Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Comment on Today's Contempt Judgment


So, today's judgement relating to three articles written on this blog was pretty much a full throated, no holds barred take-down.

There are quotes galore about my supposed ill-motivated intention - and the judgement comes close to suggesting that I was acting for 'some other party'. Those who do not like my writing about the Tribunal will certainly find lots of pejorative adjectives and adverbs and adverse descriptions of me to suit their taste.

For me, of course, the conclusions of the court are therefore hugely disappointing - and indeed I would say shocking, particularly due to my long standing journalistic work of many years, which has been fully in support of bringing to account those alleged to have committed international crimes during the country's 1971 independence War.

If there was a legal right to appeal this judgment I would do so. However, the International Crimes (Tribunal) Act 1973 does not allow this! Only convictions/acquittals for offenses relating to international crimes can result in an appeal; not convictions for contempt of court. Moreover, Article 47 A of the constitution further restricts any appeal against the legality of the proceedings at this Tribunal.

However apart from its impact upon me, the judgement is likely to make it increasingly difficult for journalists and other writers in Bangladesh to comment critically on any judicial proceedings and judgments, even when those proceedings are completed.

And this should be of great concern to those interested in freedom of speech and the proper scrutiny of state institutions in Bangladesh. The judiciary, like any other institutions in Bangladesh, does needs its fair share of commentary and fair criticism.

'Non-maintainable'? An 'abuse of process'?
These proceedings involved articles written in one case, over two years ago, and in another case, over one year ago - prior to the filing of an application in court. We argued in court that there is no precedent in Bangladesh or indeed in any other common law jurisdiction for contempt proceedings relating to 'scandalization of the court' to take place in relation to articles published such a long time ago. Contempt proceedings on these matters in other countries of the world, if they take place at all (in the UK the law has been changed to remove this kind of contempt) are filed within days or weeks of the publication - not years, as in this case.

Moreover, we had told the court in our earlier arguments before it that at the time of publication these articles had been sent (in an e-mail list serve) to amongst others Tribunal prosecutors and Tribunal investigators as well as lawyers from the Attorney General's office. However, no-one thought that the criticism contained in the articles required legal action at that point. We argued, if the criticism was so damaging - and contempt only is supposed to deal with serious matters that could bring the court into disrepute - why did noone take action at that point?

And this takes us to a further issue. These contempt proceedings were initiated by a third party applicant, that is to say no-one involved at all with the tribunal. In no other matter before these proceedings has a third party applicant been permitted to initiate proceedings or lodge any application of any kind before the tribunal.

So these proceedings, we argued, were right from the state totally unprecedented - first in terms of the time between a publication of an article and the filing of contempt proceedings, and secondly in terms of allowing a third party to file them.

On the basis of these three points we argued that the case was 'not maintainable' and an 'abuse of proces'. It is not clear how the court responded to these points, since the tribunal did not read out those parts of the judgement dealing with these arguments. We will have to wait to see.

Fair criticisms
We of course had also argued, if the court did not accept those three arguments, that the criticisms in the blog article were reasonable, fair and accurate.

I was not permitted today to write notes on the judgment, so I will wait until I can read a copy of the judgment before commenting in detail on what was stated. 

The only thing I would say is this. The court in the judgment read out did not find a single factual inaccuracy made in the three articles. 

Those interested to read more about this can click here for a summary of those arguments, and you can also from that page download the documents that we filed in court which set out in detail why we thought the criticism was fair.


  1. ”The judgement is likely to make it increasingly difficult for journalists and other writers in Bangladesh to comment critically on any judicial proceedings and judgments, even when those proceedings are completed."..............i fully agreed.

  2. We need to know the number of death during 1971 war. Shame on those who want to hide the truth. It not right to punish journalist for doing their job.