Saturday, November 10, 2012

Abduction of defense witness outside tribunal

Shukharanjan Bali
This is the first of a number of blogs about the alleged abduction of an International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) defense witness, Shukharanjan Bali, on 5 November 2012.
[See also:
- 'Defence lawyers inform tribunal about alleged abduction, 5 Nov 2012)
- 'Tribunal response to abduction allegation';
- 'Tribunal prosecution and Registrar Denial';
- 'Habeas Corpus Application in the High Court'
- 'Habeas Corpus Application; Rejected as not pressed'
- 'Exclusive: wife of abducted defense witness speaks out'
- 'Evidence of Abduction? Look at the tribunal CCTV cameras'

I have interviewed three members of the ICT defense legal team who were in the car from which the witness is said to have been taken by law enforcement officials

I have also interviewed two journalists (both of whom work for the Daily Sangram, a pro-Islamic/pro-Jamaat national paper) who were eye witnesses to the abduction.

Although there remains at present no entirely independent witness to this abduction, this allegation is credible in light of the background circumstances to this incident, the detailed corroborating accounts provided, and the photographs taken of the police vehicle in which the Bali is said to have been taken.

(To read about the response by the tribunal to this incident, click here)

Background to Shukharanjan Bali at the tribunal

Prosecution witness: Shukharanjan Bali's name was on the list of 68 prosecution witnesses who were supposed to testify on behalf of the prosecution against Delwar Hossain Sayedee. In the end, however, the prosecution only presented 20 of these witnesses to the tribunal.

In March 2012, the prosecution filed an application asking that the tribunal accept as evidence the unsigned statements of 46 of these witnesses who had not given oral evidence at the tribunal.
These statements are said to have been made by the witnesses to the investigation officer. They were given to the tribunal (and the defense) at the time of charge-framing.

Bali was ones of these 46 witnesses. He had not given oral evidence, and the tribunal wanted his statement to the investigation officer to be admitted as evidence. In the statement, he appears to be a strong witness against Sayedee. The statement reads:
‘On 2 June, 1971 at about 10 am, we saw under the leadership of Delwar Hossain Sayedee alias Delu, the peace committee, armed Rajaker force ….. guiding Pakistan soldiers to our Hindu block. …. To see what they will do, we followed them from behind. Entering into the village, they looted the 25 houses. ... They set fire on each and every house and burnt them to the ground.’
The statement goes on:
‘Armed Rajakers captured my brother Bisha Bali and after tying him to a coconut tire they started to flog him. Then according to the order of Delwar Hossain Sayedee alias Delu, a Rajaker shot and killed my brother. I saw the killing of my elder brother with my own eyes and became very frightened.’
In Bangladesh, generally statements made to an investigation officer are not entitled to be accepted as evidence - only testimony of witnesses given in court. However, section 19(2) of the International Crimes Tribunal Act 1973 allows statements to be admitted as evidence if the witness:
'at the time of the trial, is dead or whose attendance cannot be procured without an amount of delay or expense which the Tribunal considers unreasonable."
In relation to Bali, the prosecution in its application stated that he was 'missing for about last 4 months after he went out of his house' and therefore his statement should be admitted.

Although the defense argued that the criteria set out in section 19(2) had not been met in relation to any of these witnesses, the tribunal on 29 March passed an order allowing 15 of the witness statements to be admitted. 

The fifteen included the statement of Bali.

In late May/early June, the tribunal heard a review application of the order that had been lodged by the defense. As part of that, the defense showed to the tribunal a short news piece that was broadcast on Diganta TV which included a short interview of Bali where he stated: '“They wanted me as a witness but I have said that I did not want to give any false witness. Just I have to tell the truth what I know.” The news piece contained the statements of three other witnesses which suggested either that they were available to give testimony (in conflict with the prosecution claim) or that the statements that the court had admitted as evidence did not reflect what the witnesses had said to the investigation officer.

The defense argued that Bali was available to give evidence to the tribunal - but that the prosecution did not want to call him as he would not provide evidence that supported its case.

From prosecution to defence Witness: The defense had provided the tribunal with a list of 48 witnesses that it intended to call. Bali's name was not on that list.

On 14 August the tribunal passed an order stating that it would only allow the defense to bring 20 witnesses - the same number of witnesses that the prosecution had called. In early September the defense started to bring its witnesses

On 21 October, the defense filed an application asking the tribunal to issue a summons requiring Bali to come to the tribunal as a defense witness. This stated:
.... Shukharanjan Bali has direct knowledge of the alleged incidents of the case. He is the brother of the late Bishabali who was allegedly killed at the instruction of the accused as per charge 10 of the instant case. As such it is necessary to issue summons upon Shukharanjan Bali so that he can give evidence as Defence Witness.
This application was heard on the 23 October, and the tribunal ruled that it would not issue a summons, but that the defense could bring any witness that it wanted.

Two days later the tribunal ordered the defense to close its case and fixed 5 November 2012 for the prosecution to sum up its case. On 31 October, the defense made another application asking the tribunal to allow it to bring Bali (and another witness) to testify prior to the beginning of the prosecution summing up. The tribunal said that it would hear the application on 4 November.  According to the defence lawyers, Bali was brought to the tribunal on that day, spending the whole day in the defense room. However the tribunal did not hear the application.

The next day: the abduction
Whilst in Dhaka, Bali stayed at the house of a relative of his and on the morning of monday the 5th October, he was brought from that house to the defense lawyers legal office in Purana Palton. This office is situated in the same building that another main defense lawyer, Mizanul Islam, was also living.

Bali was then taken to the tribunal in Mizanul Islam's white microbus. Mizanul Islam, who has to use a wheelchair, was in the front passenger seat. In the back was Bali with two lawyers on either side. One was was Md Hasanul Banna Sohag (a junior to Mizanul Islam), and another was Advocate Ansari. In addition, a person who helped Mizanul Islam was sitting in the seat behind. The car arrived at the gate at about ten minutes past ten in the morning.

When the microbus arrived at the entrance of the tribunal at around 10 minutes past ten (see diagram below) - this is about twenty minutes before the start of the tribunal - it found that (unusually) the tribunal gate was closed, and there with lots of police officers. (The registrar explained later to the Tribunal that the reason for this was there was a Jamaat  national day of protest and the tribunal had therefore increased its security.) On a normal tribunal day, not many journalists arrive by ten past ten - and it appears that this was also the case this day.

The car was stopped and the police said that everyone other other than Mizanul Islam and the driver, should leave the vehicle. The three lawyers and Bali then got out of the vehicle which then went into the court grounds.

Sohag, the defense lawyer, explains what happened:
"I was in the back of car. I was on left, beside me was Bali and on the right was Monjur Ahmed Ansari and behind me was Ashrafuzzaman, the helper of Mizanul Islam. When I got down from the car, when they saw Bali, four men came forward and asked him what was his name. He replied, 'My name is Shukharanjan Bali'. One of the men said, 'We have to talk to you, please come to us in front of the main gate in the police control room'. They slowly took Bali to their destination. I requesting them to please stop. I said, 'I am the appointed lawyer of Bali. He is our defence witness now, you cannot take him outside of the court.' I asked [the man] what was his identify. He said, 'we are DB [detective branch] personel. We have to talk with this man, please let us ask him some questions'. I requested him, 'Please whatever you ask you should ask before me, in front of me, in this place. Not outside the court, not outside these premises.' They did not take heed upon my request.  
My senior, Ansari said that 'I am going to collect your passes'. He went on foot [into the tribunal premises]. He went to collect the passes as without the passes they would not allow us to enter. It was due to out simplicity that they snatched him.  
One guy held Bali’s left arm, one guy held his right arm, and the third man was pushing him saying ‘hurray up, hurray up’. They were in so much hurry to take him there.  
I saw Golam Azam a journalist from Dainik Sangram as he was entering from the road. I asked him to come he with me. He was with me [walking down the pavement].  I was walking behind him. One of the drivers was in front of him. I walked all along with him [past the police post and down the pavement outside the tribunal] until he was put into the police van. [Whilst walking] I saw the DB man phone and ask the vehicle to come. The car came from that place [inside the tribunal]. It was in this direction [of the road]. 
At this time, Shahidul Islam [Sangram reporter] was passing on the road on a bike and I asked him to stop. Bali was taken around to the front of the car and the right door was opened and he was put in. Two police men were in the car, the driver and three DB policemen. Seven in all. My driver took photos using his mobile."
Diagram of area where alleged abduction took place.
Distances are not  proportionate 
Of those sitting in the car that took the witness to court, Sohag was the only one who was present right  the time when the three men took Bali until the moment he was put in a police vehicle and driven off. There were however three other witnesses

Golam Azam: Azam is a trainee journalist for the national newspaper, the Daily Sangram who has been working for the newspaper at the tribunal for about a month. He says he obtained his graduation and masters in Law from Rajshahi university. He got his job with Sangram paper though a friend of his father. He says that his father, and family, are Jamaat supporters, but that he has no political affiliation and he is not involved in politics. He says that he was not involved in student politics whilst at Rajshahi university. He said that he worked at Sangram as he needed a job, but that this does not mean he was a Jamaat supporter.

He came to the tribunal first by bus to the press club and then on foot to the tribunal. As he entered the High Court premises at mark 'X' on the diagram above, he says that he saw the lawyer, Sohag whom he knew from Rajshahi University days.
"I had just entered from the road and saw Sohag and he said that 'DB is taking away our witness'. Then I saw the men taking the witness, and kind of dragging him. They were wearing civil dress, while collar or check. There were three men, two on the side and one on the back. I followed them.  
I called my senior reporter, Shahidul Islam but he was not receiving a call.  I learnt later that this was because he was on his bike. As they walked down the pavement. went to ask one of the men in civilian dress and asked him 'What was going on?', and the man asked for my identity I said I was a reporter. He said, 'Don’t make a big deal out of it, we are just taking him for interrogation.’ I enquired more what is the interrogation about. And then the man said 'Please don’t ask any more questions it is just standard procedure.'
I followed and then saw a white police car coming from inside the tribunal. It looked quite new. The the man whom I came to know was Bali was  put in a seat behind the driver.
Just before the man was put in the car, Shahidul Islam who was driving his bike down the road [adjacent to the pavement] saw me and stopped and asked what I was doing and I said, 'They are taking the witness away.' Then he brought his bike back to where the white car was. He did not say anything but just watched."
When he was shown a picture of Bali, he identified him as the man that he saw being taken into the vehicle.

The man in the foreground of picture number 1 (see below, taken by Ujjog) is said to be that of the journalist Golam Azam.

Shahidul Islam: He is a senior correspondent for the same newspaper that Azam worked for, the Daily Sangram.
"I was coming from my house by motorcycle, when I was came past I saw the incident. I saw one of the lawyers, and he said that, 'This is Bali and he is going to be arrested'. The vehicle came up from inside the tribunal. One man was holding Bali on the left side and another on the right. He came into the car on the right hand side, and he was taken away."
He has confirmed that he picture taken of a man on a red bike (see below, picture 3) is him on his bike at the scene of the incident.

Md Nurruzzaman Ujjol: He is a driver who is employed by the Jamaat-e-Islami. According to Advocate Sohag, Ujjol had already parked his car outside the tribunal (he was not the driver of the white microbus) and Sohag asked him to come with him. I have not yet been able to interview Ujjol, but he is the person who took three photographs on his his mobile phone.
1. White vehicle coming parked outside one of the tribunal
gates. The journalist Golam Azam is said to be the person
in the foreground. At this point, Bali is said to have already
been put in the car.
2. Close up of vehicle. Man on outside is claimed to be from
 detective branch. The unclear figure in the car is said to
be that of Bali who was wearing a white shirt on the day.
The face on the other side of the car, outside, is said to be
that of Advocate Sohag
3. Police vehicle leaving the tribunal with Bali inside. The man in the foreground of the picture
is said to be that of  the journalist Shahidul Islam 

Credibility of the allegation
The only witnesses available at present are the members of the defense team, one of their drivers, and two journalists of a newspaper sympathetic to the objectives of the defense team. Despite the lack of independent testimony, there is good reason to conclude that the defence witness Shukharanjan Bali was indeed kidnapped by the police outside the International Crimes Tribunal.

The photographs are particularly important. (a) In picture 1, the tree in the picture matches with the actual tree outside the gate from which the witnesses said Bali was taken; (b) in both pictures 1 and 2, the police vehicle is pointing in the direction of the road as though it has just come from the Tribunal, as the witnesses testify; (c) there are also two pictures that appear to show that both the two journalists witnesses, Shahidul Islam and Golam Azam, were at the scene of the abduction - an important piece of corroboration.

Without independent testimony, there is perhaps no conclusive proof that such an abduction has taken place. It is also of course notable that the only two journalists present at the time were from the Sangram paper. However the detailed testimony, along with the pictures do suggest that the defense witness was abducted by law enforcement personal outside the tribunal gate.

10 November 2012:
- The spellings of the names of Md Hasanul Banna Sohag and that of Shahidul Islam was corrected 
- The text was also corrected to make clear that Shahidul Islam confirmed that he was the person on the bike in picture 3, and that this was the picture of his bike. 
- It was clarified that the time of the alleged abduction was about 10:10 am, and also the following line was added: 'On a normal tribunal day, not many journalists arrive by ten past ten - and it appears that this was also the case this day.'
11 November 2012
- the following line was added the section on the journalist, Golam Azam: 'When he was shown a picture of Bali, he identified him as the man that he saw.'
12 November 2012
The original post said that Tajul Islam had said that the witness stayed at the house of Masud Sayedee, the son of Delwar Hossain Sayedee. Whist that was what Islam had said to me, this is apparently not what happened. In fact he stayed at the house of a relative.

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