Saturday, September 20, 2014

Sayedee - the blame game

Attorney General
There is much to say about the decision of the appellate division to commute two death sentences against Delwar Hossain Sayedee to terms of imprisonment – and over the coming days, this blog will attempt to say them

I was however struck by the front page article in yesterday’s Dhaka Tribune, titled ‘Blame game after Sayedee Verdict’ focused on the claimed inadequacies of the investigators and prosecutors.

Attorney General, Mahbubey Alam is quoted in the article as saying on a talk show, ‘If you knew what sort of prosecutors were appointed it would give you the creeps.’ Alam also referred to one lawyer who was appointed as a prosecutor even though he or she did not have any experience in dealing with criminal cases.

Claims about the inadequacies of investigators and prosecutors are of course not new (and it is certainly intriguing that Alam, as Attorney General, has apparently done nothing to rectify the situation), but it is very odd that he would seek to make such comments in the context of the appellate division upholding five charges against Sayedee.

If we assume for now – and this must surely be the assumption of the Attorney General - that the tribunal judges and the appellate division assessed the evidence fairly, then the tribunal judges decision to convict Sayedeee on eight offences, and the subsequent appellate division decision to uphold five of them, cannot be considered as anything other than a success for the investigators and the prosecutors.

How can the investigators and prosecutors be criticized when it was their work that convinced, ‘beyond reasonable doubt’, two sets of judges that Sayedee had committed five separate offences of crimes against humanity?

Of course, what Alam and others are trying to do is to blame the investigators and prosecutors for the appellate division’s decision to commute Sayedee’s death penalties.

If that is the case, then he has an inadequate understanding of how sentencing should take place - since following conviction the level of sentence should not concern the adequacy of the evidence, but rather factors that focus on the nature and gravity of the offence, and the accused’s role in it.

If Alam really wanted to pin someone with responsibility for the court's decision to commute the death sentence, he should consider blaming himself, since it was his job as Attorney General to persuade the appellate division that the offences were serious enough to justify a death penalty.

But perhaps self flagellation is unwarranted.

It is interesting to compare the offence for which the appellate division decided in December 2013  Abdul Quader Molla should hang, with the offences that the same court in Sayedee’s case last week commuted from death sentences to terms of imprisonment.

Again putting to one side the question of the sufficiency of evidence that resulted in the conviction, the offence for which Molla was hung concerned his alleged direct presence and involvement in the massacre of a family comprising six people.

But Sayedee's two death penalty offences were far less grave, concerning his alleged involvement in the murder of one person.

If we ignore the claims made in the media about political influence of the appellate division's decision, it was certainly reasonable for the court to decide that Sayedee should not be hung for these offences. Certainly, had it been the case that the offences for which Sayedee had been convicted been more grave than the offence for which Molla was sentenced to death, then there would have been legitimate questions to be raised. But that was not the case.

There are of course many reasons for the investigators and prosecutors to be severely criticized in Sayedee's case (which this blog will be discussing in subsequent posts.)

But they cannot be blamed for the appellate division's decision to commute the death sentences.

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