[but see end of this post re Amar Desh]
The Economist has 17 hours of recorded material and over 230 e-mails between the the chairman of the international crimes tribunal and the Bangladesh legal academic, Ahmed Ziauddin.
In its article, the Economist makes the point that:
'This material is confidential and we are bound by law and the British press’s code of conduct not to reveal such information except in matters of the most serious public interest. We did not solicit the material, nor pay for it, nor commit ourselves to publish it.'So, this confirms, as suggested by the Tribunal's order, that the material was illegally intercepted or recorded - that it is confidential - but it was not procured by the Economist. It was given to it. The article gives no indication who gave them the material or who illegally obtained it. Clearly this is a very serious issue indeed, entirely separate from the question about whether or not publication is justified.
As to what the material actually says, the Economist simply says that it:
'would indeed raise questions about the workings of the court'It appears that the Economist does intends to publish, if their lawyers give them the green light. It says:
'Our investigations are continuing. Once they are concluded and if we consider the allegations contained in them to have merit, we will publish them.'The article provides a little bit of color to Mr Ahmed and his relationship with the tribunal chairman.
'Mr Ahmed is an expatriate Bangladeshi who is an academic specialising in international law who lives in Brussels. The two men have known each other for 25 years, as they were human-rights campaigners and Mr Ahmed’s late brother had been a student friend of the judge. Mr Ahmed is not just an international lawyer, he is also the director of the Bangladesh Centre for Genocide Studies in Belgium, which is dedicated to ending what he has called “the ingrained culture of impunity” surrounding the war crimes in Bangladesh.'The article ends on suggesting a discrepancy between what the tribunal chairman said in his order and what he said to the Economist on the phone. On the phone on Tuesday 4th December to the Economist, the chairman is said to have stated:
“As judges, we cannot take help from third person and outsiders,” Mr Huq said. Asked whether they sometimes exchange e-mails about the tribunal, he says “No, no, no, regarding tribunal, no talks regarding the judgment or regarding the proceedings, no.” “Later, he said, “A Supreme Court judge, we do not talk even with our wife regarding the tribunal.”But, as the article says, the chairman's order on Thursday 6th states:
The order refers to the presiding judge of the tribunal “receiving the support [of Mr Ahmed] on the developments on International Criminal law throughout the world” and taking assistance “during the proceedings of the trial and orders”.The other issue, the Economist raises is transparency:
On what bases did the judge select the experts who would help him? Why was Mr Ahmed’s role not revealed to the court and to the public until the tribunal order on 6th December, after we had contacted hiI think we can assume that whether or not anything more gets published depends on the Economist's lawyers, who must be combing every word and comma. The publication of the private correspondence of a sitting judge just days before he is involved in a decision on the guilt or innocence of a person, is a matter of the utmost seriousness, and if the Economist does not get it right - and if publication does not serve, as they put it, 'the most serious public interest', the magazine will be in serious trouble indeed.
There is of course a bit of an interesting history between the Economist and the Bangladesh government There are many in the government, and amongst its supporters, who think that the Economist has it in for the Awami League government. This is principally because of an article which claimed that the Awami League government won the last elections with 'bags of Indian cash and advice' (without putting forward any evidence). It has also been consistently critical of the war crimes trials. For some this shows some kind of motivated intention, rather than critical journalism. Interestingly though, for those who with to see malice within the Economist, the magazine recently did a number of positive articles and videos on the progress of Bangladesh in achieving a number of development goals.
However, it may well be because of the Economist's consistently critical position about the international crimes tribunal from early on, that it was chosen as the berth for this illegally obtained material (in fact it is the only major international publication that has followed the tribunal at all really, with all other media effectively ignoring it).
Otherwise, the Economist is an odd choice - since it does not generally do investigative journalism as such, and has less experience than other major publications like the Guardian or New York Times in breaking stories like this.
[Having written this, just heard that pro BNP paper Amar Desh has published further details about what is supposedly in the intercepted material. I myself would rather wait for the Economist myself - but when I get a translation will post it up, if it appears reliable/appropriate]