Friday, December 7, 2012

Tribunal accuses The Economist over e-mail hacking

In an extraordinary development at Tribunal 1 of the International Crimes Tribunal in Bangladesh on Thursday 6 December 2012, on the last day of the defense closing arguments in the case of Sayedee, the tribunal chairman passed an order involving claim that his computer has been hacked and that offenses have been committed by the Economist magazine's editors.

This is the full text of the order (copied from the original)
The chairman of this Tribunal and the two members are judges of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. After creation of this Tribunal when the Chairman and the two members were appointed, they mentioned in the open court room that the International Crimes (Tribunal) Act 1973 is a new law to them and for them to understand this law, looking into the processes and orders of different tribunals and perusal of them are necessary, along with being advised by the prosecution and the defense counsel and consultation with the experts. They can also take the assistance of researchers from inside and outside the country and with this understanding and knowledge coming from all such people, the trial process was continuing in this Tribunal.  
The Chairman has had the privilege of receiving the support of Dr Ahmed Ziauddin, an expert in International Criminal law and some other person was are Bangladeshi residing in Brusells and other places and occasionally the Chairman has discussion with Dr Ahmed Ziauddin on the developments on International Criminal law throughout the world and took the assistance of him in this respect.  During the proceedings of the trial and order the Chairman also took the assistance from him. In this respect they have had discussion through Skype.  
Just two or three days earlier the chairman found that his e-mail and Skype accounts along with his computer has been hacked. Yesterday at about 10.00 pm, the chairman received a telephone call from the phone number +91981001XXXX identifying that the telephone call is coming from the London based The Economist and told the Chairman that his conversation with Dr Ahmed Ziauddin is in their possession and asked the Chairman some questions regarding this information. He also mentioned that the Chairmn regularly talks with Dr Ahmed Ziauddin through Skype and received his advice through e-mail. He also mentioned that all the materials in the e-mails, the chairman received from Dr Ahmed Ziauddin are in their possession. This is how the Chairman became aware of this alarming development. This also explains a serious breach of privacy taking computer, e-mail and Skype accounts and obtaining confidential information from the Chairman illegally which amounts to interfering a judge of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. And by questioning him over the telephone the person on the other side has also involved himself in speaking with the chairman which under the law he cannot do. 
The chairman has also got information that the e-mail and the Skype accounts and computer of Dr Ahmed Ziauddin have also been hacked which makes it clear that the person who are involved in disturbing the ongoing processes of this tribunal are involved in this matter. This cannot be allowed in any way.  
As such we give notice to Mr Adam Robers, South Asia Bureua Chief, the Economist (telephone number + 911141027759 and to Rob Gifford, Chief Editor, The Economist, 25 St James Street, London, telephone number 00 44207830XXXX and mobile 0044890305XXXX to give reply within 3 weeks as to why proceedings under section 11(4) of the Internatoinal Crimes (Tribunal) Act 1973 shall not be initiated against them. They also directed to keep secret the information which they have gathered from the Skype and e-mail accounts as well as the computer of the Chairman as this makes public the privacy of the Chiarman which need to be kept secret and in case they violate it proper action under the law will be taken. 
Let copies be sent to the Inspector General of Police and Chairman BTRC, Bangladesh for information and necessary action. 
To 27.12.2012 for further order.
One did not see this coming!

However the role of Ziauddin Ahmed has always been mysterious and I have been asking questions about his role in the tribunal for some time, but was never able to clarify exactly what he did do. Perhaps now we will find out. (I will write more about him after the Economist piece comes out, assuming that one is about to be published)

The initial question that comes to ones mind is if the Tribunal chairman was relying on Ziauddin so much, why was this not made public.

The tribunal says that it was mentioned in open court that 'they can also take the assistance of researchers from inside and outside the country.' Maybe they did, but I certainly cannot remember them doing so

The second question is what do these e-mails reveal - since one would imagine that discussion between the Chairman and Ziauddin about international criminal law in different courts would not create any great problem.

Since the Economist is delving in this one must assume that the correspondence reveals something more controversial. We will just have to wait and see what this could be.

The third question is who obtained these documents. One has to assume - in light of everything going on with the Leverson inquiry in England - that the Economist would never be involved in the hacking process itself. So that must mean that someone else hacked in and gave the information to the Economist.

Assuming this to be the case, this still surely raises some difficult questions for the Economist; they would be receiving (and then publishing) illegally obtained communications from the e-mail account of a sitting judge involving a case that continues to be under trial and awaiting judgement. For this to be justifiable, there would have to be a very very strong public interest defense. And right now, it is difficult to appreciate what that might be.


  1. Dr Zia's influence on war crime:

    International legal experts appreciate ICT activities

    Open Letter from Ahmed Ziauddin to the Transnational Radical Party

  2. Dear David

    Thanks for sharing this; at third para of the order, I see some discrepancy -- when the ICT chairman came to know about the hacking? two-three days ago or yesterday after the call from Economist? Can u explain?

    can u pls shed some light on the jurisdiction of ICT to issue rule on Economist and their legal obligation if they wish to publish it?

    Even if an expert opinion or assistance on ICT is required, what is the process to appoint them under ICT rules, as a method of appointment of amicas curie is already known to many which is widely practiced in BD;

    If it transpires that something fishy going on, which has never been sanctioned under law, what future do u see of the trial?

    many thanks

  3. This is very interesting. The whole nation wants to learn what's the truth behind the screen. Apparently the scenarios look created and fabricated. We only want the truth to come out.

  4. If judges are biased/incompetent/prejudiced and/or if they do something inappropriate, then why acquiring and publishing any information relating to that unfairness (by any means) should be illegal?

  5. It is unfortunte to observe how effortlessly you adopted the assumption in regard to the third point. Surely, such swift assumption could point towards a premediated lack of objectivity and therefore robust bias. If anything the ongoing Lord Leverson inquiry reveals it is that the possibility of news media such as The Economist allegedly succumbing to such repugnant tactics is all the more plausible. I am appalled and shall cease my readership of The Economist (as most reasonable people qould do) if it is indeed shown that The Economist made such contact with the subject in question concerning the unlawfully obtained material.

    While your remarks and the apparent insinuations of wrongdoing in regard to the correspondence made between the subjects are your own opinions and therefore your prerogative, it certainly diminishes the ethos and credibility of your posts when one is faced with the indomitable hunger you evidently have for the illegally obtained alleged materials. Not in one sentence there is a note of shock and horror at the allegation of such nature.

    I am bewildered with the motive of such write-ups and whatever agenda there are, they have to be quite fragile for a journalist to loze sight objectivity in such an escalating pace.

  6. Hi Khaled, Thanks for your comment. Let me respond. I think it is pretty inconceivable that the Economist would have been involved in the hacking for the following reasons: (1) The magazine dos not generally do investigative journalism - and I don't think they have ever been accused of hacking in the past (2) If they were involved in hacking, their credibility would be hugely undermined, and it would be an international journalistic scandal of quite some proportions, potentially risking their existence as a magazine (3) there is right now huge attention on hacking issues in the media as a result of the Leverson inquiry which was set up by the Government (4) these trials in Bangladesh are pretty low on the Economists list of priority - 'pretty low' is perhaps overestimating it - so why would they risk so much on something with relatively minimal interest for them. ... So I think I have relatively good reasons for making my comment, and so I think your accusations of lack of objectivity and sound basis for my opinions are off the mark. But please do carrying on commenting on this blog.

    There is now a separate question, as I raise in my post, about the justification of publication of illegally obtained communications. In my view, in order to justify publication, there would have to be something very very serious indeed in the communications that go to the heart of a fair trial. What that would have to amount to, I am not sure. But it would have to include some statements by the chairman that seriously undermine his independence or his ability to judge fairly in this trial. If it is anything other than that, then the Economist will I think be in trouble.

    Sure, I am now very intrigued to know what the Economist will publish - is there anything wrong with that?

  7. Mr Bergman, thank you for the response. I apologise for the typos.

    It is my belief that my comments were not, as you put it, off the mark. My primary concern stems from, as far as your post is concerned, the apparent methodology of deduction you have employed in reaching the points above and in your post(s).

    Firstly, Ahmed Ziauddin is not a mysterious figure at all. There are possibly no other Bangladeshi experts on International Criminal Law who holds greater credentials except Ahmed Ziauddin. At least, there is not a single legal expert of this calibre on my radar. It should not come as a surprise at all, therefore, that assistance has been sought from such an esteemed expert. One must not forget the tribunal is trying very renowned political figures for the alleged crimes against humanity they committed during 1971. The stakes are very high and it certainly does not appear reasonable for the tribunal to reveal with whom consultation is taking place, nor there is any obligation for tribunal to do so.

    Secondly, referring to paragraph 4 of your comment section, it would be correct to state a bias clearly exists in not recognising the fact that this statement (that the tribunal would seek assistance of experts from inside and outside country) has been oft-heard and mentioned during many a session within the tribunal. I do not and cannot treat your blog-posts as news-reporting; hence, in regard to this factual point, I place reliance on an established news agency. Paragraph 7 of

    It is unfortunate to notice that only lack of objectivity could lead to such an omission of memory which has taken root in your post.

    Thirdly, your comments in regard to position of The Economist, once again, demonstrate either deliberate and steadfast ignorance of the gravity of the allegation raised against The Economist or an incredible affinity and blind support for the nature of journalistic practice The Economist practices. I personally do not know anyone from The Economist and do not claim to possess the knowledge of the nature of work The Economist does. It is understood The Economist has already accepted the blame and therefore your defence of the magazine is entirely null and void.



    Moreover, in response to my comment, the points you have raised are unreasonable and illogical. Your assertion that The Economist does not engage in investigative journalism is an opinion, not a fact, and what has triggered this opinion is beyond comprehension. I am not certain whether the magazine was accused of hacking before or not. This does not help anyone reach the conclusion that the magazine would never be involved in hacking. But, this line of argument is certainly extremely thin, if not entirely ludicrous. Your second argument also fails in that it simply states a possible consequence The Economist may face. It does not prove and disprove anything. It is my understanding that the magazine is indeed going to face trying times while trying to establish justification ground for the hacking. The next point is again immaterial in that it simply states an opinion and not a fact, an opinion which is not objective and rather laden with favouritism. The last point you raised in relation to this matter is again an outlandish way of presenting a logical response while you have merely expressed your own opinion in respect of the list of priority The Economist has. I do not have personal interaction, recent or past, like you may have with The Economist as such I cannot verify this list you are alluding to. It must be submitted that the tone you maintained while stating your knowledge of the priority list of The Economist is rather derogatory and disrespectful.

    I do not therefore think you have, relatively or not, any good reasons for making your comment which not only lacks, as shown above, merit but also objectivity.

    Finally, it is surprising to note that you have spent more paragraphs on the possible content of the illegally obtained materials and your interest in the illegally obtained materials than any criticism towards the act of hacking itself. The hacking has caused the breach of privacy of a sitting Judge who is held in the same rank as a Supreme Court Judge. The hacking is not only a gross breach of right to privacy, but the breach is in relation to an ongoing case which holds historic significance in the history of the country. It would be foolish to presume that those responsible hacked only correspondences between the judge and others; it is entirely plausible and highly likely that other important details concerning the tribunal and cases could also have been hacked. It must be remembered that the Judge is the custodian of the safety and security of the witnesses and responsible for the witness protection scheme. This hacking could literally jeopardise the lives of many concerned individuals. I am appalled to find that you chose to ignore such grave implications of this breach. The breach of privacy of a sitting judge alone should trigger buoyant condemnation from any reasonable individual. I shall address your public interest issue separately. It is suffice to say the very fact that you have commenced discourse on this issue shows you are quite alert to the fact that The Economist has not only obtained the materials illegally but they are also pursuing a possible publication. Your prophetic assertion is extraordinary, it must be admitted.

    The Economist has not published anything yet, however you appear to be certain that it will publish something and your interest in the possible publication of these illegally obtained materials only diminishes lack of objectivity not suitable for a journalist. Thank you.

  9. Hi Khaled, thanks for your further comments. Here is my response:
    1. I agree with you that Ziauddin is a generally well respected academic in international law, and amongst Bangladeshis, he is as you say the only well known academic in this area. I also don't think it is necessarily problematic that the tribunal chairman seeks expert advice from him - if that is what he was seeking. If that is all there is to this story, then clearly it amounts to nothing. One must assume that there is something more significant in these communications that goes to the fairness of the tribunal. Otherwise I cannot see how the article could be either journalistically significantly, or pass the public interest of publication
    2. you then accuse me of 'bias' for suggesting that I had not heard the the tribunal saying that it would seek assistance of experts from inside and outside country. In this regard you point to the bdnews story. But the bdnews story does not say that but only says that 'as such the tribunal needed cooperation and assistance from everyone.' That is a very different kind of comment. But this is a minor disagreement between us, since being in contact with Zia may not in itself be problematic (though one must wonder why he did not seek the expertise of some more senior level of expert, and why he was not open about it) it is the nature of the communications between then. And until the Economist publishes, we do not know what they are.
    3. I am not sure what your criticism of my view of the Economist exactly is. Is it that I do not think it likely that the Economist itself hacked the e-mails? Well I am not sure what evidence you have for an alternative view (i.e that it did hack) and I am pretty sure that I will be proved correct that it did not hack. You say that 'The Economist has already accepted the blame'. I am not sure what you mean by that. They have, I assume from the Tribunal order, accepted that they have in their hands the email correspondence etc. They have not taken the blame for anything else.
    4. Re the Hacking. I agree with you, this is a very serious thing to have done. I am not minimizing that. But whether the publication of this hacked material is justified or not depends upon the content, and the extent to which it shows impropriety on the part of the judge. At the same time, the person who actually did the hacking could of course be prosecuted.
    5. I wish you would be rather less strident in your criticism of me. Happy for you to disagree with me, but I would rather you didn't accuse me in the way you do. It is rather unnecessary. I am simply a journalist looking at the facts, and am trying to do so objectively and without bias. Whilst I understand a lot is at stake, it is important that as many of us try to keep the tone of our disagreements with each other at a reasonable level

  10. The Economist has a history of interfering in Bangladeshi politics. The Economist said that the Awami League came to power with the help of "bags of Indian cash." A deliberate provocation towards the government.

    The Economist has been looking for a fight since 2008. The publication is on thin ice. This hacking scandal looks like another escalation its campaign. I'm sure David Bergman should have mentioned this as part of his commentary. The Economist is playing dirty tricks.

  11. If the Economist is 'looking for a fight [with Bangladesh] since 2008', then it must be looking for similar fights all round the world - as its acerbic journalism is common in iarticles dealing with many countries. I agree that 'bags of Indian cash' comment was a problem in previous article since it did not provide anything to corroborate that, and it was a hell of an allegation. But the idea that the magazine is involved in a 'campaign' against Bangladesh is I think misconceived. Did you see the last article about Bangladesh's development goals - very very positive, comprising two long articles. I think what has happened in this case is that it received documentation that it felt it could not ignore. Whether it was justified in doing that surely depends on what was in that documentation - which I hope we will find out soon. Until then, I think we have to give the magazine the benefit of the doubt.

  12. Hello Dear David Bergman,
    As the Daily Amardesh has already published more than 50 pages detail conversation between Dr. Ziauddin and the Justice. Also a number of conversation videos are already on YouTube clearly prove that the Justice did some sort of serious violation in his role. Is it not clear that Dr. Ziauddin dictated the Justice or the Justice was dependent on Dr. Ziauddin in writing his verdicts? Does it mean that the Justice does not have expertise in writing his orders?

    So, should we expect you well thought comments regarding this in a short time. Thanks lot!

  13. The Economist's recent history of reporting on Bangladesh, including the war crimes tribunal, is easily retrieved for those who care to look. As a long time reader, the acerbic tone didn't surprise me. However, what did is that the Economist generally has better command of the facts; in most of its reporting on Bangladesh, the viewpoints expressed by The Economist are almost indistinguishable from those found in the well known opposition party mouthpieces - and by no means are these positions universally accepted amongst Bangladeshis. So pardon those of us who are taking the latest round with a pretty large grain of salt...just too many coincidences.

  14. Or is it that the Bangladeshi media (in most part) either did not have the guts, or simply decided to look away when it came to the ICT and its proceedings. The problem with Bangladeshis is that we only see black and white. Either you are with us or against us.

    PS. maybe soon we will hear that David Bergman is a paid agent of Jamaat and a cohort of the international conspiracy to undermine the trial of war criminals in BD, along with the Economist, HRW, IBA, Ambassador Rapp and so on.