Saturday, November 21, 2015

10 key concerns about the Salauddin Quader Chowdhury trial process

Wife of Chowdhury visits him in Jail after
appellate court review decision

Post script: Please note that Chowdhury was executed just after midnight on 22 November 2015.

This article set out some key points on why Salauddin Quader Chowdhury did not receive a fair trial, and why there are serious questions as to whether he actually committed the crimes for which he now faces execution.

However, before setting these points out, some background is important. 

First it is notable that unlike the Jamaat leaders who have been executed or face execution for similar crimes committed during 1971, Chowdhury comes from a well established elite family, which is extremely well connected, with many family members within the current governing party. So, for example, his second (but very close) cousin is Salman Rahman, the chairperson of one of the large corporate conglomerates in Bangladesh, and an adviser to Sheikh Hasina, the country's current prime minister. In addition Chowdhury is the cousin of Awami League MP, Saber Hossain Chowdhury, though apparently they are not on good terms. Moreover, Salauddin Quader Chowdhury's immediate family has been, and remains, acquainted with the prime minister Sheikh Hasina and her family. 

Second, Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, who had been elected six times as a member of parliament, is a controversial figure in Bangladesh politics. Putting to one side his alleged involvement in crimes during the 1971 war, there are many people who argue that he is a communal figure and that after 1975 committed other crimes for which he should be held to account. He is also known as a rather arrogant and over bearing person, characteristics which were evident at certain points during the trial where he harangued the Tribunal, and sacked his lawyers multiple times. Other than his family and friends, and no doubt a core of supporters, even within the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, where he was a member of the party's Standing Committee, there are likely to be few who will shed many tears.

Third, according to multiple well placed sources, at some point after 1975, he became a key agent in Bangladesh for Pakistan's intelligence agency, ISI (Inter Service Intelligence). During the last BNP/Jamaat government (2001-2006), where he held the position as adviser of parliamentary affairs to the then prime minister, it is also said that he was a key person blocking the Bangladesh government from facilitating Indian companies investing in Bangladesh, including a $3 billion Tata group project. As a result of his ISI role, Indian intelligence agencies are said to be  keen that Chowdhury be executed for the crimes which the Bangladesh courts say he committed during the country's independence war.

Fourthly, there are many people in Bangladesh who are absolutely convinced that Chowdhury committed the crimes for which he has been convicted and sentenced to death. I have heard people, whose opinion one should respect, state adamantly that they 'know' Chowdhury was in Chittagong during the 1971 war and 'know' people who saw him commit these crimes. Nonetheless, I have also heard the exact opposite from other equally respectable people.

So, returning to the main purpose of this article, whilst many people have different opinions about Chowdhury, it is at a criminal trial where one expects to be able to determine the truth about the allegations that he committed serious crimes during the 1971 war. Of course, this can only happen if certain basic standards of fairness exist - and in particular this requires that the defense be provided every opportunity to present its case, allowing witnesses to be summoned and cross-examined.

However there are real concerns about the trial. Although the prosecutors continue to argue that the trial  process was fair, there are the key reasons for arguing that Chowdhury did not get a fair trial and why his conviction are unsafe. It would be interesting for the two prosecutors to respond to the ten points below.

Chowdhury was charged with 20 separate offenses involving crimes against humanity and genocide which took place on multiple dates during the 1971 war. He was convicted of 9 offenses between April and July 1971, and sentenced to death for four offenses which took place on 13 and 17th April, within three weeks of the war.

1. Severe restriction on witnesses
The Tribunal did not impose any restriction on the number of witnesses that the prosecution could summon, and the prosecutors called 41 witnesses. However, the Tribunal only allowed the defense lawyers to summon 5 witnesses, and then it subsequently restricted the defense lawyers to summoning only 4 witnesses. There are two points here. First it is practically impossible for an accused to defende himself against 20 offenses with only 4 witnesses. Secondly, it is clearly totally imbalanced, with the prosecution allowed 41 witnesses, and the defense only 4.
(To read more detail about this, see 'Explaining the missing witnesses')

2. Restricted time provided to make defense case, compared to time provided to the prosecution
Although the Tribunal had allowed the defense 5 witness, the judges stopped the defense from presenting its fifth witness arguing that the lawyers were wasting time. However, whilst the prosecution presented its case over a period of 13 months, the defense were only allowed a total of 28 working days, at which point the Tribunal stopped the defense lawyers calling a final witness. Whilst some of the 13 months involved various defense applications, the Tribunal gave the prosecution over ten times the amount of time to present its case. (To read more about this, see link above: 'Explaining the misses witnesses')

3. Defence unable to summon 8 key alibi witnesses
As a result of the restriction in the witness numbers, the defense were unable to summon 8 witnesses (5 of whom were from Pakistan) - who the defense lawyers were intending to call to support its alibi that Chowdhury was not in Bangladesh at the time the offenses were committed. Even though during the trial, copies of affidavits from these witnesses were submitted to the Tribunal - and so the court would have been aware of the relevance of the evidence that these witnesses would have given had they testified in court - the court did not reconsider its earlier restriction of the number of witnesses.
(To read what these witnesses would have said, read this 'The missing 26 witnesses')

4. Defence unable to summon 20 Bangladeshi witnesses
In addition, the defense were also unable to summon Bangladeshi witnesses. For example, in relation to the four offenses for which Chowdhury was sentenced to death, there were 20 witnesses whom they would have summoned had they been able to do so - each of whom would have provided evidence that questioned key elements of the prosecution case for all four of these death sentence offenses. Again, at the time that the affidavits were submitted to the Tribunal, the court would have been aware of the relevance of the evidence that these witnesses would have given had they been allowed to testify in court, but the court did not reconsider its earlier restriction of the number of witnesses. (To read more about this, see link above: 'The missing 26 witnesses')

5. Tribunal judgement not refer to the affidavits submitted
In the judgement of the trial court, the Tribunal did not mention the 'affidavits'* at all.
See judgement

6. Without evidence, Appellate Division ruled that defense lawyer manufactured six affidavits
Unlike the Tribunal, the appellate division did consider the affidavits during the appeal. However, in its judgement the court ruled that a UK lawyer representing Chowdhury had 'beyond doubt ..... manufactured’ six affidavits ‘to save his client Salauddin Quader Chowdhury’ though it provided no evidence to support such a conclusion. The lawyer himself stated that he rejected the allegations 'in their entirety. They are unwarranted and unsupported by any credible facts.' He went onto say that, ‘If the Court was concerned as to veracity or legitimacy of the statements they could have easily called any of the witnesses to give live evidence where their statements could have been tested in an open adversarial process.’

7. Appellate Division rules affidavits inadmissible on technical grounds, though law specifically states that the Tribunal shall 'not be bound by technical rules of evidencd'
The appellate judgement also ruled that there were a number of technical problems with the affidavits - in how they were notarized, in that they did not have a seal of a Bangladeshi counsel etc - which meant that they could not be considered by the court. However, the court did not consider section 19(1) of the International Crimes (Tribunal) Act 1973 which states that "A Tribunal shall not be bound by technical rules of evidence." Moreover, if the appellate division had doubts about the technical aspects of the affidavits, the witnesses themselves could have been summoned to the court.

8. Appellate Division refuses to call 8 alibi witnesses on basis of incorrect rationale
As part of its subsequent application seeking a review of the appellate division's decision (which had upheld the trial court decision), the defense asked that 8 alibi witnesses, who had not be able to testify earlier, be summoned to the court, or that if the court would not agree to summon the witnesses, then it would admit as evidence the videos of the witnesses reading out their affidavits which it had submitted.  

The court however declined to do this, stating that 'if [Chowdhury] had at all underwent education in Punjab University, he could have produced authentic documents from the University concerned.'

However, the offenses for which he was sentenced to death took place in mid-April, at which time Chowdhury claims he was in Karachi, not at Punjab university in Lahore. He has only claimed to have been at Punjab University between May and August 197.  So the issue of the certificate is not relevant to these offenses.

However, most of the witnesses which the defense had wanted to summon were specifically relevant to Chowdhury's presence in Karachi during the days when he is said to have committed the four death penalty offenses. It is therefore not clear why the Appellate Division refused to call these witnesses on the basis that he had not been able to get a copy of his certificate - as the witnesses and the certificate relate to different parts of Chowdhury's alibi in 1971.

9. Non-admission of university certificate, without seeking clarification from university authorities.
The defense, finally, filed a duplicate copy of Punjab university certificate, with the court. In addition, the lawyers filed (a) a copy of the certificate attested by the chancellor of the university, its registrar, and the head of the department of political science; (b) an attested statement written by the registrar about the genuineness of the statement, along with an offers to provide any other assistance and (c) a video of the registrar reading out the statement.

The court however claimed that the certificate was 'forged' - though this would have required a conspiracy involving senior members of the university who had attested the certificate, and there was no evidence that they were involved in such a forgery. The appellate division did also raise some other issues about the certificates which they argued suggested that the certificate was a forgery - but the court came to this conclusion without seeking any clarification from the university authorities who would have been the right people to clarify their concerns.
To read more about this, click here: 'Was the certificate forged?'

10. The accused must prove his innocence
For the defense of alibi in relation to international crimes, the law as decided at the international tribunals is that there is no burden upon the defense to prove the alibi, but rather the prosecution must 'eliminate the reasonable possibility that the alibi is true'. This reflects the general criminal law principle that the prosecution must prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. However, the Tribunal judgement (para 247) stated that in relation to Chowdhury: 
'(1) Onus is entirely on the accused to prove the plea of alibi.
(2) The defence is to prove affirmatively that during the War of Liberation in 1971 the accused was continuously staying in West Pakistan since 29 March to 16 December,1971.
(3) The defence is to prove that the accused was not present in Bangladesh in 1971, at the time when the occurrences took place in Chittagong.
This principle was affirmed by the appellate division, when it stated 
"The plea of accused’s undergoing educational study in West Pakistan during the relevant times in 1971 being the sheet anchor of the case must be proved beyond doubt."
In effect this required Chowdhury to prove that he was innocent - which is against the very basic principles of criminal law. In fact not that he must prove that he was innocent, but do so 'beyond doubt' which is an even stricter test than the burden on the prosecution to prove its case, which is 'beyond reasonable doubt'

* The judgement does refer to 'documents', though not clear whether this also meant to include 'affidavits'. If so, the judgement stated that affidavits not properly admitted as evidence

No comments:

Post a Comment