Showing posts with label Abduction of witness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Abduction of witness. Show all posts

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Bangladesh ICT Witness abduction: a rejoinder

David Bergman                                                                    A bangla version of this article can be accessed here

In a judicial system which worked, the article written by Omor Shehab on bdnews24.com concerning my blog reports on the alleged abduction by law enforcement officers of a prosecution-turned-defence witness at the international crimes tribunal would have been the source of an apology and a pay out for me in defamation damages.

Unfortunately, in Bangladesh, I don’t think anyone has ever won such a legal action in the courts. So I shall instead respond here to Omor’s article which apart from defaming me through it’s claim that I helped ‘fabricate’ the story of the witness abduction, contains many inaccuracies and omissions and is generally highly misleading.

Omor Shaheb’s basic position is pretty clear. Sukhranjan Bali, a witness in the Delwar Hossain Sayedee trial, was not kidnapped outside the international tribunal from a defence lawyer’s car; the Jamaat-e-Islami was involved in a conspiracy to pretend that he was abducted; and I was a party to that conspiracy.

What does Bali himself say?
Bali has himself stated clearly he was abducted by Bangladesh law enforcement agencies from outside the tribunal.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Further on BBC and the Bali abduction story

I have been meaning to put this correspondence up on the website for some time, and am now doing so - over six months after recieving it - due to a recent article on bdnews24.com which references the BBC article in order to try and discredit my work.
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In May 2012, New Age published an article which provided details of a statement given by Sukhranjan Bali, a witness at the International Crimes Tribunal, which confirmed that he had been abducted by the law enforcement agents from outside the tribunal.

Subsequent to that, the BBC ran an article which inter alia suggested on the words of an anonymous intelligence agency person, quoting an unnamed prison officer, that on being bribed, a prison officer smuggled the statement from Bali out of the jail. I wrote an article about this, which can be found here


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Who has questions to answer over the apparent abduction of Sukhranjan Bali?

By David Bergman

At any time, the illegal detention of a Bangladeshi citizen by law enforcement agencies is a serious matter – but the alleged abduction of a witness from outside the international crimes tribunal in November 2012, must be of particular concern.

Back on 5 November 2012, lawyers acting for the ICT accused Delwar Hossain Sayedee alleged that on that very morning, three men, who said that they were from detective branch of the police, picked Sukhranjan Bali up as he stood at the gates of the tribunal, and walked him outside the High Court perimeter and into a police van.

Photographs taken on the mobile phone by a driver of one of the defence lawyers appeared to support aspects of the allegation – but were too grainy to be any where near conclusive. The defence claim was also supported by two journalists who were present during part of the alleged police abduction – but since they both work for the Jamaat-e-Islami newspaper, their testimony was liable to be disputed.

Statements given by his family did support the claim made by the lawyers that Bali had gone to Dhaka to give evidence to the tribunal. When Bali’s wife was asked how she knew where her husband was, she said: ‘Yes, he called me on the day when he was going to the court on the day he went to the court to give testimony he called me.’

The international crimes tribunal registrar, prosecutors and investigators all denied that such an event took place. The prosecutors in a statement stated that the allegation 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, told a High Court bench that the story was ‘absolutely ridiculous.… The petition is absolutely male fide.’

Now, as reported in New Age on 16 May, Bali has spoken from an Indian jail – and in his statement confirmed that he was indeed abducted from outside the tribunal as the defence lawyers had originally claimed.

According to Bali’s own statement, at the gate of the tribunal, the police – and it appears to have been the detective branch - kidnapped him and then detained him illegally for six weeks. He was then taken to the Indian border, handed over to the Border Security Force who beat him up badly enough that he had to receive medical treatment, and then he was arrested resulting in his detention in an Indian Jail.

Clearly, Bali’s statement is a significant development, providing further support to the allegation that the abduction happened as had earlier claimed.

The government continues to deny that any such abduction has taken place.

Since, the preponderance of evidence now points even further towards state abduction - and of course disappearances of this kind in which the detective branch are alleged to have been involved are not unusual - it is surely now reasonable to consider who within the Bangladesh establishment may have questions to answer about this incident.

The International Crimes Tribunal defence lawyers who were present when Bali was taken away by the police – and who were of course widely disbelieved at the time – stated that there were three plain clothes dressed men who identified themselves as being from the detective branch who took Bali on that day.

These men clearly have direct responsibility.

They obviously must have received orders – and the question is how high up in the chain of command of Bangladesh police were these orders given, and who gave the orders to them?

Bali was, according to his own statement, apparently kept in a small office within a detective branch building (perhaps the central office in Mintu road). Could the detective branch officer who is in charge of where Bali was kept be unaware of this detention?

Did the information about his detention in the detective branch office find its way into to the general police hierarchy – to for example the Inspector General of police? There is no evidence to suggest that the IG of police knew anything about this, but clearly questions need to be asked.

It is of course not just the police that have hard questions to answer. Remember, Bali was not just any old person minding his own business who happened to be abducted. One must assume he was picked up for a reason – to ensure that he would not testify on behalf of Delwar Hossain Sayedee.

Bali was a person whom the Sayedee investigators and prosecutors had originally wanted to testify against the accused for killing his brother. But Bali appears to have refused, and instead wanted to give evidence on behalf of the accused.

So, it is reasonable to consider the possibility that someone or some people within the tribunal’s investigation and/or prosecution agencies wanted to prevent the possibility of Bali testifying and so informed the police that action needed to be taken to ensure he did not come to court.

Without this happening, the plain cloths policemen would simply not have known that Bali needed to be their target. So questions need to be asked of relevant prosecutors and investigators.

What though would have been known within the Bangladesh government and particularly the home and law ministries? Is it possible for a man, an important witness in the country’s biggest trial ever in its 40 year history, to be apparently abducted and kept for six weeks in an office of the Metropolitan police’s detective branch without members of the government knowing about it?

If they were all kept in the dark, then what does this say about the failure of the government to have any level of control of the police?

And then of course there is the bureaucracy. What did the senior civil servants within the home and law ministries know about this?

And then there are questions for India.

It remains unclear how much, if anything, Indian authorities knew that Bali was going to be dumped on the Indian side of the border by the Bangladesh police. Perhaps the Bangladesh police dumped Bali at the border in the hope that he would be killed by the border security forces, as has happened to many Bangladeshis in the past, and as Human Rights Watch have suggested in their statement.

However, it is also possible that there was some agreement between the Bangladesh and the Indian authorities at some level – perhaps the Bangladesh police wanted to be make sure that Bali would not surface until Sayedee was convicted and preferably not before any sentence was confirmed by the Appellate Division. If this was the case, then the Bangladesh authorities would need to know that Bali would definitely be arrested and detained in India – and arguably they may have needed to have some direct contact with the Indian authorities to ensure that this would happen. 

These are the questions that need to be considered, and Bangladesh's media should start asking them.




Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Sukharanjan Bali, the BBC and Bangladesh’s media

By David Bergman

When New Age decided to go ahead and publish its story based on a statement given by Sukharanjan Bali in which he confirmed his abduction from outside the gates of the international crimes tribunal, the paper knew that there would be many within the government and the media - at least those parts of media which put politics above journalism - who would do everything to try and discredit the story. 

After all the story brought together two of the most sensitive issues facing this current Bangladesh government.

First, the disappearance of individuals by law enforcement agencies - which according to human rights organizations number over 70 since this government came to power (though some have returned).

And secondly the international crimes tribunal which, though operating with a significant deal of public support since it was established in 2010 has also been subject to criticism and the occasional scandal.

So we were prepared for more than just a few brickbats.

However, it was a surprise that it would be the BBC Bangla service which would be the trojan horse for the attacks, writing a misleading – and one has to say rather biased - article on its website which was then copied by the likes of the Daily Star, Prothom Alo and Jonokhonto and has formed the basis of most of the establishment media news reporting here in Dhaka.

All journalism should of course be subject to critical review – and none more so than an article making such a serious allegation as the one made by the New Age article. But whilst it is difficult to control the partisanship of parts of the Bangladesh media, one would certainly expect something rather different from the BBC’s Bangla Service which is controlled by editorial guidelines requiring neutrality, objectivity and fairness.

The BBC Bangla service published two articles – one replacing the other - following the publication of the New Age story. It is important to note that these were both news stories, not comment or analysis.

No mention of HRW statement
Both BBC articles barely refer to the New Age report and do not quote at all from the statement given by Bali quoted in the report.

Moreover neither of the two articles refer at all to a Human Rights Watch press release published after the New Age report which supported the paper’s claim that Bali claimed that he was abducted.

The international human rights organisation’s press release stated that: ‘Bali, a Bangladeshi national, claims he was abducted by the Bangladeshi police from the entrance to the ICT courthouse, detained in Bangladesh, then forced by Bangladeshi security forces across the border into India, where he claims he was detained and tortured by the notorious Border Security Force (BSF) before being held in Kolkata’s Dum Dum jail.’

At the very least one would have expected the Bengali Service to have referred to what is in effect confirmation of New Age’s story and to have perhaps even asked Human Rights Watch what was the basis of their claim. Instead, the BBC ignored it.

Anonymous intelligence agency source
In both articles, the BBC quotes from an anonymous intelligence agency source - which is apparently uncorroborated - to make a claim about how Bali supposedly got his statement out of prison.

The BBC's first report stated: ‘However, through a source from West Bengal's intelligence BBC reporter Amitabh Bhatyashali came to know that the Dum Dum prison authority has already interrogated Mr. Bali and Mr. Bali informed the prison officers that he sent the statement through a prison guard by alluring him with money. The intelligence sources informed further that according to Mr. Bali, that prison guard went to the border and handed it over to a smuggler.’ Similar wording was used in the second article that replaced the first. Only the second BBC article is currently online.

Prison guards, money and smugglers gives an impression that the whole process was rather murky, even corrupt and illegal. Moreover it in effect accused Bali of what must be a breach of prison rules, and perhaps even a criminal offence.

It is notable how the article states that the BBC journalists says that he ‘came to know’ this information, rather than for example stating that the intelligence agent ‘claimed’ that this is what Bali supposedly said to a prison guard – giving what was apparently said by the intelligence agent a particular authority.

BBC's rules on use of anonymous sources
The BBC have pretty strict rules on the use of anonymous sources as for obvious reasons it only wants to publish content that is credible and sufficiently supported by evidence - not statements by people whose credibility is questionable and who have a particular interest in a newspaper telling a particular story.

The BBC's editorial guidelines state that ‘Any proposal to rely on a single unnamed source making a serious allegation … must be referred to Director Editorial Policy and Standards and Programme Legal Advice.’ In considering whether the source should be relied upon the Director of Editorial Policy is required to consider, inter alia: (a) whether the story is of significant public interest; (b) whether the source is of proven credibility and reliability and in a position to have sufficient knowledge of the events featured; (c) whether there are safety concerns (d) whether a response to serious allegations has been sought from the people or organisations concerned; (e) and whether there are any sensitive and personal issues

Was the use of the anonymous source ever raised with the relevant Editorial and Legal people within the BBC? I doubt it. But if it was, it is difficult to see how the BBC officials could have authorized its use.

First, this was not just any old anonymous source but an anonymous ‘intelligence agency’ source. The BBC must know well how unreliable such sources can be and how they are, in general, an unreliable foundation of credible journalism without proper corroboration. Intelligence agency sources around the world are known to be highly unreliable, and this is certainly the case in South Asia. And remember here, this is what an intelligence agent says that a prisoner supposedly said to a prison official. 

Secondly, the source was making a serious allegation against Bali, a vulnerable person in jail whom the BBC was not in a position to seek a response .

No smugglers, no prison guards, and no money exchange
What the intelligence agency person is claimed to have said also contradicts what New Age stated in its article. Why therefore did the BBC reporter not contact New Age for a response? If it had, the paper would have confirmed to the BBC that in obtaining the statement there were no smugglers, no prison guards, and no money exchange involved.

Bali's confession
The second BBC article had a much stronger headline, ‘Nothing regarding the Kidnap is there in the records of Sukharanjon Bali, the missing witness.’ The core of the article are quotes from the police's First Information Report and Bali's guilty plea in court.

However, these records are ones which the New Age report had also referred to and quoted from.

The New Age report stated: “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…. 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.’”

So the New Age article clearly points out that there was a difference between the statement Bali gave to New Age, and the allegation set out in the FIR drafted by the police to which he pleaded guilty.

However, the way the BBC writes its article gives the reader the impression that these documents are something entirely new to the story, failing to credit New Age with having referred to them in its original report.

As a result the BBC gives the reader the strong impression that the original New Age article had failed to appreciate some crucial piece of evidence.

This certainly is the way a host of Bangladesh media interpreted the story. The Daily Star had a headline ‘Bali was not forced to flee: says BBC report quoting his confession to Indian magistrate’.

And Jonokhonto’s article has a first paragraph which reads, ‘This means, the allegation of abduction of Sukharanjon Bali, witness of the case against convicted Jamaat leader Sayeedee, by the law enforcement agency has been proved to be false.’

Context for confession
As long as appropriate context and background is provided, it was of course perfectly legitimate for the BBC to focus on the police FIR and the court documents and to consider how these relate to Bali’s statement to New Age, but perhaps if the BBC wanted to do that it should also have enquired a little further about why Bali may have pleaded guilty to the offense.

Bangladeshis in Bali’s position - that is to say those detained for illegal entry into India - are generally advised to plead guilty to offences under the Foreigners Act so that they can serve a short sentence and be repatriated. His guilty plea should therefore be seen within that perspective – a context entirely missing from the BBC story.

Moreover, the BBC article does not refer to what Bali himself stated to New Age about his initial detention by the Indian police. The New Age report quotes him as saying, ‘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.’ Perhaps the BBC could at least have referred to that.

Not fair and neutral
Unfortunately, both BBC articles are not fair and neutral news reporting. Perhaps it was unintentional, but nonetheless in its omissions the articles appear one-sided and an attempt to discredit the New Age article and the statement given by Sukharanjan Bali.

In Bangladesh, the BBC's Bengali service has quite a revered status, but on this occasion it has certainly slipped up. It should acknowledge this, and work to regain the independence and integrity that we all know it is very much capable of providing.

In order to do so, however, the BBC must recognise that in the context of the international crimes tribunal, its job, whatever the personal views of the reporters, must not be to 'protect' the process, but to properly report on it and the issues surrounding it.

As for the Daily Star and Jonokhonto and other similar media in Bangladesh.

One would hope that even as they may support the International Crimes Tribunal editorially (as New Age in fact does), they can ensure that their news reporting on the tribunal - including even on contentious issues like those concerning the abduction of a witness - is done fairly.

And when it comes to the question of the abduction of Sukharanjon Bali himself, they should consider a a bit more what Bali himself had to say – rather than simply relying on the Bangladesh and Indian police and intelligence agencies as authoritative versions of what happened.

(This is a longer version of an earlier post)

Friday, May 17, 2013

BBC Bengali Service's version of the Bali statement

This is an early version of a longer piece, which can be accessed here
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The BBC Bengali service did a piece on Sukhranjan Bali, the defence witness abducted by law enforcement agencies in November last year, being found in a Calcutta jail, as disclosed yesterday in the New Age article. 

You can read the BBC article here in Bangla (the translation is at the bottom of this post.)


I was caught by the last few paragraphs. This stated:
The report published in the New Age of Dhaka claims that Shukhoronjon Bali sent them a written statement from Indian prison. In this statement he describes the incident of kidnap and how he was pushed to India. 
However, Ranvir Kumar, chief of the Prison Division of West Bengal, told BBC that it's almost impossible to take statement from a Bangladeshi prisoner and handing it over to a foreign newspaper. If any relative visits, the authority scrutinizes the Passport-Visa of the visitor. 
However, through a source from West Bengal's intelligence BBC reporter Amitabh Bhatyashali came to know that the Dum Dum prison authority has already interrogated Mr. Bali and Mr. Bali informed the prison officers that he sent the statement through a prison guard by alluring him with money. 
The intelligence sources informed further that according to Mr. Bali, that prison guard went to the border and handed it over to a smuggler. The sources say that the prison authority has already identified that prison guard and started the process of his punishment
First of all it states that 'New Age of Dhaka claims that Shukhoronjon Bali sent them a written statement from Indian prison.' That was not in fact what the New Age article stated. It states as follows:
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.
Where from that does the BBC get that Bali sent New Age a written statement?

Secondly, the BBC article then quotes a 'source from West Bengal's intelligence [agency]' who says that Bali told them when he was questioned that 'he had sent the statement through a prison guard by alluring him with money.' It then goes onto say that; 'The intelligence sources informed further that according to Mr. Bali, that prison guard went to the border and handed it over to a smuggler.'

Without giving anything away, I can assure the BBC, there were no smugglers, no prison guards, no money exchange in the obtaining of this statement.

Thirdly, I am rather shocked that the BBC decided to rely on an anonymous intelligence agency person as the source of this information. Perhaps the BBC should use better sourcing in the future - and not simply write down anything that an intelligence agency person told them. If all journalists started doing this, the papers would be fall of completely false and motivated stories - just like this one turns out to be in its last few paragraphs.

This does look like it is a breach of the BBC's own editorial guidelines which states:
'Any proposal to rely on a single unnamed source making a serious allegation ... must be referred to Director Editorial Policy and Standards and Programme Legal Advice.' 
I wonder whether this was done? I would guess almost certainly not. Had it been referred to this person/department, the following issues would then have needed to be considered:
- whether the story is of significant public interest 
- whether the source is of proven credibility and reliability and in a position to have sufficient knowledge of the events featured
- any legal issues
- safety concerns, for example for whistleblowers
- whether a response to serious allegations has been sought from the people or organisations concerned
sensitive and personal issues
- whether the serious allegation was made or substantiated "off the record".
And had they considered these issues, it is pretty likely that this anonymous comment from an intelligence agency would not have been published.

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Here is the translation of the BBC Bangla piece
Missing witness of war crime suite found at Indian prison

BBC has been informed that Shukhoronjon Bali, a prominent witness of the war crime case against the convicted Jamaat e Islami leader Delowar Hossain Sayedee is at an Indian prison.

Shukhoronjon Bali disappeared from the international crime tribunal premise at the Dhaka on 5th November last year. However, Amitabh Bhatyashali from Kolkata informed us that he has been confirmed by the prison authority that one person named Shukhoronjon Bala is staying as a prisoner at Dum Dum prison at Kolkata.

It has been confirmed by Indian prison authority, Court’s documents and through various informations from different sources that the missing Shukhoronjon Bali of Bangladesh and Shukhoronjon Bala of Dum Dum prison is the same person.

One thing is worth mentioning here, previously The New Age, a English newspaper of Dhaka, published a news saying Shukhoronjon Bali has been imprisoned in Indian prison. Through the link of that news, BBC conducted an enquiry and came out with this information.

The Kidnap Controversy
Initially, Shukhoronjon Bali was a state (prosecution’s) witness against Jamaat e Islami leader Delowar Hossain Sayedee at the international crime tribunal.

But later on, he changed his side and agreed to give testimony in favor of Delowar Hossain Sayedee, as informed by the defense lawyers.

Shukhoronjon Bali was kidnapped from the international crime tribunal premise at the Dhaka on 5th November last year.

Jamaat e Islami leader Delowar Hossain Sayedee’s lawyers complained that people from government law enforcement agencies have kidnapped him.

However, the states denied this complaint.

How he ended up in Dum Dum Prison
BBC reporter Amitabh Bhatyashali informs, on 23rd December night, last year BSF detained one Bangladeshi from India-Bangladesh border at Swarupnagar area of North 24 Parganas with a charge of illegally entering into Indian Territory.

Scrutinising the files of Basirhat court, advocate Mosaraf Hossain informed that the person’s name is Shukhoronjon Bala, father’s name: Let Lalit Ronjon Bala, village: Pahar Hati, Thana (PS): Gongarampur, District: Pirojpur, Bangladesh.

Amitabh Bhatyashali informs, Advocate Mosaraf Hossain assumes, since most of the members of BSF are Hindi speaker, they might have mistakenly misspelled Shukhoronjon Bali’s name while recording his name after the detention.

The court records inform further, BSF handed him over to the Swarupnagar police station. The case number of the case filed against him is 713, dated: 25th of December, 2012.

The next day, on 26 December, Shukhoronjon Bali was produced in court with the charge of illegally crossing the Indian border. Charge against him was framed under section 14 and 14 (c) of Foreigners Act.

The Second Additional Magistrate of Basirhat gave judgment against Shukhoronjon Bali on 3rd April. He was at jail custody in the time in between.

Prison guard’s punishment
The report published in the new age of Dhaka claims that Shukhoronjon Bali sent them a written statement from Indian prison. In this statement he describes the incident of kidnap and how he was pushed to India.

However, Ranvir Kumar, chief of the Prison Division of West Bengal, told BBC that it's almost impossible to take statement from a Bangladeshi prisoner and handing it over to a foreign newspaper. If any relative visits, the authority scrutinizes the Passport-Visa of the visitor.

However, through a source from West Bengal's intelligence BBC reporter Amitabh Bhatyashali came to know that the Dum Dum prison authority has already interrogated Mr. Bali and Mr. Bali informed the prison officers that he sent the statement through a prison guard by alluring him with money.

The intelligence sources informed further that according to Mr. Bali, that prison guard went to the border and handed it over to a smuggler. The sources say that the prison authority has already identified that prison guard and started the process of his punishment

Human Rights Watch calls on Indian govt to protect witness

Following on from the New Age article (see previous post) which revealed that an International Crimes Tribunal witness, whom defence lawyers alleged was abducted from outside the tribunal's gates was in a Kolkata jail and had given a statement supporting his detention, Human Rights Watch issued this statement.
India: Protect Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal WitnessAbducted in Bangladesh, Now Detained in India, Risk of Death if ReturnedMay 16, 2013
(New York) – The authorities in India and Bangladesh should take all necessary steps to protect Shukhoranjan Bali, a long-missing witness in the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) in Bangladesh, Human Rights Watch said today. 
Bali, a Bangladeshi national, claims he was abducted by the Bangladeshi police from the entrance to the ICT courthouse, detained in Bangladesh, then forced by Bangladeshi security forces across the border into India, where he claims he was detained and tortured by the notorious Border Security Force (BSF) before being held in Kolkata’s Dum Dum jail. 
“The apparent abduction of a witness in a trial at the ICT is a cause for serious concern about the conduct of the prosecution, judges and government,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Among many questions is who ordered the abduction, and how senior the officials involved were.” 
Bali was due to appear to give evidence as a defense witness before the ICT, a court expressly set up to try people suspected of war crimes during Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence. He had previously been listed as a prosecution witness. Bali claims that on November 5, 2012, he was abducted by people in plainclothes at the gates of the ICT, put into a police van, and then taken away to the offices of the police. 
Witnesses present at the courthouse claimed to have seen the abduction. 
Defense complaints to the ICT led to the judges asking for the prosecution, rather than an independent body, to investigate the allegations. The prosecution returned to the court and denied the defense allegations entirely, saying that there had been no abduction, despite eyewitnesses. The judges ordered no further investigation into Bali’s disappearance. No information about his whereabouts was made public and the government ignored calls to set up an investigation. The attorney general, testifying on a habeas corpus petition filed on Bali’s behalf, stated that the abduction claim had been made to bring the court into disrepute – but offered no evidence for this assertion. 
Bali had been expected to counter prosecution allegations about the involvement of Delwar Hossain Sayedee in the 1971 murder of Bali’s brother. Saydeee has since been sentenced to hang, in part for the murder of Bali’s brother. 
Bali claims that he was abducted at the courthouse by police, held in government custody for several weeks, and then pushed across the border to India. Human Rights Watch has documented how the BSF routinely kills Bangladeshis who cross the border illegally. In April, Bali was sentenced by an Indian court to 110 days in jail for entering the country illegally. He has already completed his term but is still in jail. 
Human Rights Watch learned in March that Bali was in Dum Dum jail in Kolkata, but did not make the information public pending meeting Bali to ensure that he thought this would not jeopardize his safety. Human Rights Watch is releasing this background after the Bangladesh newspaper, New Age, made this information public on May 15. 
India should not return Bali to Bangladesh until he is interviewed by the Indian office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which can determine if he wishes to claim asylum and whether he is a refugee. If he does not wish to claim asylum, or his asylum claim is rejected, India should still not return him to Bangladesh when there is a real risk to his life or of his suffering ill-treatment if he returns there. 
“Those involved in his abduction may have assumed Bali would be killed by the Indian Border Security Force when he was pushed into India, or that he would permanently disappear,” Adams said. “There is a real risk to Bali if he is returned to Bangladesh, as he could expose those involved in his abduction. Bali needs access to an independent lawyer and UNHCR so that he can make an informed decision about whether it is safe to return to Bangladesh.”

Tribunal witness confirms police abduction

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
David Bergman 
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.’

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

5 Nov 2012: 'Abduction' of Sayedee defense witness

The hearing started with Mizanul Islam, the defense lawyer informing the tribunal that one of their witnesses, Sukhranjan Bali was abducted from outside the tribunal gates.

[Also see the following pages:
Abduction of defense witness outside tribunal
Habeas corpus: rejected as not pressed
Prosecution press statement

Tribunal prosecution and registrar denial
Wife of Abducted witness speaks out
Evidence of Abduction: Look at the Tribunal CCTV pictures]

He said that he had come to the tribunal in a microbus at about 10.15 along with the defence counsel Monjur Ahmed Ansari and two other junior lawyers and the witness Shukhoronjon Bali but that at the entrance of the tribunal police stopped their vehicle, and required the lawyers and the witness Bali to leave the vehicle. He then said that some plain clothes police officer, introduced themselves as officers of the detective branch, came to the vehicle and asked about Bali. When the lawyers identified who was Bali, one of them slapped Bali in the face and he was taken away from us. He said that they informed the officers that the Tribunal had allowed Bali as a defense witness and they were taking him to the Tribunal so that he could give evidence. A car was standing nearby and he was taken away in that, he said.

He said that the whole incident took place in front of the police. He also said that the police did not allow the junior counsels, who were carrying my gown and case files, to enter the Tribunal compound. He said that the police were asking for an entry pass although every day the entry pass is issued at the entrance of the building. He asked: how can the junior counsels get entry pass if they are not allowed to come to the Building? This matter has been informed to the register of the Tribunal and he did not take any steps, he claimed. 'We do not know what happened to S Bali. We are concerned about his safety,' he said.

Abdur Razzaque, senior defense lawyer: To get the entry everyone is required to hold pass. The juniors are not even getting the entrance here at the Tribunal. Is it possible to run our activities in this environment? The witness has been abducted from the gate, how could it be possible to tolerate these things? What about Bali. You said that we are at liberty to bring him as DW. How he can be abducted when entering the tribunal.

Here is a summary of the interchange that took place
Chairman: we will look into this matter.

Razzaque: when? This defense witness is slapped on face in front of the defence counsel before they forced him inside their car. If you do not take any immediate step he may be tortured. We are concerned about his safety.

Chairman: we shall see.

Mizanul Islam: If a defense witness is abducted from custody of the defence counsels then who will protect us. Islam then discussed the background of Bali who had initially been a prosecution witness.

Chairman: Okay call the Registrar.

[Registrar arrived after a few minutes]

Chairman: Mr. Registrar, what is going on here actually?

Registrar: The security system has been strengthened from today.

Abdur Razzaque: But no one is supposed to be harassed for the security reason.

Chairman: We have given direction to strengthen the security. We will not allow the court to be made into a market place. The lawyers will come and learn from here but certainly you will not bring unlimited lawyers here.

Registrar: It has been done for the security reason.

Tajul Islam: (Aggressively) If you do harass someone in the name of security would it be supportable? No, it is not going to be done.

Chairman: You are not supposed to behave like this with the Registrar. If someone has been taken away by a civil dressed person from the gate, in that case we will look at the matter.

Abdur Razzaque: Let this matter be solved at first. To slap a witness is also a slap our face.
Chairman: Keep your faith upon us.

Abdur Razzaque: We have our faith upon the Tribunal but we would also like to have the solution of today’s matter.

Mizanul Islam: In case of strengthening the security you ought to have informed us earlier. With due respect to the Registrar I would like to say he could inform the matter of security before today so that- all of us would have understand the matter. The Prosecutors are getting into the Tribunal by their car but we have been stopped at the gate. Why this sorts of difference?

Chairman: Mr. Haidar Ali, please come forward.

Haidar Ali: I have also seen the security at the gate. But the matter was that- the name of Sukhronjon Bali was included in the list of Prosecution Witness but the defence has taken him as the defence witness. The question is whether the witness is permitted to be stand as a defence witness.

Chairman: The matter is different; we would like to know whether the person has been taken away from the gate?

Haidar Ali: We have not been informed about the matter.
Chairman passed the following order (summary below)
When the Tribunal sat in the room at 10:30 A.M. Mizanul Islam the learned counsel of the defence team submitted before the Tribunal that when he was entering the Tribunal with his juniors and a defence witness Sukhronjon Bali in his car a plainclothes policeman came and said only the senior counsel could enter with the car and others have to stop at the door. He submitted that Mizanul Islam has entered the Tribunal with his car and his junior didn’t get the entrance. The junior and the witness Sukhronjon Bali have been taken at the side of the gate by the civil dressed person and the junior was told that- he is not allowed to enter without pass.

We are concerned about the occurrence. A special arrangement has been made for security purpose. The lawyers have to come at the Tribunal with their Pass. We also find no reason why the numbers of lawyers present today are much more than another day.

We are very much concerned about the matter of taking Sukhronjon Bali away from the gate. We ask the Chief Prosecutor to immediately ask the higher authority to take necessary steps.

Mr. Haidar Ali also stated that he has observed the checking at the gate.

Now Mr. Chief Prosecutor is asked to go to his chamber to take necessary steps by consulting with the Police authority and take necessary steps. Also the Coordinator of the Investigation Agency is asked to look into the matter with the Chief Prosecutor.
Mizanul Islam requested that he include in his order the defense submission that Bali was taken in a RAB car, but the chairman said that this was not necessary

Abdur Razak asked the court to adjourn the day’s proceeding now for at least one hour to see what is the reply of the Chief prosecutor, but the chairman said that he would not adjourn and that he would take up a number of applications.

Razzak said that the tribunal should allow the defense some time to take instruction from the Accused in this situation. 'We expect you to order relevant authorities to produce Bali in one hour before this Tribunal.' he said

Chairman: No, we will not adjourn. We have showed our concern and directed the Chief Prosecutor to look into the matter. We will look into the applications now; we have a number of applications in our hand. And in the meantime we think the answer will come from the Chief Prosecutor. 

A number of applications were then heard (see here)

The Chief Prosecutor and the Coordinator of the Investigation Agency arrived.

Chief Prosecutor said that they have discussed about the matter of the witness missing with the officials of Ramna Police Stations at the Registrar’s office. They have stated that the security has been strengthened from today. Everyone is required to hold pass to get the entrance. And no one has been abducted from the Tribunal gate. They knew nothing about it.
Chairman: Are you saying about the civil dressed persons that- nothing has happened?

Chief Prosecutor: Yes the Police Officers have stated that nothing has happened within their knowledge.

Chairman: Okay, we will sit at 2:00 P.M. In the meantime we’ll consider the matter by sitting at our chamber.

Tajul Islam: No let the matter be solved first, then you may depart.

Mizanul Islam: Give us the scope to speak. [Angrily]
Then Tajul Islam went to the door of the Tribunal and came with some photographs which had been given by another lawyer and said that these were the photographs of the witness who was then being abducted by the civil dressed person.

Tajul Islam: Let the matter be solved first. [Angrily]

Then other members of the defence team started making bad sounds like- Liar, “Thuuh” (which means spitting), shame etc.]

Mizanul Islam: Hear us. [Shouting] 

Chairman: No we will not

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Evidence of abduction? Look at the tribunal CCTV

The International Crimes Tribunal may have important evidence that could help determine the truth of the allegation made by the defense lawyers that one of its witnesses, Sukhoranjan Bali was abducted by the law enforcement authorities from outside the tribunal gates on 5 November.

This is the footage from at least 16 CCTV cameras which are located throughout the inside of the tribunal and outside. A screen showing images coming from these cameras is on both the desks of the registrar and the tribunal chairman, Nizamul Huq.

Officials within the tribunal have confirmed that footage is kept for 30 days in the computer hard discs before it gets wiped off. The registrar also confirmed to me that no-one has looked at the footage in the context of the alleged abduction on 5 November to see what it shows (though see below).

There are images from a number of these cameras that might assist in helping to corroborate different aspects of the incident and surrounding circumstances.

Rule 46A of the Tribunal's rules of procedure states:
"Nothing in these Rules shall be deemed to limit or otherwise affect the inherent power of the Tribunal to make such order(s) as may be necessary to meet the ends of justice or to prevent abuse of the process.”
This power can easily be used - indeed should already have been used? - to initiate an independent investigation (with perhaps both the involvement of a defense and prosecution representative) into this incident.

Since, the footage has not been looked at till now, the tribunal should immediately take action to ensure that (with the assistance of the defense, prosecution and registrar) it is is looked at carefully to see whether it can provide any further information on the alleged abduction that took place on 5 November.

Below is set out what the footage could show.

Bali in court on the 4th
The incident happened on the 5th morning - but the credibility of the abduction allegation is increased if  it can be substantiated that, as the defense lawyers claim, the day before Bali was in court hoping to give evidence.

The defense claim that Bali was in the court's defense room (which is located on the first floor of the tribunal) for most of the day on the 4th November. This, they say was because the defense's application to allow Bali to attend as a witness at the tribunal was due for hearing. Md Hasanul Banna Sohag says that he was the defense lawyer who brought Bali into court on that day and says that he wrote a false name, 'Atis sen' in the register to ensure that there was no problem in his entering the tribunal, and the register book appears to support this. However, it is possible that 'Atis Sen' refers to another person and not Bali.

Bali's presence in the defense room has been corroborated by another lawyer  - but since this lawyer represents another Jamaat accused, this will not be seen by many to amount to independent confirmation.

There are two CCTV camera which are right at the entranceway of the main court building, in the alcove where the registration takes place. Looking at the footage from these cameras should be able to confirm whether or not Bali came to the tribunal that day.

In addition inside the foyer of the tribunal, there are cameras that should also show whether or not Bali entered into the tribunal.

Outside the front gate of the tribunal on the 5th

From inside tribunal grounds: camera on pole directly in
front of the front gate where Bali is alleged to have been
taken by the plain cloths police.
There is a CCTV camera (see picture on right) that appears to cover an area that includes around the front gate of the tribunal premises where defense lawyer's car stops. It is at this point the three lawyers and Bali are supposed to have got out of the car, and then three plain clothes police man stepped in to take him away.

The tribunal registrar says that this camera does not cover this area, but covers the inside area of the tribunal. If so, then then the camera was very oddly located as its view would then be obstructed by the post on which it is located as well as by the tree which surrounds it.



From outside the front gate: White pole, directly in front of
tree and white van, has the camera located on it 

It appears that this camera is moving through a 180 /360 degree turn and so even assuming that this camera covered the front gate, may not have covered the incident at the time.

However all the pictures of that morning need to be looked at










Movement of police car from inside the tribunal
These is a close up of the
type of CCTV camera
close to two gates
The lawyers claim that the police car  into which Bali was put came from inside the tribunal premises to a different gate (at the back of the tribunal).

The mobile phone picture of the police car (see picture numbered 1 on this page) does suggest that the police car did come from inside the tribunal, but there is no other independent evidence.

There is a CCTV camera in the car park, which would appear to be able to see up the narrow path toward the gate - and so it is possible that it would have captured the movement of this police car being first parked inside the tribunal premises and then moving towards the back gate of the tribunal. This camera was also, it appears, a moving camera, so it may not have been looking in the right direction when the police car was moving

Deputy Registrar, Mesbahuddin Ahmed
The deputy register says that he was present at the gate at a time shortly after the abduction is alleged to have taken place, whilst the defense argue that whilst he did come to the gate, it was some time after the abduction - after when Tajul Islam had berated the security guards at the gate. A number of CCTV cameras both inside and outside the tribunal building should have captured the time when he went out of the court and walked towards the gate.

The CCTV footage may well hold important information about this alleged abduction. It is important that it is looked at in a way that all parties consider credible.

Correction/Amendment
- A change was made on 28 November: Originally the last section said that the 'deputy register says he was present at the gate when the abduction would have taken place.'

This has been changed to  'The duty register says that he was present at the gate at a time shortly after the abduction is alleged to have taken place ..' It also adds the phrase ' - after when Tajul Islam had berated the security guards at the gate.'

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Exclusive: Wife of abducted witness speaks out

Aruti Rani Bali, the wife of Sukhranjan Bali outside
her village house
Last weekend I went down to the district of Pirojpur in Bangladesh to, amongst other things, meet the family of Sukhoranjan Bali who is alleged to have been abducted by law enforcement agencies outside the International Crimes Tribunal.

In the village where she lives, we found Bali's wife Aruti Rani Bali, and their daughter, Monica Mondal.

Monica lives at her in-law's house in Barisol and had come over to her mother's house when she heard what had happened to her father. It was not clear exactly when she arrived.

Bali's son had left the village after the abduction of his father and gone, the family thinks, out of fear to Mongla port.

Below is a slightly edited transcript of a videoed interview. It is edited simply to avoid repetition or irrelevant non-sequiturs in the answers. Everything stated of any relevance is in the transcript. The interview was done in the presence of myself and an assistant who has, like me, no connections of any kind with the Jamaat or any of the newspapers supportive of Jamaat/BNP. The interview was in Bangla, and below is a translation. The wife generally answered the questions but but when the daughter did so, it is made clear in the transcript below.

The interview is important in that it seems to help corroborate a number of issues relating to the alleged abduction of Bali: (a) that Bali had gone to Dhaka in the first days of November (b) that he was on his way to to the tribunal on the 5th morning (since she says that he called him at that time) (c) that he was willingly going to give evidence on behalf of Sayedee (d) that he has been missing since then - the family have not received any calls from him on the 5th.

Please see further comments at the end of the interview. 

Background: Bali was originally a prosecution witness, who apparently did not want to give evidence to the tribunal, and ran away to India at around the time that the trial started (November 2011), then came back - and then appears to have agreed to give evidence for the defense, to the effect that his brother's death was committed by the Pakistan military.

INTERVIEW
Distraught wife of Bali
Wife: Where is my husband, bring him home. He went to the court and then he was picked up ….. My son out of fear left home, maybe to gngla port to work … People say that my husband is no more. He used to say I will speak the truth at the court that my brother was killed by the Pakistani army. Where is he, where is he? ….



Q: When did Bali go to Dhaka
A: (Wife): Nov 3rd. On the 5th he went to court

Q: Where was he on the fourth, who did he stay with?
A: (Wife): I don’t know

Q: Did he go alone?
A: (Wife): I don’t know that.

Q (to daughter): To check that it was Nov 3rd
A: (Wife): yes. It was raining that day, it was Tuesday.
A: (Wife): no it was Monday.
A: (Daughter): Oh, yes, it was Monday.

Q: Were you threatened/intimidated after the incident?
A: (Wife): Yes, people came and I asked who those people were. And then the OC (officer in charge of police station) came.

Q: Who intimidated you? The local people?
A: (Daughter) I wasn’t here. Mother was here.
A (Wife): I want my Husband.

Q: Who intimidated you?
A: (Wife): The OC came.

Q: What did the OC told you? Did he tell you not to speak to anyone? Did he take your signature in any paper?
A: (Wife): No he wanted us to sign a blank paper but we denied.

Q: When did he come?
A: (Wife): The next day, 6th of November.

Q: Are you sure that Bali went to Dhaka on Nov 3rd. Did you see a calendar?
A (Sister): We had communication over phone. Since our father is not home we have to check the dates properly

Q: Did he have a mobile phone?
A (sister): yes

Q: Is it switched off now?
A (sister): Yes, it is switched off

Q: Did the OC from the Sadar Thana came? ?
A: (Wife): I am not sure. It could be from Zianager or from Shodor

Q to (Daughter): Which OC came?
A: (Wife): I don’t know. I came day before yesterday.

Q: Do you remember his name, or his face?
A: (Wife): I don’t know the name but he was fat. Neither fair nor black.

Q: Did he have a moustache?
A: (Wife): No I didn’t look at him. He wanted me to sign, but I told him don’t ask for that. We are in tension, don’t ask us to sign, I won’t be able to do that. OC asked me 'don’t you need your husband back. Do you know where he is?' Then I said yes, I must get my husband back but I will not sign. I don’t need to file a GD, find my husband.

Q: Why did he want your signature?
A: (Wife): He said that he would file a GD

Q: Why didn’t you file the GD? Filing a GD often helps as the police legally becomes responsible to investigate your husband?
A: (Wife): Oh, I didn’t do that, I didn’t understand. Now people tell me to file a GD.

Q: Filing a GD is good. Suppose someone is threatened, then people file GD.
A: (Wife): Against whom will I file a GD?

Q: If you don’t know who did it, then the police will take the GD as a complaint that your father is missing. Because it must be recorded in the book of police that this incident happened. You need to file a complaint if any one intimidates you. This GD is a complaint. You can file a GD even if you don’t know who have done this.
A: (Wife): Can I do it now?

Q: Yes you can but you need to talk to the OC
A: (Wife): I don’t have anyone do it for me. ….Will I be able to find my husband?

Q: Still there is hope, don’t lose hope so fast. Was he with [family member] in Dhaka?
A: (Wife): I don’t know

Q: Didn’t he tell you? Didn’t he call you after going to Dhaka?
A: (Wife): Yes he called me on the day when he was going to the court on the day he went to the court to give testimony he called me. … They took away my husband from in front of the court.

Q: When did he start from Dhaka on the third? Did he start at night or in the morning? We are just trying to get a sense of the time.
A: (Wife): I heard that he was supposed to get on the bus at 2pm. He started from home on Friday.


Q: Don’t you know where he was on the next day, where did he live who did he travel to Dhaka with
A: (Wife): I don’t know

Q: Are you sure that he did not go to the court on the 4th?
A: (Wife): Yes, I am. He went to the court on the 5th?

Q: If it was Friday, then it was Nov 2nd
A: (Wife): I don’t know, he went to Dhaka on the 3rd. It might be Saturday.

Q: So he started from home on the 3rd and he called you on 5th and told you that he was going to the court?
A: (Wife): yes, he told me that,” I’m going to the court.” He said only this and nothing else.

Q: Do you know where he got on the bus?
A: (Wife): No I don’t

Q: Who was with him?
A: (Wife): I don’t know

Q: Did he tell you why he was going to Dhaka?
A: (Wife): No he didn’t tell me earlier, but called me after reaching Dhaka. He was not at this place before going to Dhaka. He was at my sister place. He was hiding in fear?

Q: How long he had been hiding?
A: (Wife): Around a year. He is out of home from last Kartik (October/November)

Q: What do you mean? Didn’t he used to come home?
A: (Wife): No.  
Bali's daughter, Monica Mondal
Q: Where is your sister’s home?
A: (Wife): He normally stayed at my sister's place. He used to roam around here and there?

Q: Where is your sister's home?
A: (Wife): The day when he went to Dhaka he told my sister that he was going to the local market

Q: Who was he afraid of? Why was he hiding? Which party he was afraid about?
A: (Wife): Let me tell you. He was asked to testify. My brother in law was killed by the military. This is what he wanted to say. And to say this he went to Dhaka to speak this truth.


Q: Why was he afraid for the last one year?
A: (Wife): Because they wanted him to give false testimony

Q: When was he asked to do that?
A: (Wife): For a long time. … He communicated with us but didn’t come home.

Q: Where is your son?
A: (Wife): From the day when [Bali] was taken away, he went away. He was afraid that pressure would come upon him as well.

Q: Do you have any contact with your son?
A: (Wife): Yes, he has gone too far from here, but he called me over the phone. He said that he would work in a ship in mongla port. We are poor people, we have to work in order to feed ourselves. This why he told me that, “Mother, I’ll go”.

Q: Where is the ship? In Khulna?
A: (Wife): Yes, near Mongla Port.

Q: Did the OC show you any paper when he asked you to sign it?
A: (Wife): No, he just asked for signature

Crying: where is my husband ....

Q: Do you know there was another GD filed in February? [
A: (Wife): yes, when I was in a relatives house, after completing some work [at home], then the OC came and wanted our signature and I refused to give it. Then some other people signed it including my daughter. There was a blank piece of paper.

Q: Why was the GD filed, is it because he was missing?
A: (Wife): Because he was missing. The OC said that since your father cannot be found, no one knows whether he has been killed. You better file a GD.

Q: Was there anything written on that paper where you signed?
A: (Wife): No, it was blank
A: (Wife): (sister): No it was blank

Q: How many people signed [the paper]?
A: (Wife): 4 including the daughter

Q: Did people from the tribunal come to your home?
A: (Wife): Yes, they came many times

Q: Did Bali talk to them
A: (Wife): No, he was never home

Q: Did the tribunal people want Bali to testify against Sayedee?
A: (Wife): They didn’t say anything, they said ‘where is he?’, they wanted to know where the killings took place? Which people were there?

Q: Didn’t they tell him to testify?
A: (Wife): They said that they wanted him to testify but they didn’t get him to do it?

Q: When did the problem start first?
A: (Wife): Just after that, when the case was filed against Sayedee.

Q: When did he flee? Is it around 1 year?
A: (Wife): For around a year, from Kartik (from Mid Nov). Then he want to India in Poush (December/ January), he came back on Falgun (February/March)

Q: So Poush, Magh, Falgun? He was there for three months?
A: (Wife): He came back in Choitro (Mid-March to Mid April). He want there to see his brother who later died. ...

Q: You said a very important thing that he was afraid after filling the case, and the tribunal asked him to testify, then he fled the house. But the tribunal people didn’t try to force him to testify, right?. He was not home. Do you remember if he had told you anything?
A: (Wife): No. Before he want to India, I heard that his brother had a heart attack so he went to India. His brother had little children, he asked them to come stay in our house, but they didn’t

Q: Did the investigators [try to] force him to testify?
A: (Wife): First when they came to do video, we didn’t know that a case has been filed . Then my mother died and there were many people at my place the next morning. Some people told us that a case has been filed regarding the killing of my brother in law. Then my husband told some people – including a BNP person - that his brother was killed by Pakistan army.

Q: Is it after filing of the case?
A: (Wife): Yes. He told people that his brother was killed by Pak army. He was not shot. He was killed with a bayonet. He wanted to speak this truth, and welcomed danger on his own life.

Q: Have the jamaat people, supporters of Sayedee, come to your house?
A: (Wife): Yes, they came only once, then never came again?

Q: didn’t they come since when he is missing?
A: (Wife): No. They came only once.

Q: When?
A: (Wife): Many days ago

Q: Is it after filing of case
A: (Wife): Yes, with the BNP person. He won’t lie.

Q: Did he tell you that “I’ve come to testify”. What did Bali say to you when he spoke on the 5th?
A: (Wife): He just said that I am going to the court, he didn’t say anything else.

Q: What did he say when he reached Dhaka? Was he happy?
A: (Wife): He said I am in Dhaka now. I asked who did you go with? He did not answer clearly. I was angry at the matter and told him “Why you’ve gone to Dhaka?”

Q: So he did not tell you when he was going to Dhaka? He called you from Dhaka?
A: (Wife): Yes, he told me [from Dhaka], but earlier he said that he would go to Dhaka and speak the truth.


Q: As you mentioned the BNP and Jamaat people came after the case was filed, did they tell him that “you should say this in the court” or something like that?
A: (Wife): They came to how his brother was killed. He told that his brother was killed by the military.

Q: Didn’t they tell him to say any particular thing in the court?
A: (Wife): They also did video recording and showed that on TV and published in the news paper.

Q: Did they tell him to say any particular thing in the court?
A: (Wife): The Awami league people told him so. … But he went there to testify in favor of Sayedee. The Awami league is not supposed to say like that. The case was filed by the Awami league but he was going to testify otherwise. This is why he didn’t want to be a witness.

Q: Did the Jamaat/BNP supporters offer any benefits/money?
A: (Wife): No he didn’t tell me something like that. He was a very simple man and that is why he wanted to say the truth. What he knew. ... Brother bring my husband back, I don’t want anything else. We are very poor people. …

Q: Do you have any relatives around your place where you husband stayed when hiding?
A: (Wife): No, no. Those places are too far from here.

Q: isn’t there anyone from Pirojpur.
A: (Wife): No, they live far away.

Q: Did he come for a night or several hours since leaving home last November
A: (Wife): No
A: (Wife): (sister): No, [He did not come] to the in-laws house

Q: Did you contact over the phone
A: (Wife): Yes, he called from India. He asked me to go to India but I did not go

Q: Where did he used to stay in India, in West Bengal? Siliguri or at which place? I mean where his brother used to live?
A: (Wife): I don’t know. He was a very simple man. He didn’t tell me anything in detail. He was worried because his brother died.

Crying: where is my husband ... We don’t have contact in the last ten to 12 days, but earlier when I was ill he used to call ten times a day .. Are you still alive? When will you come back? Please bring my husband back ....

Q: How do you know for certain that he was picked up by police?
A: (Wife): I watched it on the TV I saw his back and people also told me about it. Also saw that the word 'police' was written on the white car.

Q: Is there any possibility that Sayedee supporters picked him up?
A: (Wife): Yes, as he was going to speak the truth, can’t you realise yourself. He refused to testify when the AL men asked him. He wanted to say the truth. He wanted to say that his brother was killed by the Pak army. So it is clear.

Q: How long have you been living in this area?
A: (Wife): After my marriage in the 80s, from 8 or 10 years after the 1971 war

Q: Is it not surprising Bali being from a Hindu family, that he would support Sayedee [a Jamaati] in his trial. I’m saying this as generally it’s rare.
A: (Wife): [no clear answer] My brain is not working.
 COMMENTS

1. The mother was very distraught about her missing husband, and broke down many times during the interview. There is little doubt that she is in a terrible state and genuinely believes her husband to be missing

2. The interview seems to corroborate a number of issues relating to the alleged abduction of Bali. (a) that Bali had gone to Dhaka (b) that he was on his way to to the tribunal on the 5th morning when he called her (c) that he was willingly going to give evidence on behalf of Sayedee (d) that he has been missing since then - the family have not received any calls from him on the 5th.

3. The wife believes that he was abducted by those who are against Sayedee.

4. There is confusion about the dates when Bali left Dhaka and she has no information about who he went with or with whom he stayed

This is a copy of the page of the register on the 4th
November. The third name from the bottom of the page
is 'Atis Sen' written in Bangla. Next to it, is 'Md Hasanul
Banna' which is the name of the defense lawyer who brought
Bali into the court on that day
5. She says that her husband did not go to court on the 4th - though Jamaat lawyers claim that he was in court on that day (i.e day before abduction). There is though other information to support the claim that he was in court on that day: (a) an application about him giving evidence to the tribunal was to be heard that day, the day before the tribunal was to hear the prosecution closing arguments, and so it would have been appropriate for him to have been there; (b) although Bali's name is not in the register, the lawyer who brought him into the tribunal, Md Hasanul Banna Sohag says that on the 4th he did obtain a pass for him but under another name, Atis Sen just so that the court authorities did not know he was there. I have seen the page in the register on the 4th where Sohag has written his own name and there is the name of another person (who is not a lawyer or otherwise known as a person who come to the tribunal) 

7. It is interesting that a police OC came to the wife's house on 6 November, the day after the alleged abduction to get her signature for a GD on .

(a) on the night of the 5th November, Sayedee's lawyers tried to file a GD in Dhaka but the police refused to allow them to do it. So, why did the police come to the family seeking a GD?
(b) a visit by the police to seek this GC is an implied acknowledgement that the state accepted Bali had gone missing - in contrast to the position of the Attorney General (at the High Court during the Habeas Corpus proceedings) and the tribunal prosecution at its press conference which suggested that nothing had happened.
(c) the police simply wanted the wife's signature on a 'blank' piece of paper which would have allowed the police to write on it whatever the police wanted.

8. Previously, according to the interview, in February 2012 the OC had come to the house and asked the wife to sign a blank piece of paper so he could write a GD. She had refused - but the daughter and other relatives did. The fact that the police came to the house to get the family to sign a GD suggests that the police were more interested in getting a GD filed than the family.  


[It should be noted that it has been suggested that there is a well known practice in Bangladesh that police and others often persuade/intimidate people to sign blank pieces of paper on which false allegations are then written and filed as a a GD so the daughter and wife's comments are perfectly reasonable.]

Correction/Amendments
A. in the final paragraph, from saying that there is a 'widespread practice' of obtaining signatures on blank pieces of paper, it has been changed to saying that 'it has been suggested that there is a well known practice.'

Friday, November 16, 2012

Tribunal prosecution and registrar abduction denial

The tribunal prosecution and registrar deny that there was any abduction of a witness as alleged by the defense; that the whole incident has been made up. This posting looks at what they have said and provides some commentary.

Prosecution
On 8 November, three days after the alleged abduction, the prosecution held a press conference. [To see a translation the whole of this statement click here]. Below is a translated extract of the relevant section of that statement relating to their denial.
Recently whilst arguing a certain case, in relation to a witness who is not the defense witness and whose family has lodged a G.D against the defence, on 5 November they made a so-called drama of kidnapping that witness in the gate of Tribunal and by this issue some Defense Counsel of Tribunal-1 have tried to create a confused situation in Tribunal, then Tribunal has taken proper steps against them according to the law in 6 November. 
Dear journalist friends, When the defense witnesses were giving their statement and Prosecution were cross-examining them in the case of Delawar Hossain Saydee, most of the Defense Witnesses said that how, with whom and whose assistance, they have come to give testimony in the Tribunal. Prosecution team can say strongly that no Prosecution Witness told in their statement or in the time of cross-examination that they came with Prosecution or his car to give testimony in the Tribunal. All the people of the country have known by you that last 5 November Jamaat Islami and Islami Chatra Shibir have operated destructive activities, attacking upon police, hijacking the arms of police, burning and breaking the law and order by causing damage to human life and goods for dismissing the trial proceeding and releasing their leaders. That certain day was not fixed for that witness and it is created question in the mind of all about taking steps for bringing Sukhranjan Bali by the car of Defense Counsel Mizanul Islam in the Tribunal as Defense Witness. That Sukhranjan Bali was missing from his area in last four months and a G.D was lodged by his family about him being missing and Defense Counsel Mizanul Islam has cross-examined the Prosecution Witness about this G.D, then as a lawyer it was his responsibility to inform law enforcing body and present him in the Tribunal by the help of them when he got Sukhranjan Bali but he did not do that, so it is amazing, mysterious, unbelievable and for special purpose, for that their claiming of kidnapping Sukhranjan Bali is not acceptable. It has been proved to every rational and sensible people of the country that unacceptable drama of Defense Counsel about kidnapping witness and destructive activities of Jamaat-e-Islami and Chatra Shibir in outside the Tribunal, are the part of trying to dismiss the Tribunal and releasing their leader unlawfully by postponing trial proceeding and Defense Counsels will not avoid the responsibility of those destructive activities.
Comment
There are a number of things to note about this statement.

1. The prosecutor refers to the 5th November as not having been a day for examining a witness, suggesting it was odd for the defense on that day to have brought a witness.

However, whilst it is true that on the 5th there was no witness examination planned, the prosecution statement is misleading as it does not consider the sequence of events in the two weeks prior to the 5th November.

On 21 October, the defense lawyers had made an application asking that the court issue a summons for Bali to attend as a witness in court. The Tribunal refused to do this saying it was unto the defense to bring any witness to court it wishes to. [The tribunal's refusal to assist the defense in bringing Bali, previously a prosecution witness, in court should be noted and will be subject to a separate posting].

Two days later on 23 October, the tribunal closed the defense case as they could not bring any more witnesses without a gap. The tribunal then made 5 November as the date for the prosecution to start its closing arguments. On 30 October, before closing arguments the defense filed an application to bring Bali as a witness to the tribunal even though the defense case had been closed. The tribunal said that this application would be heard on the 4th November (which happened to be the day before the alleged abduction.)

On that day, the day before closing argument, the defense claim that they brought Bali to court and he spent most of the day in the defense room in the court building. In the morning the tribunal said that it would hear the application at 2pm. However, at 2pm the tribunal did not hear the application.

Therefore, in order for the defense to have any chance for Bali to be heard as a witness before closing arguments, they had to bring him to the court on the 5th morning. It was their last opportunity. So, in fact, contrary to the prosecution statement it made perfect sense for Bali to have been brought to the tribunal on the 5th.

2. The statement then goes onto criticize the defense for not having told the tribunal about the availability of the witness - but that in effect is exactly what the defense did by asking, on 21 October, for the tribunal to issue a summons. And, by not agreeing to issue a summons the tribunal did not seem that interested in ensuring that the witness came to court. Moreover if the prosecution was so keen for this to happen - now that their original witness had supposedly come back to his house, then it should have supported the defense in its application to get a summons. However, it did not do this

3. The prosecution refer to a GD diary. This appears from the prosecution statement to be concerned about Bali being missing. It does not, apparently, suggest that he was being intimidated by the defense. In addition, in it earlier application to allow Bali's statement supposedly given to the investigation officer to be admitted as evidence, the prosecution only suggested that he was missing, and not being intimidated.

Registrar
The tribunal registrar also denies that any incident took place. In an interview with me on Wednesday 14 November, the Tribunal registrar AKM Nasiruddin Ahmed, told me 'There was no such incident' in the tribunal.

Referring to the request by the tribunal to look into what happened, he said that he did not undertake 'a formal inquiry ... We did not inquire into the incident ... We were not expected to undertake an enquiry'. He said that he called the deputy commissioner, and the deputy additional commissioner and talked to them. 'We did not leave the office.' About what he found, he said, 'there was no mess, no gathering, no hassling, none reported that something had happened. We called all the concerned police officer, but they said that there was no such incident.'

He then said that the Deputy Registrar was present when it happened.

The deputy registrar, Mr Mesbah then said at some point in the morning after ten, he was asked by the registrar to look around to see if everything was alright at the gate and around the place. He want out of the building and at that time he saw Mizanul Islam's car parked outside the tribunal building. He then went to the tribunal gate and saw Mizanul Islam's junior Md Hasanul Banna Sohag there. 'He told me that he was unable to enter the tribunal and I then asked the police to let him in'. He said that there was another lawyer there but he was not allowed in as he was the lawyer relating to the case of Golam Azam and that case was not fixed for that day.

He then goes onto say. 'Mr Sohag made no complaint to me about anything having happened. And notone there at the gate complained.' He said that there were no people in civil dress

He said that Tajul Islam only came and had an argument with the police guards at the gate, much later on.

He claimed that the whole abduction allegation was an 'afterthought'. He said that he told Hannan, the head of the investigation agency what had happened at the time.

Comment
The statement by the Deputy Registrar could be important - depending on the time he actually went to the gate where it is alleged that Bali was initially taken by plain clothes policemen. He says that he went there around the time that Mizanul Islam's car was parked outside the court. If that was the case, that could suggest it was close to the time when the plain clothes police man are alleged to have started to abduct Bali and walked him to the vehicle at the other tribunal gate, with Sohag following. [This is because, according to the defense lawyers, the witness and three people (including Sohag) got out of Mizanul Islam's car and then the can drove into the tribunal, and it takes barely ten second to arrive from the tribunal gate to the tribunal entrance where the Deputy Registrar is aguing that the car was located when he went out to go to the tribunal gate.] So if the registrar saw Sohag whilst Mizanul Islam's car remained parked at the tribunal entrance, then that would appear to suggest that he saw Sohag almost immediately after he got out of Mizanul Islam's car and this in turn would suggest that the incident did not take place as has been suggested by the defense lawyers and other witnesses.

The Deputy Registrar's evidence is also notable for suggesting that Sohag did not complain about the incident when they saw each other at the gate

Advocate Sohag says that the Deputy Registrar is right in most of his details - apart from his timing. He says that they did see each other at the gate, but this was after the abduction incident had taken place. He said that he had already got out of the car, followed his witness who was being taken by plain clothes policemen, seen him being put in the car, and then walked back to the front tribunal gate.

He then says that when he got to the gate, the defense lawyer Tajul Islam came out from the tribunal to the front gate, with TV cameras following him and when he got to the gate they both started haranguing the police at the gate for what happened. [He says that Tajul knew about what happened as he had managed to send a message to some lawyers in the tribunal]. After the argument with the police at the gate, Tajul then left to go into the tribunal but, Sohag said, that the police at the gate would still not let him in. It was at this point that Sohag saw the Deputy Registrar and asked for his help. Sohag confirmed the the conversation that took place with the deputy register about the other lawyer not being allowed in. The only discrepancy appears to be the timing.

The claim that the deputy registrar came later to the gate - and not when Sohag and the others got out of car - is backed up by Tajul Islam himself, who says that when he came back into the tribunal from arguing the police, he went straight into the registrar's office to tell the registrar what happened and at that time he passed the deputy registrar who seemed to be on his way out.

When Sohag was asked why he did not tell the deputy registrar that there had been an incident of abduction at the gate when he saw him, Sohad said that at that particular moment he was just desperate to get into the tribunal and speak to his senior Mizanul Islam. The police were preventing him from getting him, and he just needed the registrar to help him through the gate, he said. He did not want an argument with him.

Read the next post to find out how certain elements of the story could be confirmed.