Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Adjournment

We were all set for the hearing at which my lawyer would put forward to the Tribunal our arguments in response to the allegation that I had committed contempt of court. I had delayed my trip to London by nearly two weeks just so that I would be present for this date.

As the judges entered the court room, one of the applicant's lawyers asked for an adjournment as the main lawyer on their side, Mizan Sayeed was ill. After some discussion, in which the tribunal showed its displeasure at seeking an adjournment, the court adjourned the matter to 21 August.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Hearing on contempt proceedings

On Tuesday 8 July, a hearing at the International Crimes Tribunal will take place, concerning its previous order requiring me to 'show cause' why I should not be punished for contempt of court.

Last month, our written response to that 'show cause' notice was filed with the court, and Tuesday is the date set for the oral hearing. This written response, along with an account of the oral hearing, will be published on this blog later on Tuesday.

The background to this is as follows:
On 19 February 2014, a lawyer called Abul Kalam Azad, who is not a party to the tribunal and has had no previous involvement with it, filed an application with the tribunal claiming that three articles - one published two and a half years earlier and two published one year earlier - were in contempt to court. 
- A few days latter, the Tribunal in response passed an order seeking an explanation for the 'criticisms' contained in the articles. 
An explanation was filed with the tribunal and an oral hearing took place
- On 17 April, the tribunal passed an order stating that it was not satisfied with the explanation, and that it was of the 'view that there have been prima facie elements of contempt in the comments/criticism dated 11.11.2011 and 28.01.2013 made by the opposite party which warrants to draw contempt proceedings against him under section 11(4) of the ICT Act, 1973. Hence the contemnor is directed to show cause within 15 (fifteen) days from date as to why he shall not be punished for making derogatory comments towards the order ...' 
- The press statement issued subsequent to this order can be seen here 
- In May, a response to the show cause order was filed with the court (to be published on Tuesday)
- 8 July: oral hearing to take place at the tribunal

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The truth behind Nizami's high blood pressure

There seems to be something in the nature of this tribunal process, such that the sudden postponement of the judgement against Motiur Rahman Nizami, the erstwhile leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, on the grounds of his poor ill-health, is viewed by almost everyone as something other than simply a matter of his high blood pressure!

There are three theories set out in today's newspapers.

First, it is argued that the postponement is due to the arrival tonight of Sushma Swaraj, India's external affairs minister.

The argument here seems to be that the government did not want any distractions to this visit - whether  in the form of newspaper headlines, or possible violence resulting from the tribunal decision itself.

The problem with this argument is of course that (a) on Monday, when it was announced that Nizmai's judgement was to be given, her visit was very well known - so what changed in the subsequent 24 hours? (b) the Jamaat had not called a Hartal as it usually had done before verdicts, perhaps suggesting that it was not going to protest as it had in the past - so was there any real prospect of violence?; (c) before the postponement was made, some people were arguing that it was because of her visit that it was decided that the judgement should be given. 'A present to the Indians', as it was stated by someone. Can the visit be an argument both for the judgement and also for its postponement?

Of course, it is certainly possible that someone, at a late stage, suddenly thought better of it, and judged that the optics of the Indian foreign minister arriving just after a verdict, might backfire. Or perhaps, conceivably, the Indian government themselves suggested to the Bangladesh government that their minister's visit should not take place right after the judgement.

The second theory relates to the Narayanganj by-election, which is taking place on Thursday.

This does not really make that much sense. One can understand, perhaps, that the government might want the judgement to take place before the election - in order to fire up its political base  helping the Awami League to a victory. But how does it help the government's election prospect's to postpone it?

Of course, it is possible, with violence already predicted in the Narayanganj by-election, that the authorities feared that the judgement needed to be postponed so that any post-judgement protests did not mix in with the existing risk of the by-election violence. However, again this was a known factor at the time of announcing the judgement on Monday

The third theory is that the delay is linked in some way to on-going discussions between the government and the Jamaat-e-Islami. This is of course the big suspicion of war crimes tribunal campaigners who have always thought that the government was capable of coming to some back-room deal with the Jamaat for tactical political advantage. The big Awami League 'Play' is to get the Jamaat to split from its alliance with the BNP - and there is no greater lever in its hands than the trials to get that to happen.

I have no idea whether any talks are going on between these two parties - though I would suggest that if they are, they are not at a high level. But, whether discussions are going on or not, it seems unlikely that the judgment postponement has anything to do with this.

So, where does that leave us?

Is everyone just too willing to see some conspiracy, or political machinations, when none exists? Can high blood pressure in Bangladesh, ever just be high blood pressure? I would like to think so, though I am slightly inclined to think that the Indian minister's visit did have something to do with the need to postpone the judgement.












Friday, June 6, 2014

Bangla Tribune - Re-defining the meaning of 'Exclusive Investigation'

The Bangla Tribune - the Bangla language website of the English language newspaper, The Dhaka Tribune - must be running very short of stories to write about.

Yesterday, on the front page of its website, it published a long article, under the tag ‘Exclusive’ about how its ‘investigation’ uncovered the fact that the documentary, The War Crimes File, broadcast in 1995 on Channel Four TV in the UK, was directed by a person called Howard Bradburn. The English translation of this article is set out at the end of this post

The article of course redefines the word ‘exclusive’ to mean ‘the completely obvious’ and the word ‘investigation’ to mean, ‘reading the credits of a publicly accessible film’. One does have to wonder quite what this is all about, since anyone who cared to read the credits of the documentary would have known who was the director of the documentary,

I think the government can certainly feel rest assured that, with this kind of ‘exclusive investigation’, at least the Bangla Tribune will not be the source of any ground breaking journalism anytime soon!

The article was such an ‘exclusive investigation’ that the publishers did not consider it appropriate to give the name of the writer in the byline! Perhaps Faisal Abdullah - stand up, take a bow - decided at the last minute, out of sheer embarrassment and shame, not to give his byline. One can only imagine.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Tribunal's written order: 'Contempt proceedings commenced'

Below is a copy of the written order given by International Crimes Tribunal-2 on 17 April 2014.

On an application filed by the applicant intended to bring contempt proceedings against the opposite party Mr David Bergman under section 11(4) of the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973 for allegedly posting some derogatory comment disparaging the Tribunal upon criticizing its order and judgment in his personal blog namely bangladeshwarcrimes.blogspot dated 11.11.2011 and 28.01.2013 respectively – this Tribunal upon initial hearing, by its order dated 20.02.2014 directed the opposite party to explain his position fixing 06.03.2014 for submitting explanation. Eventually, the matter was taken up for hearing on 27.03.2014.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Statement in response to Tribunal contempt decision

My statement in response to the International Crimes Tribunal decision today (17 April) to initiate contempt proceedings 
I am very disappointed by today's tribunal decision to initiate contempt proceedings against me relating to three articles I have written on my blog, Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal
The blog contains information and analysis on the proceeding of the International Crimes Tribunal taking place in Bangladesh.
One of the articles in question was published on my blog in 2011, two and half years ago, and the other two were written in early 2013, over one year ago (here and here) - but proceedings are being initiated now. Why?

As we explained to the court, any criticisms of the tribunal contained in these articles were 'fair criticism' and permitted under Bangladesh law; they were accurate, referenced other published materials and legal decisions, and were made in sober and restrained language. (see here and here)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Further written response to contempt application

This is a rejoinder (to the reply of the applicant) which was filed earlier today with the International Crimes Tribunal in relation to the contempt application against three articles written in this blog.

This document below should be read along with,

(To read the background to all this, see here)

The document below refers to a written document which the applicant filed in court, and which is not currently available as a soft copy (but will be placed on this page as soon as it is).
THE OPPOSITE PARTY’S REJOINDER TO THE REPLY OF THE APPLICANT

I, David Bergman, son of Alan Bergman and Viorica Bergman, of 1, Elvaston Mews, London SW1 5HY, United Kingdom, currently residing at 7/C New Bailey Road, Dhaka-1000, by profession: journalist, by nationality: British, aged about 49, state as follows:

1. That I am the opposite party in the above Miscellaneous Case. I have been served with a copy of the reply filed by the applicant to the explanation dated 18.03.2014. I have gone through the contents of the said reply. I have been advised to file this rejoinder to the reply for the disposal of the application in the interests of justice.

2. That as stated therein, the explanation dated 18.03.2014 was not meant as a statement controverting the application filed by the applicant nor a reply to show cause, but rather an explanation to the Hon’ble Tribunal of the three blog posts in issue as ordered for its kind consideration. Hence, it is submitted that the explanation did not call for any reply from the applicant. Nonetheless, since the reply filed by the applicant forms part of the record and purports to controvert paragraph wise the statements made in the explanation, the opposite party has been advised that for good order, he ought to submit a rejoinder to the reply.

3. That the statements made in the reply which are not herein after expressly admitted shall be deemed to have been denied by the opposite party.

4. That the statements made in paragraph Nos. 1 to 4 are matters of record.

5. That the statements made in paragraph No. 5 are denied as being false and vague. The opposite party reiterates the statements made in paragraph No. 5 of his explanation; the opposite party again refers to the particulars of his background as stated in paragraph No. 8 of his reply in support of the fact that he is conscious of the nature of the international crimes and atrocities committed in 1971 and that he is on record as having supported the process of seeking accountability for such crimes. The opposite party would also respectfully point out that, in contrast, there is nothing on record to show the applicant as ever having sought such accountability. In addition, although the comments of the opposite party are described as “frivolous and exaggerated” and the criticism is described as “reckless”, the applicant has given no particulars as to why they are so.

6. That the statements made in paragraph No. 6 are denied as being false and vague. In particular, it is denied that the comments contained in the opposite party’s blogs are carefully calculated to undermine the authority of the Hon’ble Tribunal or obstruct and interfere with the due course of justice, or that they malign the dignity of the Judge of the Hon’ble Tribunal and make the trial process questionable. It is stated that the applicant has posted over 800 blog articles and posts describing and discussing various aspects of the proceedings before the Hon’ble Tribunal, of which the applicant has found only three, written over a year ago, to contain allegedly contemptuous remarks. It is reiterated that each of these three blog posts or articles discusses a specific aspect of the proceedings before the Hon’ble Tribunal in restrained and dispassionate language and upon reference to particular facts, and amount to permissible fair criticism. Merely alleging that such criticism is “reckless” or otherwise detrimental to the proceedings before the Hon’ble Tribunal without stating why this is so and without detailing any alleged inaccuracy in the criticism of the opposite party ought not to be allowed to sustain a charge of contempt.

7. That the statements made in paragraph Nos. 7 and 8 of the reply are false and hence denied. It is denied that that the opposite party has failed to exercise due care and attention or that the comments are reckless or that he has not acted in good faith. The opposite party has not stated that Hon’ble Tribunal has given a “pre-determined judgment”; if seen in its proper context, the blog post/articles in issue states that the placement of certain paragraphs in the judgment, where conclusive remarks about the accused are made before a discussion of the evidence, may give an appearance of pre-determination, suggesting that this should be avoided; it is submitted that this is fair criticism. The opposite party further denies that he made a “deliberate attempt to dispute a historical fact of common knowledge”, thereby inciting unnecessary and unwarranted debate over an issue by giving unsupported and contradictory data, and makes the process questionable. It is submitted that this is a gross a mischaracterisation of the blog article in issue, which appears to be the article referring to the number of dead in 1971; the opposite party reiterates his detailed explanation about the blog/article as contained in his explanation. It is also stated that the indictment order of Delwar Hossain Sayedee, which was the context in which the blog article was written, did not state that the Hon’ble Tribunal was taking judicial notice of any fact regarding the number of deaths; it is grossly unfair for the applicant to now falsely state that this was the case, and then castigate the opposite party for having committed contempt for allegedly disputing such fact. Indeed, the judgment of Abul Kalam Azad, which also refers to the figure of 3 million dead, did not mention that judicial notice was being taken of any such fact, even though judicial notice was expressly stated to have been taken of other facts. Hence, it is submitted that the reference to section 19(3) of the 1973 Act in this context, as has been made by the applicant subsequently in his reply is misconceived. It is also submitted that even had judicial notice been taken of this matter, an article discussing whether the Hon’ble Tribunal was right in so doing is permissible. It is further submitted that even the most cursory reading of the blog articles would reveal that the opposite party exercises due care and attention, and was therefore acting in good faith, inasmuch that the blog articles make detailed and particular references to facts, figures and sources, which have not been specifically disputed or contested by the applicant. Without disputing facts, figures and sources, the applicant ought not to be allowed to baldly assert that the opposite party has not exercise due care and attention.

8. That the statements made in paragraph No. 9 are false and hence denied. In particular, it is denied that the opposite party is a habitual contemner as alleged. It is denied that the articles posted in the blog of the opposite party are contemptuous or are calculated to obstruct and interfere with the course of justice. Rather, it is stated that the comments referred to by the applicant represents permissible fair criticism. Furthermore, the assertion that the number of deaths in 1971 “has become part of the world history, a classic example of historical fact of common knowledge” represents the subjective opinion of the applicant. The opposite party respectfully submits that while the fact that gross atrocities occurred in Bangladesh in 1971 is a matter of common knowledge and cannot reasonably be denied, there are considerable differences of opinion and views held by various credible sources about the exact number of dead in 1971; the blog article of the opposite party merely discussed these different opinions and views upon a reference to such sources.

9. That the statements made in paragraph No. 10 are false, misleading, vague and hence denied. The opposite party denies that he was not acting in good faith. The opposite party further reiterates that his background, which is as a journalist with a background in law who has reported and written about war crimes and related issues for over 20 years as stated in his explanation, warrants him being regarded as a person capable of making fair criticism within the bounds of the observations of the Hon’ble Appellate Division as quoted in the paragraph. Again, the applicant is making a sweeping assertion that the opposite party is not well versed as to the provisions of law and is as such not qualified to make fair criticism is a vague statement, inasmuch that the applicant has failed to set out the reasons why the opposite party should be considered so. The opposite party fails to understand how 3 blog articles, which are among over 800 published by the opposite party since 2010, and which contain fair criticism of certain aspects of the proceedings before the Hon’ble Tribunal in sober and restrained language can be considered to be an “attack on the substratum of the judiciary”.

10. That the statements made in paragraph No. 11 of the reply are matters of record.

11. That the statements made in paragraph No. 12 of the reply are false, misleading, contradictory and hence denied. The explanation of the opposite party was given since it was ordered by the Hon’ble Tribunal. Accordingly, the opposite party made a statement explaining his articles, referring to sources. Now, the applicant is purporting to assert that by giving such an explanation in compliance with the order of the Hon’ble Tribunal, the opposite party has “dared to justify the truthfulness of his comments”. The opposite party reiterates that the criticism contained in his articles were fair, and indeed, if such criticism is not regarded as fair, it would beg the question as to what would be regarded as fair. Again, the applicant is alleging that the criticism was unfair without specifying the reasons for such alleged unfairness; it should be noted that at no point has the applicant alleged that the sources referred or information contained in the blog articles were not authentic or were inaccurate. Furthermore, it is submitted that truthfulness and factual correctness is relevant to the issue of whether contempt has been committed inasmuch that it is germane to the issue of bona fide and good faith, and assessing whether criticism is fair, which is permitted under the law.

12. That the statements made in paragraph Nos. 13 and 14 are misleading and hence denied. The opposite party reiterates and submits that the contents of his blog article do not constitute contempt of court, but rather represents fact based fair criticism expressed in sober and restrained language with a view to critically analyse the proceedings, which is permitted by the law, and are directed at seeking improvements in the trail process.

13. That the statements of fact made hereinabove are true and correct and the rest are submissions before this Hon’ble Tribunal.


Prepared in my office
___________________

D E P O N E N T
Mustafizur Rahman Khan
Advocate