Home / Articles / Miscarriage of justice in Bangladesh

Miscarriage of justice in Bangladesh

Mohammad Hossain

Tuesday, November 24, 2015 – WITH the execution of Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury and Ali Ahsan Mujahid on the eve of the 21st of November, controversy surrounding the war crimes trials in Bangladesh has attained new dimensions. Not only did they face gross injustice, but as will be elucidated later on in this piece, the defendants were victim to dirty tricks and cheap propaganda by vested quarters as well.
Earlier, on the 18th of November, the Appellate division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh rejected review petitions by the two politicians against the death sentences imposed on them by the International War Crimes Tribunal, a local court set to try perpetrators of crimes against humanity during the war of independence of the country in 1971. The trials have however have been rife with controversy, and local and international human rights bodies and renowned legal experts like Geoffrey Robertson QC have raised concerns on the proceedings and various aspects of successive trials since their inception in 2010. The latest verdicts against Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury and Ali Ahsan Mujahid are no different.
A seven-time MP with an illustrious political career, Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury was a sitting MP from the port city Chittagong in Bangladesh. He was the son of the well known Bengali politician Fazlul Quader Chowdhury who served as the 5th speaker of the National Assembly of Pakistan from East Pakistan from 1963-65. All charges, and subsequently death sentences against Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury hinge on the claim that he was at Chittagong during the 13th and 19th of August, 1971. As reported by David Bergman, the defense argued that Chowdhury was not present in Chittagong on these two particular dates (or indeed throughout the 9 month war).
However, the tribunal not only limited Chowdhury’s defence to 5 witnesses against the 41 witnesses by the prosecution, it also did not take into account sworn affidavits submitted to the court by several individuals, among them 5 prominent Pakistani witnesses who say that Chowdhury was in Karachi in April 1971, the time of occurrence of the four offences he has been accused of. The court simply ruled them as been inadmissible, vaguely stating that they had not been “submitted correctly”.
The verdict against Ali Ahsan Mujahid is another classical case of a miscarriage of justice. An illustrious politician, Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid is the Secretary General of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest Islamic political party in Bangladesh. He was Minister for Social Welfare during the tenure of the 4-Party Alliance government led by BNP-Jamaat from 2001-2006. He was sentenced, on the basis of assumption and hearsay, of being guilty of the conspiracy to murder all intellectuals in 1971, a bizarre statement by its own right considering that there was no concrete evidence presented to substantiate such a claim.
Mujahid was convicted on four charges along with the death sentence for “killing intellectuals”. An in depth analogy of the trial reveals that fundamentally problematic hearsay statements were used to indict the defendant, such as the statement of Rustom Ali Mollah.
A 14-year old guard at the time, Rustom claimed that he had seen Mujahid at the gate of the Physical Training Institute, 3-4 months after the beginning of the ‘liberation’ war, conversing with an army officer from far off. Although he confessed that he had never seen or heard of Mujahid beforehand and that he heard the other guards saying Mujahid was here along with others, his evidence was used to ‘prove’ that Mujahid had been scheming with the Pakistani army and was involved with the “intellectual killing” at this institute later in 1971. The only other witness in this charge is Jahir Uddin Jalal, who was 13 years old at the time, and gave hearsay evidence, claiming that Rustom the guard had told him that Mujahid came to the Physical Training institute in Mohammadpur, Dhaka. On cross examination, Rustom the guard claimed that he did not know who Jalal was.
An interesting point to note here is that the father of Rustom Ali the guard, Mohammad Rohom Ali Molla, is still alive and was also working at the Center, also as a guard, at the time. Yet the father was not called to be witness. Similarly, the erstwhile principal of the very same institute, Muhib Ullah Khan Majlis and his son, the present day principal, Tareq Iqbal Khan Majlis (he was a class 8 student in 1971), were not brought to the tribunal as witnesses as well. Moreover, the investigation officer did not take the statement of any teacher or staff, who were employees of that college during that time in 1971 or bring them as witnesses.
Despite the clear discrepancies highlighted above, the court wasted no time in handing down the two prominent opposition politicians the death sentence. The trials, and in particular, the recent verdicts have been widely criticized by many rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty, NWPJ, ICJ, prominent politicians like Lord Carlyle and Tom Brake and intellectuals such as Toby Cadman or Grahame Lucas, all of who had asked the Bangladesh government to stop the executions. Furthermore, on the day of their execution, both politicians were subject to sleazy tactics and propaganda on part of those vested interests, notably the government.
Earlier, the government shut down social media communication tools Facebook, Viber and Whatsapp among others from the 18th of November, the same day the review appeals were rejected. On the 20th of November, local news media surprisingly reported that both men had appealed for Presidential clemency, a fact that the families of both vehemently denounced as false and fake. No further explanation was given by the government, which hurriedly announced that the “clemency applications” had been rejected, and oblivious to all concerns, proceeded to carry out the executions after 12 midnight on 21st November.
Apparently, as far as the Bangladesh government was concerned, it had successfully weathered all criticism by simply choosing to ignore them. Blinded by myopically construed political interests, it had chosen to disregard all valid concerns surrounding fair trial standards and create another dangerous precedent by carrying out a miscarriage of justice instead.

—Courtesy: WB as reproduced by Pakistan Observer on November 24, 2015

About admin

Check Also

Blasphemy issue needs a permanent solution

The good sense has prevailed, an imminent catastrophe has receded. In a written statement issued on August 30, Geert Wilders announced "not to let the cartoon contest go ahead.” The contest was to be held at the tightly guarded offices of his Party for Freedom in the Dutch parliament building. Meanwhile, the Netherlands government had been at pains to distance itself from the contest. Prime Minister Mark Rutte questioned Wilders' motive for organising the contest. Pakistan’s foreign minister congratulated the nation and Muslim Ummah on their moral victory and termed the cancellation of the contest a victory for Pakistan on the diplomatic front. Cancellation announcement came within days after Prime Minister Imran Khan issued a statement saying the act was hurting the sentiments of Muslims living all around the world. Condemning the blasphemous cartoon competition in the Netherlands, Prime Minister Imran Khan had blamed the recurrence of such incidents a collective failure of the Muslim world, saying he would take up the matter at the United Nations General Assembly’s upcoming session. After the publication of Salman Rushdi’s blasphemous book ‘Satanic Verses’, it has become very easy to malign Muslims in the West, the prime minister said. “And they have been successfully doing it.” If they [Western countries] feel pained discussing the Holocaust, why haven’t we been able to convey to the West how much we feel pained when they do blasphemous things against Islam and our beloved Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him)?” Pakistan’s foreign office is undertaking a hectic diplomatic campaign to avert the exhibition of profane cartoons in November. Hopefully the good sense would prevail. Time and again, Western Christian countries purposefully hurt the religious sentiments of Muslims through public display of profane audio-visual and print material about Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), under the pretext of their so called doctrine of freedom of expression. In a stark contradiction, same very European States immediately imprison anyone questioning the veracity of ‘Holocaust’, while Muslims and their religion don’t get the similar preferential treatment. While earlier such incidents in Netherlands were an act of non-state actors, this time parliamentary permission to hold the forthcoming exhibition inside parliament premises had made the government of Netherlands a party to this nefarious act of religious extremism. Opposition leader Greet Wilders has a track history of airing anti-Muslim sentiment. In December 2017, he proposed that European countries should adopt Donald Trump-style travel bans to counter a wave of Islamisation, according to him, sweeping the continent. Wilders also urged Europe to adopt Australia’s tactics in turning back migrant boats and to build new border walls, as Trump had vowed to do along the US frontier with Mexico. Wilders is the parliamentary leader of his party in the House of Representatives. During his election campaign, Wilders had published a one-page election manifesto calling for a ban on all asylum seekers and migrants from Islamic nations, and urged his country to leave the European Union. Wilders also stands for banning the Quran and closing all mosques and Islamic schools. Political environment in Netherlands is quite murky and thoroughly mired in populist rhetoric, where both the government and the opposition are, more often than not, competing to appear more racist and exclusionist. Wilders was defeated in March 2017 elections by Mark Rutte. According to Guardian “cost of latter’s victory against Geert Wilders’ anti-EU, anti-immigration, anti-Islam Freedom PVV party was a pyrrhic victory”. Mark Rutte’s VVD party had adopted the very rhetoric of Wilders to beat him. Rutte had said: “something wrong with our country” and claimed “the silent majority” would no longer tolerate immigrants who come and “abuse our freedom”. Close to end of his previous tenure as Prime Minster, Rutte thought that being tough on Turkey would fetch him more votes, therefore he “happily sparked a mini-international crisis for the sake of votes”. While during the electoral campaign, Rutte said stopping Wilders was about stopping the “wrong sort of populism”. Situation is akin to India where both BJP and Congress compete to articulate more pro Hindu rhetoric to encash Hindu vote bank. Pakistan had approached Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to lodge a protest against this planned cartoon competition in Netherlands. Former caretaker Foreign Minister Abdullah Haroon had set the dice rolling by writing a letter to the OIC Secretary General seeking his leadership for a collective action to register a protest of OIC countries with the Dutch authorities, who in turn had written to the Dutch foreign minister, on behalf of 57 Muslim countries, protesting against this abominable event. It is not the first time that the Netherlands is holding such competition. In the past also such acts have frequently been committed by this country with a malicious intent to target the noblest personality of the Holy Prophet (Pbuh). Pakistan has called upon the Dutch Ambassador to Pakistan and the EU Ambassador, who represents 28 European countries, to register the protest. “We have conveyed our condemnation of this deliberate attempt to vilify Islam. Such incidents should not go unpunished,” Foreign office spokesperson said. Pakistan’s new government had taken forth the process. During its first meeting, cabinet decided to take up the matter at bilateral level. Pakistan lodged a strong protest with the Netherlands over an announcement of holding a competition of blasphemous caricatures. “The charge d’affaires of the Kingdom of the Netherlands was summoned to the Foreign Office on August 13, and a strong protest was lodged”, Foreign office stated. Deep concern was conveyed at this deliberate and malicious attempt to defame Islam. “Pakistan’s ambassador in Hague has been instructed to forcefully raise the issue with the Dutch government along with ambassadors of OIC member states,” the Foreign Office went on to add. Foreign minister Shah Mahmud Qureshi also spoke to his Dutch counterpart. Pakistan’s permanent representatives to the United Nations in New York and Geneva were directed to take up the matter with the UN Secretary General, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and other UN bodies and procedures. The issue would also be discussed in the forthcoming meeting of the OIC’s Council of Foreign Ministers, scheduled to be held on the side-lines of forthcoming 73rd ministerial session of the UNGA. Though the triggering issue is behind us, OIC should not lower its guards, it should firm up an action plan if any individual or government attempts such a misadventure in future. During this meeting the Muslim countries should send a loud and clear message that the despoliation of Muslim holy personalities is not acceptable to them. The silver lining is that there have been saner voices from within Dutch civil society. Demonstrations were held by Dutch nationals to show solidarity with Muslims. During March 2017, Dutch citizens gathered at a mosque in Amsterdam, to show solidarity with the country’s Muslim population. People representing a broad coalition against racism gathered at the central Al-Kabir mosque to show opposition to anti-Muslim sentiments in the country. “We as a Muslim community pose no danger whatsoever to society,” said Najem Ouladali while addressing the gathering. “We believe that what Wilders is doing is very dangerous to our society,” Ouladali added. Najem was one of the organizers of the gathering. Pakistan should continue to work closely with all the OIC member states to find a permanent solution to this recurring issue. Matter should be persistently raised at the relevant international fora until a sustainable way is found by the international community for preventing such abhorrent acts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *