Thursday, May 19, 2011

19 Apr 2011: SQ Chowdhury interrogation request

This was altogether a rather extraordinary hearing.

Salauddin Quader Chowdhury was due to attend court in relation to an application filed by the prosecution seeking to remand him in the custody of the investigation agency for three days. Previously on 5 April and then 13 April, there had been similar applications relating to Motiur Rahman Nizami and Mojahid.

The last time SQC had been brought to the Tribunal was on 17 January 2011

I had spoken on 4 April, the day prior to his attendance in court, to his daughter in law on the phone who told me that he had not instructed a lawyer, and was likely to represent himself until any trial took place. Also she said that the US lawyer that he had sought to represent him continued to be refused a visa.

When I arrived at the court premises, there were lots of lawyers, some of whom I knew had been in court previously in support of SQC, standing around outside. I asked one, why he was not going in, and was told that the Tribunal would only allow about ten to go in. I said, 'Well, that seems a good number.' He said, laughing, 'No it is not'. So this is when I realised that the 'BNP lawyers' had decided to boycott the court unless all of them could attend.

When I went into the court, I saw, unusually, the Attorney General sitting next to the Chief Prosecutor. I went up to him and asked why he was present, and he said that there was no special reason but that there were now court holidays. 'I like to stay in touch with what is going on.' he said. Interestingly, though, SQC's daughter in law reminded me that the attorney general has gone to all three hearings in which SQC attended the tribunal, but not one in which any of the other defendents had attended.

We had to wait over an hour before SQC arrived, and when he did so, that was quite a sight. He was carried, prostrate, as though on a stretcher, by six police man up the step court stairs and in the to Tribunal. A previous defendent Alim had been given a wheelchair, which had made his entrance at least more dignified. SQC, though, was not given one. He was laid down inside the 'dock' on a number of chairs, with his legs pointing away from the Tribunal members. It was, it has to be said, a rather hapless site.

After the Tribunal members entered Zead-al-Malum began to argue in favour of their application that he should be remanded in the custody of an investigation officer for three days of questioning at a safe house in Dhanmondi, details of which had been gazetted.

He read out from the application a series of allegations against SQC including that he had formed the Al Badr, Al Shams and Razakers and worked with the Pakistan military and set up a number of torture centres in Chittagong. [more about this will be added in the next few days]

He told the tribunal that the investigation agency has collected documents and evidence including audio-video records, films and photographs on the offences allegedly committed by Salauddin Quader Chowdhury during the Liberation War.

Those documents and evidence needed to be checked by questioning him for a fair and effective investigation, he said.

He read out Rule 16(1) of the Rules of Procedure, which states: 'The Investigation Officer if thinks it necessary, may apply through the Prosecutor to the Tribunal to commit the arrested person(s) in his custody for the purpose of interrogation and the Tribunal can pass order for such custody of the person(s) arrested, for a maximum period of three (3) days if it upon consideration of facts and circumstances of the case is of opinion that for proper investigation such order is indispensable.'

He said SQC's interrogation 'is necessary and indispensable for the ends of justice.'

He then passed up the kinds of document that the Tribunal wanted to ask him about, which was from the 'East Pakistani government, 'fortnightly reports.

He confirmed to the Tribunal that this was just 'one of the reports' that they wanted to question SQC about. Malum said that there was also audio visual material.

He said that we need to interrogate him so that the prosecution can make a formal charge under Section 9(1) of the International Crimes Tribunal Act 1973

He was asked how many more days before they 'completed their investigation to allow a formal charge.' He responded by saying that he was at the 'end of the investigation'. When again specifically asked how many days, he said, 'Approximately 60 days ... Within 60 days we will file a formal charge.'

After the prosecutor sat down, the Tribunal chair then said, 'There is no engaged lawyer for the side of the accused person.'

SQC then said, 'I am representing myself'

The Tribunal chairman told SQC that if he wanted to say something he could.

He started by saying in a quiet voice, 'Chairman, I am not guilty' He was told by the Tribunal chairman to address the Tribunal as a whole.

He then made a statement, some of which was made in a normal controlled voice, but some of which was made in a very loud voice, at times shouting at the Tribunal or at the Attorney General.
'I was arrested on 15 December 2010 at 11 by the Rapid Action Batalion. From the moment of arrest - I would rather call kidnap - I was physically assaulted. I was taken away to an unknown place where I was physically tortured under 6.30 am. Then I was taken to some police station. Later I learned that it was in the cantonment. Then again officers assaulted me. Then they stopped and took away my blood soaked clothes and gave me new cloths. At 8pm some people took me to hospital to check me up.'

'During the torture, two doctors, who must have been government doctors, were present.'

'When taken to hospital, it was PG Hospital, I refused to be treated by government doctors and was then taken by officers of detective branch. Initially, these men were cordial but then they suddenly disappeared. Then RAB man again entered and announced who they were and started again to torture me all over again. You can see my legs, my loins.'

You say you are a Tribunal. I have not received a single piece of paper that shows that I am arrest by a legal process. I consider myself abducted.

If you go by the logic that if it quacks like a duck and looks like a duck, then it is a duck, then this place is a court. There are judges, there are prosecutors ....

Tell me does this gazette mentioned by the prosecution have my name in it, show me, show me.'
Tribunal then interrupted and asked that SQC respond to the application.

SQC then carried on and said, 'If you don't want me to defend myself ...' he then quoted from a novel. Then went on.

'You have not given me a single piece of paper. I have been detained for four months. I have had no doctors. ..... This is a mickey mouse court.'

The Attorney General then got up and said that 'This should not be allowed.'

Tribunal chairman said to SQC, 'You are allowed to respond to the application.'

Then SQC went on, 'If they want to question me, I do not have any problems with that. But it will have to be at the jail gate' He then said, 'I have not even been given copy of application.'

The Tribunal said, 'You have not applied for a lawyer'

SQC then said, 'I am representing myself. I am allowed to represent myself. Are you taking that right away from me. I have never asked for a lawyer. I am saying you can question me at the jail gate. And there is no question of lack of space. I am in a three storey building, in solitary confinement. I invite everyone in this court to come and see the interrogation.'

The Attorney General got up again and said, 'Enough of this pretending. He is not an ill person. An ill person does not raise his voice like that.'

The Tribunal chairman then intervened and said that they would adjourn proceedings for 30 minutes before making a ruling, and that in the meantime the accused would be remanded in custody.'

During this break I had a brief conversation with the Attorney General who left the Tribunal during this adjournment. I asked him what he thought about the proceedings. He said, 'It is all pretence. He has all the medical attention he wants at the jail.' I asked him about why he had not received papers, and he said, 'If he wants to represent himself he should file an application to the court.'

After the break, the hearing resumed without the presence of the accused, and passed the following order:
'Application filed by prosecution pressing for an order under rule 16(1) of the Rules of Procedure to commit the accused SQC in the custody of the Investigation Officer for the purpose of investigation for a period of three days.

The accused SQC has been presented in this tribunal by the jail authorities. Mr Zead-ul-Malum, learned prosecutor appearing for the prosecution submitted that for proper investigation of the case, the accused person should be committed to the custody of the Investigation Officer for purpose of investigation. He first submitted that the government has by a gazette notification established a safe house situated at Dhanmondi. He further submitted materials that had been collected by the Investigation Agency are required to be examined by interrogating the accused person. Further submitted that some research, photographs, newspaper, periodicals, magazines and tape recordings have been collected by the investigation agency which connect the accused person with the offence in question and for testing these documents, he is required to be interrogated for an effective investigation.

Further submitted that the investigation is at the fag end stage and if this application is not allowed, Investigation Agency will be prejudiced and as a result the whole investigation would be defective and incomplete.

Further submitted that the investigation agency has a right to interrogate the accused for getting a full picture of the occurrence and this right should not be curtailed in any way and as such prayed for the accused person in custody of the investigation agency for proper investigation.

Noone has been engaged by the accused, SQC, to appear on his behalf as defence counsel, however after submission by the learned prosecutor, the Tribunal asked SQC is he wanted to say something regarding the application.

On our asking the accused, SQC submitted that if there is remand is allowed it should be done at the jail gate not at the safe house. Mr SQC also stated something about his ill-treatment to him by the law enforcing officers , after his arrest.

He was laying in the dock posing as a sick man. It is a fact that he was brought here from KXXX jail and his health was ok. In the court room he pretended to be a sick man but the statement he made in court was so loud that clear to us that he is pretending to be sick and not actually sick. A sick man cannot possibly speak so loudly.

Before going into the merit of the case, want bring some facts forward. Today, by CCTV Camera we have seen a good number of lawyers refusing to coming to the proceedings. As earlier said in open court, there are a limited nubmer of seats in room and need to control number.

The accused Mr SQC has not yet engaged any counsel to defend him. We directed the law enforcers to allow ten to fifteen more lawyers as observers only. We have been told that about 50 lawyers wanted to enter and that everyone wanted to come, but there are not enough seats for that.

On earlier occasion, we sought the cooperation of the learned counsel. We express our disatidfction with the conduct of the lawyers. We can only say that we are sorry.

In the morning, the accused was brought to the Tribunal at 11.30 am although he was required to be produced by 10.30. This is not the first time. It happens each time. We direct the registrar to write to the ministry of Home Affairs and to superintendent of prisons to inform them of this matter so in future the accused is presented to the Tribunal on time in Tribunal without fail. Also asked the Chief Prosecutor to communicate the matter with the concerned authority.

In considering this case and on perusal of the papers submitted before us we are of the view that for proper investigation of this case, the committing of the accused person into the custody of the investigation officer for purpose of interrogation is indispensible.

Considering the gravity of this matter , we allow the petition, under the following conditions.

The accused SQC to be committed to the custody of the Investigation Officer by jail authority at designated safe house for period of one day only for purpose of interrogation by the investigation officer.

The Jail Authority will present the accused at the safe house at 10 am and remove him from the custody of the Investigation Agency at 5pm.

The Investigation Agency is directed to arrange a special room for interrogation with knowledge of engaged counsel.

The Investigation Agency is also directed to depute a doctor from the jail to stay in an adjacent room during interrogation and the doctors will be allowed to see the accused person at the interval time and allowed to conduct health tests of the accused when necessary

The investigation agency will inform the Jail authorities about the date and time of such interrogation.

The Investigation agency shall not put any pressure or threat on accused at time of interrogation and maintain privacy in the safe house.

The interrogation should be conducted in Bangla only so that the the accused and interrogator can understand.

The accused should be given opportunity to clarify anything to the investigation officer.

The Investigation Officer must at all time abide by 16(2) of the rules [This states: ‘No person during investigation under the Act shall be subjected to any form of coercion, duress or threat of any kind.’]

With above condition the application is allowed

Let a copy of the order to sent to the Supt of Dhaka Central Jail and the Investigation officer

Accused is remanded in custody until further order and the prosecution is directed to provide progress report by 19 Jun 2011.'
A number of concerns about this hearing are summed up this article: What to do about SQC?

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