The two South Asian na­tions ap­par­ently pur­sue a pol­icy of peace – but Bangladesh ends up pros­e­cut­ing in­di­vid­u­als with Pak­istan con­nec­tions for crimes al­leged to have been com­mit­ted forty years ago.

Southasia - - FRONT PAGE - By S.G. Ji­la­nee

It is a bur­lesque, a mock­ery and a crass trav­esty of jus­tice as a bunch of kan­ga­roo judges pre­side over courts which are given the au­gust ti­tle of “in­ter­na­tional war crimes tri­bunals” and dis­pense kan­ga­roo jus­tice in Bangladesh. Th­ese tri­bunals were set up in 2010 by Prime Min­is­ter, Sheikh Hasina, with judges hand­picked for their loy­alty. They have been award­ing death sen­tences to top lead­ers of the op­po­si­tion Ja­maat-e-Is­lami (JI) and the Bangladesh Na­tional Party (BNP) with to­tal aban­don. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, the rul­ing party spon­sors a pres­sure group - naba ja­garan man­cha (new awak­en­ing plat­form) which or­ga­nizes protests against their ‘le­nient’ sen­tences and cel­e­brates death sen­tences handed out by them.

The tri­bunals have tried more than 10 peo­ple, all of whom were top of­fice- bear­ers of the JI, ex­cept Salahud­din Qader Chowdhry and Ab­dul Aleem, who be­longed to the BNP. They in­cluded the in­cum­bent chief of the JI as well its Sec­re­tary and as­sis­tant sec­re­taries gen­eral. Some of them, in­clud­ing Chowd­hury, were min­is­ters in the BNP govern­ment.

In all cases but two, the tri­bunals re­turned the death sen­tence. The ex­cep­tions were Prof. Ghu­lam Azam, 92, who was awarded 90 years, and Ab­dul Aleem who was awarded life im­pris­on­ment. Di­lawar Hus­sain Say­eedee’s death sen­tence was com­muted to life on ap­peal. As for, Go­lam Azam, Aleem and AKM Yusuf, they died in prison.

Two de­fen­dants who es­caped the noose were Abul Kalam Azad Bachchu and Chowdhry Moeenud­din, be­cause, they were liv­ing abroad. They were sen­tenced to death in ab­sen­tia.

The ap­peal of Matiur Rah­man Nizami against his death sen­tence is pend­ing be­fore the BD Supreme Court. The rest, Ab­dul Qader Mulla, Kam­ruz­za­man and Qasim Ali have, all been hanged.

Ac­cord­ing to Hu­man Rights Watch, “The ac­cused in all th­ese cases were al­lowed a mi­nus­cule frac­tion of wit­nesses, coun­sel were reg­u­larly ha­rassed and per­se­cuted, de­fence wit­nesses faced phys­i­cal threats and wit­nesses were de­nied visas to en­ter the coun­try to tes­tify.”

One re­port says Ab­dul Qader Mol­lah was hanged fol­low­ing hastily en­acted ret­ro­spec­tive leg­is­la­tion pro­hib­ited by in­ter­na­tional law. An­other ac­cused, Del­war Hos­sain Sayedee, was con­victed de­spite cred­i­ble al­le­ga­tions of the ab­duc­tion

by govern­ment forces, of a key de­fence wit­ness from the grounds of the court with the ICT re­fus­ing to or­der an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the charge. Mo­hammed Ka­maruz­za­man was hanged even though wit­nesses and doc­u­ments were ar­bi­trar­ily lim­ited by the courts.”

But it was the ex­e­cu­tion of Ali Ah­san Mu­jahid and Salahud­din Qader Chowd­hury on Novem­ber 22 that evoked strong re­ac­tion from var­i­ous cor­ners, in­clud­ing the UN and Hu­man Rights Watch.

"We have long warned that, given the doubts that have been raised about the fair­ness of tri­als con­ducted be­fore the Tri­bunal, Bangladesh should not im­ple­ment death penalty sen­tences," the UN Of­fice of the High Com­mis­sioner for Hu­man Rights said in a state­ment in Geneva.

"The tri­als did not meet in­ter­na­tional stan­dards of fair trial and due process as stip­u­lated in the In­ter­na­tional Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bangladesh is a party," it added.

Two days be­fore their hang­ing, the U.S. State Depart­ment said the ex­e­cu­tions of Mu­jahid and Chowd­hury should not take place un­til it was clear that the trial pro­cesses had met in­ter­na­tional stan­dards. Yet, the Bangladesh govern­ment went ahead with the act.

Stephen Rapp, the for­mer US am­bas­sador for war crimes, who has long ad­vised the Bangladesh govern­ment to make changes in the law to en­sure fair tri­als, re­fer­ring to the trial of Mu­jahid and Chowd­hury, said:

“Through­out my en­gage­ment, I urged that the ju­di­cial pro­ceed­ings of the In­ter­na­tional Crimes Tri­bunal re­spect the high­est le­gal stan­dards. It sad­dens me to say that I do not be­lieve that was done in the cases of Salaud­din Qader Chowd­hury and Ah­san Mo­ham­mad Mu­jahid. Un­der the pro­vi­sions of in­ter­na­tional law that Bangladesh has bound it­self to up­hold, the im­po­si­tion of sen­tences of death in th­ese cases is not jus­ti­fied.”

Ear­lier, Amnesty In­ter­na­tional noted that the trial and ap­peal pro­cesses had suf­fered from "se­ri­ous flaws."

"They were brought to the at­ten­tion of the govern­ment by Amnesty In­ter­na­tional, Hu­man Rights Watch and other in­de­pen­dent ob­servers,” said Ab­bas Faiz, se­nior South Asia re­searcher of AI. “The govern­ment au­thor­i­ties who had the power to stop the ex­e­cu­tions had full knowl­edge of th­ese con­cerns. Yet, they went ahead with the ex­e­cu­tions."

Sam Zar­ifi, Asia-Pa­cific re­gional di­rec­tor of the In­ter­na­tional Com­mis­sion of Ju­rists, said the hu­man rights com­mit­tee of the United Na­tions is very clear that if a govern­ment wants to carry out a death penalty, it has to en­sure that the ju­di­cial process has been ab­so­lutely fair.

"In the case of the In­ter­na­tional Crime Tri­bunal in Bangladesh, un­for­tu­nately this hasn't been the case,” Zar­ifi told the VOA. “We saw wit­nesses not be­ing al­lowed to tes­tify, ev­i­dence that could ex­cul­pate the de­fen­dants not be­ing ad­mit­ted on vague grounds."

Alex Carlile, one of Bri­tain’s top le­gal ex­perts and a mem­ber of the House of Lords said the tri­als in the cases of Mu­jahid and Chowd­hury fell "far, far short of ac­cept­able stan­dards."

Point­ing to the haste in car­ry­ing out the ex­e­cu­tions of the two men, “just three or four hours af­ter their re­ported pres­i­den­tial clemency pe­ti­tions had been re­jected, Carlile said, “I think the speed at which the ex­e­cu­tions took place is ob­scene. It falls way out­side any ac­cept­able crim­i­nal jus­tice poli­cies. I think the Bangladesh govern­ment has lost all re­spect among lawyers the world over.”

The tri­als of Chowd­hury and Mu­jahid re­veal the kan­ga­roo na­ture of the courts at its worst. In Chowd­hury’s case, the court re­fused to ac­cept any ev­i­dence from his al­ibi wit­nesses while still de­mand­ing that Chowd­hury prove that his al­ibi was valid be­yond a rea­son­able doubt. Hu­man Rights Watch pointed out that the court al­lowed the pros­e­cu­tion to call 41 wit­nesses, but lim­ited the de­fence to four wit­nesses only.

The au­thor­i­ties seemed so dead bent on send­ing this BNP leader to the gal­lows that be­fore the hear­ing of his re­view pe­ti­tion they or­dered in­ter­na­tional air­lines fly­ing into Dhaka to de­clare whether any of Chowd­hury’s de­fence wit­nesses were booked on their flights - the ob­vi­ous pur­pose be­ing to deny them en­try on ar­rival.

Mu­jahid’s lawyers sub­mit­ted 1500 names of de­fence wit­nesses, but the court al­lowed only three of them. Also, it chose the num­ber ar­bi­trar­ily in­stead of iden­ti­fy­ing the most rel­e­vant wit­nesses. More­over, shortly be­fore the hear­ing on Mu­jahid’s re­view pe­ti­tion, one of his lawyers had to go into hid­ing fol­low­ing a po­lice raid on his house and the ar­rest of an­other de­fense coun­sel in a re­lated case.

Mu­jahid was sen­tenced to death for in­sti­gat­ing his sub­or­di­nates to com­mit abuses, even though no sub­or­di­nates tes­ti­fied or were iden­ti­fied.

But, that said, the ques­tion is, was Pak­istan’s re­ac­tion called for? Those ex­e­cuted were pay­ing for sup­port to the Pak­istan army which is said to have en­gaged in bru­tal acts against the com­mon peo­ple of for­mer East Pak­istan. Given the back­ground of the is­sue, Pak­istan for­eign min­istry’s state­ment that the trial of the two men was flawed and “Pak­istan is deeply dis­turbed by the ex­e­cu­tions,” was like rub­bing salt on the wounds of Bangladesh.

Bangladesh’s re­ac­tion was pre­dictable. It sum­moned Pak­istan's high com­mis­sioner in Dhaka to hand over to him a protest note. And Bangladesh's ju­nior for­eign min­is­ter, Mo­hammed Shahriar Alam, said Pak­istan had "no right" to make any com­ment on in­ter­nal is­sues of Bangladesh.

The protest note handed over to the Pak­istani en­voy said that by openly tak­ing the side of those con­victed, Pak­istan had once again ac­knowl­edged its di­rect in­volve­ment and com­plic­ity in the mass crimes com­mit­ted dur­ing the sep­a­ra­tion.

It fur­ther said the com­ments were noth­ing less than brazen in­ter­fer­ence in the in­ter­nal affairs of Bangladesh, which was un­ac­cept­able.

“Pak­istan should in no way make bi­ased, bor­rowed and un­founded com­ments about the in­de­pen­dent ju­di­ciary of a sov­er­eign coun­try,” the note stated.

In some quar­ters, it was even said the ex­e­cu­tions gave a se­ri­ous blow to Pak­istan-Bangladesh re­la­tions. Th­ese el­e­ments be­lieved the san­est course for Pak­istan would have been to of­fi­cially apol­o­gize for the ex­cesses that are said to have been com­mit­ted by its army in 1971 in or­der to salve the wounds. And leave the Bangladeshis to their kan­ga­roo courts.

The tri­als of Chowd­hury and Mu­jahid re­veal the kan­ga­roo na­ture of the courts at its worst.

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