Today the Tribunal heard matters in the following cases:
- Chief Prosecutor vs. Ashrafuzzaman Khan & Chowdhury Mueen Uddin
- Chief Prosecutor vs. Abdul Alim
In the case against Ashrafuzzaman Khan and Chowdhury Mueen Uddin Tribunal 2 recorded the testimony of Prosecution witness 13, Professor Panna Kaesar, alias Saifun Nahar Chowdhury. Both the examination-in-chief and cross-examination were completed. The witness’ testimony supports Charge 9, pertaining to the killing of journalist Shahidullah Kaesar.
In the case against Abdul Alim, the Tribunal rejected a time petition moved by senior defense counsel Mr Ahsanul Haque Hena. However, the case was subsequently adjourned for the day since Ashrafuzzaman and Mueen Uddin’s case took longer than anticipated.
Chief Prosecutor vs. Khan and Mueen Uddin, in absentia
Prosecution Witness 13
Professor Panna Kaiser, also known as Saifun Nahar Chowdhury is the widow of journalist Shahidullah Kaiser, who was killed during the massacre of Bangladesh’s intellectual community on 15 December 1971. She is a retired professor of Bangla and formerly taught at Badrunnessa College. Under Charge 9 it is alleged that Chowdhury Mueen Uddin, as the leader of ICS and the ‘operation in charge’ of Al-Badr, and Ashrafuzzaman Khan, as the ‘chief executor’ of Al-Badr, led a group of Al-Badr and abducted journalist Shahidulla Kaiser from his father’s home. His body was never found. The Defendants are charged with abetting and complicity in abduction as a crime against humanity, or in the alternative, for the commission of extermination as a crime against humanity, or in the alternative, for murder as a crime against humanity. The charge alleges liability under both Section 4(1), providing for joint criminal liability, and Section 4(2), codifying liability due to command responsibility.
The witness stated that she now resides in New Eskaton and that her husband’s permanent address was in Feni. She retired from her position as a professor of Bangla in Badrunnesa College in 1996 after being selected as Member of the Parliament in the reserved seat for women. She is also the Chairman of Khelaghor and a Member of the Executive Committee of Peace Council. She is also a member of Bangla Academy. After stating her own details, the witness stated that her biggest and most important identity is that she is the wife of martyred journalist Shahidullah Kaesar.
Professor Kaiser discussed her husband’s background in detail. She stated that he was a student of Presidency College in Calcutta (now spelled Kolkata) and was involved in left wing politics there. His father was a teacher at Calcutta University. Shahidullah and his family came back to the area that is now Bangladesh in 1947 after the partition of India and Pakistan. Shahidullah graduated with honors in Economics from Calcutta University and then took admission in Dhaka University. Here, he was given the task of developing a left wing student organization called “Student Federation.” He sought to organize the young generation against the oppression and atrocities of the Pakistani government. Shahidullah supported the development of Bangalee nationalism amongst the new generation youth. He went into hiding in 1950 due to being targeted by the Pakistani Army. Nonetheless, he gave a speech during the 1952 Language Movement from a distance using long wire. Only those who knew his voice recognized him. His brother Zahir Raihan was amongst the first in the movement to break curfew in order to join the protest. When asked by the judges the witness clarified that she and Shahidullah were married in 1969 and that he recounted these events to her after their marriage.
The witness testified that Shahidullah came out of hiding in 1954 and was arrested in 1958. While in jail he wrote several books, including “Shongshoptok,” “Shareng Bou,” and “Rajbondi’r Rojnamcha.” In 1962 he was released but was again arrested a few days later. Later on, he joined the Daily Shongbad as its Joint Editor. He wrote a few columns under two pseudonyms, “Pothochari” (Traveller) and “Desh Premk” (Patriot). He also founded two institutes called Khelaghor and Udichi. Professor Kaiser then became emotional and stated that she got married while a curfew was in place and became a widow during another; just two years and a few months later.
During the war in 1971, the witness said that Shahidullah and all his family members left their house of 29B, Ganguli Lane. He and Jahir Raihan allocated tasks amongst themselves. Jahir Raihan left for India while Shahidullah secretly maintained communications with the freedom fighters. Dr Fazle Rabbi, Dr Nurul Islam and Dr Ibrahim Promukh treated the wounded freedom fighters. In November the witness went to see her mother-in-law in BK Shaha. Professor Kaiser stated that the war between India and Pakistan started on the 3rd of December, 1971 and Shahidullah Kaiser was very excited in anticipation. He began to plan and prepare what the headlines of his newspaper should be to announce Bangladesh’s victory. On 12th December, the Chairman of the then Democratic Party, Mr Nurul Islam, came to the Shahidullah’s house to warn him of the killings being carried out by Al-Badr forces. Based on this information Shahidullah left for a safe house on 13th December 1971. However, he came back to inform his family that arrangements were to be made for all of them and hence they shall all leave together the following day during the break in the curfew. Unfortunately, there was no break in the curfew the following day, 14th December.
Professor Kaiser then gave an account of the 14th December. She said that they were all home on that day. Shahidullah wrote a letter to his wife, the witness, requesting that she raise their children according to his principles and values if he should die. The witness said that after reading the beginning of the letter she tore it up without reading the rest. She said that after completing her afternoon prayer she went to the balcony and saw that some young men were standing outside pointing at the house. The witness said that she immediately came in and told Shahidullah what she had seen. At that point, Shahidullah was sitting with the father of Mr. Shahriar Kabir (Prosecution witness 2 in the Mujahid case). Shahidullah tried to console the witness, telling her that she should pray for their well-being and all would be fine.
At around 5 p.m., Shahidullah was sitting with their son Amitav Kaiser on their living room sofa and the witness was feeding their daughter Shomi Kaiser, when the victim’s younger brother Mr Obaidullah came running to their floor (1st Floor), saying that some men were knocking at the gate downstairs. Shahidullah was excited, thinking that it must be freedom fighters coming to announce news of victory. Instead, four or five men entered. They had their faces covered and asked whether Shahidullah Kaiser was present. Shahidullah identified himself. They then dragged him to the balcony and the witness followed too. She turned on the balcony light and was shouting. The witness stated that she and her sister-in-law managed to pull the mask off of one of the men, revealing his face. The men then dragged Shahidullah away. The witness stated that all those who were present were held at gunpoint during the abduction.
Professor Kaiser said that the local Imam informed her that Shahidulla had been taken away in a muddy microbus. The witness immediately called Kotwali Police Station to see if her husband had been taken there. An Urdu speaking person answered the call and said that he was there. He instructed her visit the police station. However she decided not to go as the rest of the family thought it was too dangerous.
On 15th December the witness was taken to the Rayer Bazar mass grave by her brother-in-law Zakaria. On her way, she stopped at the house of Mr Zahur Hossain Chowdhury who advised her to be strong in life. Upon going to the mass grave, the witness saw piles of dead bodies. She looked for her husband but did not find him. The witness at this point started to weep and said that Shahidullah will always be in her heart.
The witness then said that after Bangladesh’s victory, Shahidullah’s brother Zahir Raihan came back to Bangladesh from India. A bit later a person was brought before the witness whom she identified as the same person whose face she and her sister-in-law had unmasked during Shahidulla’s abduction. She said that she found out that this person was Khalek Majumdar. The witness said that upon seeing the perpetrator’s face she fainted and collapsed. While she was partially unconscious she heard that Khalek Majumdar while being beaten confessed his involvement in the abduction but went on to say that he only abducted Shahidullah and then handed him over to his superiors. The witness said that Khalek Majumdar said that one of these superiors was named Shamsuzzaman Khan. After she said this name one of the Prosecutors interjected, correcting the name to Ashrafuzzaman Khan. She corrected herself and restated that one of the superiors was named Ashrafuzzaman Khan. The Prosecution used leading questions asking if there was a second name mentioned, naming the second Defendant Chowdhury Mueen Uddin. The witness then confirmed that she heard that Chowdhury Mueen Uddin was also a superior. The judges asked the witness to reconfirm if she heard both these names from Khalek Majumdar while she was partially unconscious after fainting. Professor Kaiser confirmed that even though she was in a sub-conscious state, she is sure about the two names.
The state appointed Defense counsel for Ashrafuzzaman Khan and Chowdhury Mueen Uddin did not dispute the abduction of Shahidullah. They alleged to the witness that Ashrafuzzaman Khan and Chowdhury Mueen Uddin were not involved. They asked the witness if any legal case was filed against Khaleq Majumdar. She answered that a case was filed against Khaleq Majumdar immediately after independence and that she acted as a witness in that case. However, she said she is not aware of any FIR (First Information Report) in the case, or whether he gave a confession in that case. The Defense counsel for Mueen Uddin alleged that Khaleq Majumdar did not name Mueen Uddin in his confession.
The Defense counsel also asked why the witness did not mention either Ashrafuzzaman Khan or Chowdhury Mueen Uddin in the books she has writted on the topic of her husband’s death. The witness responded that it was not the core subject matter of her book.
The Defense tried to raise doubt regarding the involvement of the accused and suggested that it was Khalek Majumdar who was responsible for both the abduction and subsequent killing of Shahidullah. They asserted that the allegations against both Ashrafuzzaman Khan and Chowhdury Mueen Uddin are based only on assumptions and conjecture.