Sunday, March 6, 2016

The food minister, defamatory allegations, and the International Crimes Tribunal

Qamrul Islam, the Food minister
Is it possible for there to be a conversation about Bangladesh's International Crimes Tribunal without one party making baseless arguments and allegations claiming that another party is (a) pro-Jamaati; or/and (b) a lobbyist for the Jammat;  or/and (c) paid by the Jamaat; or/and (d) someone who supports war criminals; or (e) some other combination of the words 'Jammat', 'war criminal', 'lobbyist', and 'money'? In Bangladesh, when one of those parties is writing critical commentary about the process, the answer  to this question seems to be 'No'.

It is this kind of defamatory 'name calling' that prevents the possibility of a civilised and intelligent debate about the proceedings, and is the reason why there are so few people who dare write at all about the Tribunal proceedings from anything other than an uncritically laudatory perspective.

Defamatory name calling has become a very effective silencing technique.

A few days ago, it was, of all people, Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha who was the subject of defamatory insinuations.

It is of course not just people in Bangladesh who have been subject to these defamatory allegations. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, The Economist and the New York Times have also been similarly accused.

I mention this now as at a meeting today at the office of the governing Awami League, the Food minister, Qamrul Islam made defamatory allegations against me involving some of those four words. The minister's comments about me are defamatory as the allegations do not have any factual basis. They are totally untrue. Since there is no evidence of any kind to support the allegation, any media repeating such allegation is also committing defamation - and so they should not publish them.

The Chief Justice, Mir Quasem Ali, contempt and the Nirmul committee

Mir Quasen Ali, Jamaat-e-Islami leader convicted
of war crimes during the 1971 war
The Appellate Division of Bangladesh's Supreme Court will on Tuesday, 8 March give its decision on Mir Quasem Ali's appeal against his conviction and death sentence for crimes committed during the 1971 war.

Yesterday, just three days before the decision that will decide the fate of the Jamaat leader - and when the matter was clearly sub judice with arguments having been heard in court just a few weeks earlier - the Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee, held a meeting dealing with the on-going proceedings.

Seeking to interfere with ongoing and sub-judice proceedings is a serious contempt of court. That is why people are not allowed to comment when proceedings are active in a court. The proceedings relating to Mir Quasem Ali's were clearly active with a decision to be made in a few days time.

Moreover, as reported in the media, the food minister made comments that apparently sought to interfere with the judgement of the court. Others including Shahriar Kabir, the executive director of the Nirmul committee, former judge, Shamsuddin Chowdhury Manik, and Mumtassir Mamoon also did not hold back in their criticisms of the chief justice in relation to how he has dealt with these ongoing proceedings.

The meeting was triggered by criticisms made during the appeal hearing by the Chief Justice of those who investigated and prosecuted the case of Mir Quasem Ali in the trial court.

The comments made at the meeting all appear to be contemptuous and so will not at this stage be set out in this blog until the court has given its decision on the appeal on Tuesday. The comments can however be read in the Daily Star and New Age

However, it can be stated that the minister sought a re-hearing of the appeal proceedings without the involvement of the Chief Justice.

It will be interesting to see whether contempt proceedings will be initiated against those who organised the meeting as well as those who arguably made comments that sought to directly interfere with the result of ongoing proceedings.