A former director of the largest sharia bank in Bangladesh has been sentenced to death for war crimes. Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal announced yesterday verdicts of Mir Quasem Ali’s guilt on eight counts of abduction, confinement, and torture; and one count of murder. Ali was found not guilty on four related counts. For the murder charge Ali was sentenced to death by hanging.
In addition to being a co-founder and a former director of the sharia financial house Islami Bank Bangladesh Ltd. (IBBL), Ali has reportedly maintained over 100,000 shares worth over 40,000 USD in IBBL. Ali has worn several hats while financing Islamist militants in Bangladesh over the last several decades, including a stint as director of the Bangladeshi branch of the Saudi-sponsored Muslim World League “charitable” foundation that raises money for Islamist fighters. He has also played an instrumental role in financing the Jamaat-e-Islami political party. IBBL itself has been implicated in several terrorist finance schemes and is currently under audit by the government of Bangladesh.
The war crimes charges date back to November and December of 1971 when, as the president the Chittagong chapter of the Islami Chhatra Sangha (ICS), the student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami militia, and as a member of the Al-Badr death squads, Ali directed torture sessions and at least one murder of pro-independence East Pakistanis (Bangladeshis) at Al-Badr’s rooms in the Dalim Hotel. Interrogations directed by Ali were designed to elicit the whereabouts of civilians and fighters who were sympathetic to the cause of independence.
Findings from the trial include:
- When a thirsty detainee asked for water during his torture session, Mir Quasem Ali instructed his men to “give him urine to drink.” Referring to the treatment against another victim, Ali said to his men, “seeing him [Shafiul Alam Chowdhury] the detainees here will have some lesson.”
- On another occasion at the hotel, Ali said of a tortured boy: “he is not dead yet, throw him in [the room] so that the captives understand the consequence of not telling the truth.”
- Survivor Sanaulla Chowdhury testified that Ali was present during several torture sessions and personally interrogated Chowdhury. Defense lawyers did not dispute Chowdhury’s testimony.
- Sayed Md. Sarwaruddin testified that Ali and his accomplices “grilled” him for information about freedom fighters and beat him up on explicit orders from Ali after Sarwaruddin refused to answer their questions. Sarwaruddin said he also heard Al-Badr members refer to Ali as “Commander” and “Khan Saheb” [leader/master].
- Torture tactics included beating detainees with electric wires and hanging them upside down.
- Iskandar Alam Chowdhury testified that Ali told him “that he would be killed if he did not make disclosure about the freedom fighters,” although defense lawyers argued that Chowdhury had changed his story from earlier testimony.
- Another witness whose name was transliterated in court documents as “Md. Salauddin @ Chuttu Mia” said that “Mir Quasem Ali threatened to kill and dump him in the river Kornofuli.”
- Several detainees at Dalim Hotel were shot and dumped into the murky waters of the Karnaphuli including Tuntu Sen and Ranjit Das. Facilitating the murder of teenage detainee Jasim Uddin was ultimately what earned Ali his death sentence.
- Sunil Kantia Bardhan said that he and five others confined to a room were told they would all be killed if they refused to talk, but the war crimes tribunal did not find his narrative to be credible.
- Nasiruddin Chowdhury described being abducted and brought to Dalim Hotel where he was beaten by Al-Badr members. When they failed to get information from him, Ali entered the room and asked them why they couldn’t extract information from him, and ordered them to beat him more. They began beating him “indiscriminately with stick, iron rod, electric wire.” Then Ali personally asked, “who are your co-freedom fighters? Where are their shelters and arms?” Still getting no answers, they beat him again till he bled.
Most of the evidence against Ali consisted of eye witness testimony of torture survivors, but in some cases evidence came from second-hand accounts from family members of the deceased, as well as several cases from passages of books written by the victims following Bangladesh’s independence. The evidence appears to be quite consistent in indicating that Ali was in a leadership position over the Al-Badr “muscle” men. The testimony of survivors often depicts Ali giving instructions to Al-Badr members and of impasses at Dalim Hotel being escalated to Ali’s attention.
Ali eventually left the torture rooms of the Dalim Hotel for the board rooms of sharia banking in Bangladesh with Saudi backing. With 40 years having passed, Ali’s lawyers argued that too much time had elapsed since the alleged crimes for Ali to receive a fair trial. They also claimed that Ali wasn’t in Chittagong for at least some part of the time period in question, that alleged war criminals received amnesty from prosecution under a 1973 agreement, and that Ali did not have a formal leadership position over the Al-Badr members at Dalim Hotel. The tribunal was not persuaded by those arguments and laid out a 351-page ruling explaining their judgments in detail.