Bangladesh on Sunday began the controversial war crimes trial with a top Islamist party leader Delwar Hossain Sayeedi being the first suspect to go on trial for allegations of genocide, rape, murder and arson committed during the country's 1971 Liberation war.
Chief Prosecutor Ghulam Arieff Tipu and senior prosecutor Syed Rezaur Rahman read out a lengthy statement before the three-judge International Crimes Tribunal at the Supreme Court complex where Sayeedi stood in the dock.
"We brought 20 charges of ‘crimes against humanity’ including genocide, rape, murder, arson and looting committed during the Liberation War," Rezaur Rahman told PTI.
He said the opening statement, including 61 of the 90-pages, described the brief general history of the crime against humanity and the major suspects.
“We expect to read the entire statement tomorrow when the hearing would resume," he said.
Court officials said the tribunal was expected to hear the defence argument from December 7 after recording the prosecution side.
Sayeedi, the leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), a key ally of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, is the first suspect to be charged with atrocities including genocide, rape and religious persecution.
Jamaat leaders and several other rightwing groups are accused of siding with the then Pakistani junta in 1971. Five of Jamaat's top leaders, including its chief Motiur Rahman Nizami and Secretary General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojahid and Sayeedi have been detained along with a BNP lawmaker Salahuddin Qader Chowdhury.
On March 25, 2010, the Awami League government set up a special tribunal for the trial of "war criminals" accused of genocide and those who sided with the Pakistani military during the bloody 'Liberation War'
71-year-old Sayedee, who has been detained to face 20 charges of crimes against humanity, including genocide, rape, murder, arson and looting committed during the Liberation War, could face death by hanging if found guilty by the ICC.
He has denied the charges being looked into by the ICC, which is a domestic set-up with no United Nations oversight or involvement.
A former BNP minister Abdul Alim has also been accused of comitting crimes against humanity during the bloody freedom struggle.
Bangladesh's Attorney General Mahbubey Alam sat with the prosecution team as the hearing began today. The defence team drew a number of senior lawyers, mostly belonging to main opposition BNP.
The defence lawyers included former parliamentary speaker Jamiruddin Sircar and former law minister Maudud Ahmed, Supreme Court Bar Association president Khandker Mahbub Hossain.
Witnesses said the defence lawyers wanted the hearing to be suspended until the tribunal gave an explanatory statement on an earlier ruling on their plea questioning the legal authority of the chair of the court of trying the suspects.
It is alleged that he was involved in a "mass enquiry commission" for a "symbolic and mock trial" of the war criminals in 1993.
"The law does not empower us to make a ruling ordering the removal of a fellow judge," said the tribunal in a brief order last week after a hearing during which chairman of the panel of judges Justice Nazamul Huq was absent.
The tribunal, however, ordered the hearing on the main charge against Sayeedi to continue saying an explanatory order on their earlier ruling would be given on November 23.
The tribunal asked the defence lawyers to submit a list of their "defence witnesses" by December 7.