July 17, 2012 and the prosecution submitted formal charges against him on May 16, 2013. The tribunal indicted him on Sept. 5, 2013 and his trial ended on May 4 this year.
The prosecutors accused him of playing a leading role in murder, genocide, rape and loot which were rampant in Chittagong during the war period. According to the tribunal, the local collaborators of the Pakistan Army “let loose a reign of terror in Chittagong” under Ali’s command in 1971. The prosecutors said Ali had ordered several killings at various Razakar camps in the district. The tribunal also observed in the verdict that Ali had prepared a hit list of intellectuals supporting Bangladesh’s independence. They were brutally murdered on Dec 14, 1971 just two days before the Pakistan Army surrendered in Dhaka.
In 1971, Ali was the president of Jamaat’s infamous student wing — Islami Chhatra Sangha (ICS), in Chittagong and subsequently became the general secretary of its East Pakistan unit. The tribunal said Ali in his capacity as the district commander of the notorious Islamic militia Al-Badr, had set up at least three torture cells in the southeastern port city. He was specifically charged with running a makeshift torture camp at a hotel in Chittagong where scores of freedom fighters, sympathisers and even innocent people were tortured and eventually killed.
In the initial stage of the war, Ali was only the district commander of the Islamic militia. But soon he was promoted and made number three central Al-Badr leader in the country after considering his performance in terms of damage he had inflicted on freedom fighters and the cause of independence.
Ali fled to Saudi Arabia following independence and returned to Bangladesh only after the violent political changeover of Aug 15, 1975. Like most of the noted war criminals, Ali remained obsessed with religious dogmas and focused on strengthening Jamaat in independent Bangladesh. On Feb 6, 1977, he became the founding president of ICS when it rechristened itself as Islami Chhatra Shibir. Later on, he served as the chief of Jamaat’s Dhaka unit.
Currently, he is an influential member of Jamaat’s highest policy making body, the Standing Committee, and considered as the major financier. Ali also played a key role in the establishment of numerous Islamic institutions belonging to radical Wahabi school of thought in Bangladesh after his return from Saudi Arabia.
Various reports suggest that Ali devoted himself to financially strengthening the party after its rehabilitation by Bangladesh’s first military ruler Ziaur Rahman in 1976. He revived Jamaat by establishing several charities and trusts affiliated to it. Bangladeshi observers say he “serves as de facto treasurer of Jamaat” that maintains close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and a number of jihadi outfits.
Ali has also been regarded as “Saudi Arabia’s money man in Bangladesh” since the late 1970s. He is the founder of Saudi-funded Ibne Sina Charitable Trust and Hospital which provides free medicare facilities to the poor throughout the country. Moreover, Ali is the country director of Saudi-based resource-rich NGO Rabita al-Alam al-Islami that funds several projects. Ali is also a director of the Islami Bank, which is reportedly involved in terror financing. The bank’s association with Jamaat is well known in the country.
Ali is one of the major beneficiaries of the assassination of Bangladesh’s founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and prolonged military rule. The successive military regimes’ liberal economic policies helped innumerable war criminals and Razakars, including Ali, to flourish in business and allied activities. Ali has developed huge stakes in Bangladesh’s real estate and shipping sectors.
Ali is also chairman of Diganta Media Corporation which owns a television channel and a newspaper aligned with Jamaat. The Awami League (AL) government closed down both in May 2013 for irresponsible reporting and inciting religious tension. Local reports suggest that the Daily Naya Diganta which has a circulation of about 3.2 million copies a day and Diganta TV which reaches out to 10 million Bangladeshi viewers globally had been relentlessly campaigning against the trial of war criminals since its establishment in March 2010.
In addition to these, the wealthy businessman adopted other means to scuttle the ongoing war crimes trial. Defying restrictions imposed by the AL government on foreign visits by Jamaat war crimes suspects, Ali paid a high profile visit to Saudi Arabia in 2010 to garner Riyadh’s support to put pressure on Sheikh Hasina for discontinuing the trials.
Furthermore, he reportedly hired a top US lobby firm Cassidy and Associates and spent $310,000 to influence the US administration. The lobbying effort proved effective to an extent and the US Ambassador for war crimes at-large Stephen Rapp visited Bangladesh three times in 2011 and recommended a number of measures to the incumbent government for ensuring fair trial.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina calls the war crimes trial a long overdue move and says it will heal the wounds of the 1971 war. A prosecutor observes that Ali’s capital punishment would dispel any “culture of impunity” in Bangladesh. Some human rights groups on the other hand maintain that Bangladesh’s war crimes tribunal does not meet international standards.
Reacting to the judgment, Ali’s legal counsel said, “….. it is a prescribed verdict in a fabricated case” and vowed to challenge it in the Supreme Court. Ali immediately protested in the court room once the chief judge announced the sentence. He described it as “a motivated judgment” and added that it was given on government’s orders.
Ali, like most of the convicted Jamaat leaders, denies that he had committed any crime in 1971. However, freedom fighters’ associations, pro-liberation socio-cultural groups and people in general welcomed Ali’s conviction.
Rupak Bhattacharjee has worked as Senior Research Fellow at Kolkata’s Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies and New Delhi’s Institute for Conflict Management.
NOVEMBER 18, 2014