Bangladesh government on Monday pressed war crime charges against fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) leader Ghulam Azam at the International Crimes Tribunal, calling him a "key collaborator" of the then Pakistani regime during the 1971 Liberation War.
"We brought 52 charges against Ghulam Azam at the Tribunal seeking him to be tried as an accused of 'crimes against humanity' during the Liberation War," prosecution lawyer Syed Rezaur Rahman told PTI, ahead of the 40th anniversary of Bangladesh's victory in the freedom struggle on December 16.
He said the three-judge International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) headed by Justice Niazamul Haq asked the prosecution to bring the charges against the former JI chief through the registrar of the tribunal for its consideration.
Rahman said the prosecution also requested the ICT to consider ordering Azam's arrest when it looks into the charges of his involvement in the Pakistani troops' notorious 'Operation Searchlight' of March 25, 1971, when they suddenly cracked down on unarmed people.
Azam, a provincial minister under the then Pakistani regime in 1971, was stripped off his nationality as he fled the country at the fag end of the Liberation War but got it back after a legal battle following his return home in 1976.
In an interview to a private television channel, Azam, now in his early 80s, denied the charges and said "I did not do anything for which I will have to seek apology from the nation."
"What I did, I had done for the benefit of the people, to save people," he told Baishakhi TV on Sunday, adding that he, however, was prepared for arrest to face the trial.
But the investigators earlier said they found clear evidence that he was the key man under whose directives the perpetrators of crimes against humanity acted in 1971.
The development at ICT came a day after the prosecution formally accused three top JI leaders of war crimes.
The ICT also set December 18 for hearing of charges against current JI chief Motiur Rahman Nizami, Secretary General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed and Assistant Secretary General Muhammad Quamruzzaman.
It granted prosecution one more week to submit charges against another Assistant Secretary General of the party Abdul Qader Mollah.
The right wing JI, which is a key ally of main opposition BNP of ex-prime minister Khaleda Zia, had opposed the country's independence siding with the then Pakistani regime.
Five of the seven war crime suspects detained so far to face the trial belonged to Jamaat-e-Islami, while the rest two are leaders of BNP.