This blog has taken a particular interest in the alleged abduction of Sukhranjan Bali from in front of the gates of the International Crimes Tribunal - whilst the rest of Bangladesh's media has in the main ignored it.
The tribunal and the government have repeatedly denied the abduction claiming that it was simply a Jamaat-e-Islami drama trying to derail the tribunal. But when I initially investigated the allegation - speaking to those who said that they were eye-witnesses to the abduction, and to members of the family, I felt the evidence for the abduction was credible, though far from proven.
There have of course always been one particular weakness in the evidence - in that the only witnesses were ICT defence lawyers and journalists who worked for a paper (Sangram) with links to the party of the accused (Jamaat-e-Islami). However, nonetheless I was impressed by the detail of what the witnesses told me as well as the consistency in the accounts given by the different witnesses. It was also consistent with what family members, living in Pirojpur and elsewhere, told me.
So whilst the allegation was far from proven - there were no independent witnesses - it was in my mind a credible allegation.
Since November 2012, I have been trying to find ways to corroborate the story. I had various tip-offs that Bali was in one place or the other, but nothing came of them. Then in February, I got a tip-off that he was detained in a jail in West Bengal and I have been spending the last few months corroborating this and arranging for someone trustworthy, as well as entirely independent from the tribunal process and from Bangladesh politics, to meet him. This was not easy, but it was managed.
All that I wanted to know was Bali's story. How come he was not detained in a jail in India? How did he get there? And was there any truth to the allegation that he had been abducted? Whatever he said, that would have been the story that I would have written.
And set out below is the story that was published in The New Age newspaper on Thursday 16 May. His statement supports the allegation that he was detained outside the international crimes tribunal on 5 November 2012 by plain clothes officers and taken away. He says that he was detained for six weeks in Dhaka before being taken to India and dumped across the border. The statement was freely given. It is notable that in his statement, Bali did say some things that are inconsistent with what was previously stated by his family and lawyers.
His statement is of course very significant - but there are many unanswered questions. The statement was not obtained through a process of detailed questioning and so many things remain unknown. One would expect Bali to have detailed information that would help to independently corroborate his detention - something that can only be obtained through a process of questioning which I hope that UNHCR will now be able to do.
Here is the article:
WAR CRIMES TRIAL
Witness alleges state abduction
A witness at the international crimes tribunal in Dhaka who defence lawyers claim to have been abducted from outside the court in November 2012 by law enforcement agents has been found in a Kolkata jail.
Sukhranjan Bali, a Hindu man from the southern district of Pirojpur, has confirmed that on the morning of November 5, 2012 he was taken from outside the tribunal gates by Bangladeshi law enforcement officials as he was on his way hoping to give deposition on behalf of Jamaat-e-Islami’s nayeb-e-amir Delwar Hossain Sayedee.
In a statement given whilst in detention in India, Bali says that he was ‘abducted from the court premises in a police van and was taken to an office in Dhaka’ which he later thought belonged to the Detective Branch of the police because of words on a paper stamp which he saw on the desk.
In February this year, the New Age first received information that Sukhranjan Bali was being held in Dum Dum Correctional Home in Kolkata and that members of his family had gone to visit him. Since then, the newspaper has been working to confirm the accuracy of the information and determine how he got there.
The paper made contact with an Indian citizen, with access to the jail, willing to meet Bali and take a statement from him. This person, who wishes to remain anonymous for security reasons, is independent of all parties involved in the Bangladesh tribunal — with no connections to either the Jamaat-e-Islami or the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, whose leaders are currently being prosecuted for crimes alleged to have been committed in 1971 or to the Bangladesh government.
The person who took the statement has confirmed to New Age that the man who gave the statement to him was the same person as the man shown in a genuine photograph of Bali.
‘Bali gave a very graphic explanation of the whole incident which I think it would be very hard in a flash of moment to come out with like that if it were not true,’ the person who took the statement told New Age, though conceding that at the time he gave he statement, Bali appeared nervous.
Bali said in the statement that the ‘people in the office were in police uniforms and the ones who abducted me were in civil clothes.’ He stated that he was not subject to any torture at the Dhaka office but ‘was being asked the reason why I was supportive of Sayedee sahib.… They said that I will be killed and Sayedee sahib will be hanged.’
According to his statement, Bali remained in illegal detention in Dhaka for six weeks before being handed over to India’s Border Security Force near the end of December 2012 and that he has been detained in different Indian jails for the past four months and a half.
New Age has not been able to independently confirm Bali’s claims and there are some inconsistencies between his statement and comments previously made by members of his family and by the International Crimes Tribunal defence team — although the timeline given by Bali does correspond with papers filed in court relating to his detention in India.
On April 3, Bali was sentenced to imprisonment in a Kolkata court for 105 days imprisonment after pleading guilty for illegal entry into India under the country’s Foreigners Act 1946. Taking into account the time already served in detention awaiting trial, he could be repatriated to Bangladesh any day.
Md Masuder Rahman, the media and public relations officer of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police, said, ‘We don’t have any information [about Bali]. I spoke to the joint commissioner Monirul Islam and he said that he does not know any information. He does not know where [Bali] is at the moment.’ Islam is a senior official of the Detective Branch.
Towards the end of February 2013, the International Crimes Tribunal sentenced Sayedee to death for the commission of two offences of crimes against humanity during the 1971 war, one of which involved the killing of Sukhranjan Bali’s brother Bishabali.
The court held that Bishabali was bound to a coconut tree and ‘shot dead by a Razakar at the insistence of accused Delwar Hossain Sayeedi.’ The court also convicted him for six other offences but imposed no punishment. The case is currently under appeal at the Appellate Division of the Supreme court
The government and tribunal authorities have consistently denied that Bali had been abducted from outside the tribunal by law enforcement agencies.
On the morning of November 5, 2012, a few hours after defence lawyers reported the alleged incident to the three judges of International Crimes Tribunal 1, the chief prosecutor, with the head of the investigation agency standing beside him, told the court, ‘The police officers [outside the court] have stated that nothing has happened within their knowledge.’
Subsequently, a release issued by the tribunal’s prosecution agency said that the alleged abduction was an ‘unacceptable drama’ which was ‘part of [Jamaat-e-Islami] trying to dismiss the tribunal and to release their leader unlawfully.’
In response to a habeas corpus application, a week after the alleged abduction, the attorney general, Mahbubey Alam, also told a High Court bench that the story was ‘absolutely ridiculous.… The petition is absolutely male fide.’
The prosecution also pointed out at the time that Bali was not even due to give evidence at the tribunal that day.
Bali’s statement goes on to state that having been kept by Bangladesh law enforcing agencies for about six weeks, on December 23, 2012 he was blindfolded and taken by the Bangladesh police to the border and handed him over to India’s Border Security Force.
‘They stopped the car in Magura at a hotel to provide me with food. They removed the blindfold and I found out that I was brought there in a private car. After I finished my meal, I was again blindfolded and we were driving again and they finally handed me over to the BSF about 5:00pm and then they left,’ he says in his statement.
Bali says that he was harshly treated by the Border Security Force. ‘They tortured me and asked me what I had been doing there. I tried to narrate the course of events that had taken place till I was handed over to the BSF. They probably did not find my answers satisfactory and I was beaten even more profusely.’
Due to his injuries, he says that the BSF took him to a hospital and was from there taken to the Swarupnagar police station which produced him the next day before the Basirhat court. After being detained at the Basirhat jail for about 20 days, Bali says that he was shifted to Dum Dum Correctional Home.
In his statement, Bali says that he was first asked to give evidence on behalf of Sayedee some time after May 2012, when Sayedee’s son ‘Bulbul’ had come to his house to meet him.
As he was not present, they spoke over the phone. ‘Bulbul requested me to be a witness for Sayedee. After a few days, Bulbul died,’ the statement says, referring to the death on June 13, 2012 of Rafique-Bin-Sayeed, Sayedee’s eldest son.
After the son’s death from a heart attack, Bali said that he kept in touch with Sayedee’s other sons through mobile and that he came to Dhaka ‘before Durga Puja’ [October 20–24], staying at Sayedee’s house ‘for 15 to 16 days.’
He says that on November 5, he was ‘taken to the ninth floor’ in a building at Paltan where he met Sayedee’s lawyers and was then taken to the tribunal.
Previously, Sayedee’s lawyers and Bali’s wife claimed that Bali had first come to Dhaka in early November. The lawyers had also stated that he had not stayed with any member of Sayedee’s family whilst in Dhaka.
The first information report drafted by the Indian police on December 24, 2012 states that police officer Kuldeep Singh had ‘observed suspicious’ movement in the fields near the Indian border in Swarupnagar and that when challenged Bali had ‘fled away.’ When apprehended, the FIR states that Bali had told them that ‘he was coming from Bangladesh to meet his brothers.’
Sharif Uddin, the first secretary (political) at the Indian High Commission in Kolkata, told New Age that three weeks ago, a Bangladesh home ministry team had come to Kolkata to meet Bangladeshis detained in different correctional homes. ‘We visited Dum Dum Correctional Home. I accompanied them. But I cannot say if the three-member delegation met Bali.’
One of the members of the team, Lieutenant Colonel Tauhid of the Border Guard Bangladesh, told New Age that he could not say whether they had met Bali. ‘I cannot remember as there were in the jail maybe about 130 people. You need to talk to the home ministry.’