Professor Ghulam Azam was found unconscious in his makeshift prison cell at Bangabandhu hospital today by his son former Brigadier General Amaan Azmi. He was conveyed to the emergency observation room after requests from the family who were extremely concerned that his illness had gone apparently unobserved by the prison wardens. Following initial assessment, further neurological examination was advised however the Jail Superintendent refused to allow this and insisted that Azam was returned to his cell without investigation or treatment. The family were refused permission to see him and were not given any further information about his condition.
As shown in the picture above, he appears to be in an extremely weakened state of health and is clearly not being treated with necessary concern for his health and welfare. This shows the Bangladeshi government’s complete disregard for basic human rights of prisoners, in particular of an elderly and frail man.
A statement (in Bengali) by his wife Afifa Azam can also be found here. Mrs Azam’s Statement _26-11-2012_
Lord Avebury has published an account of the abduction of Shukho Ranjan Bali on his blog. The blog entry is reproduced below.
On November 5, 2012 at around 10.00, defence witness Shukho Ranjan Bali was abducted from the International Crimes Tribunal premises.
He was coming to testify for the accused Allama Delwar Hossain Sayedee.
As the car taking Bali and the senior defence counsel Mizanul Islam approached the Tribunal, uniformed policemen stopped it for a security check at the entrance. The police said they had instructions not allow anyone except designated lawyers to go inside the Tribunal Room.
As Mizanul Islam was explaining that Bali was a defence witness, a group of plain-clothes men approached the vehicle, grabbed Bali and tried to pull him out of the vehicle. Islam and his associate counsel tried to prevent them and called the uniformed policemen who were silently observing the unfolding event.
At this point one of the plain-clothed men identified himself as member of the ‘Detective Branch’ and said that he had instructions from the ‘higher authority’ to take the witness away. They then removed him from the vehicle and forced him into their car.
Islam’s colleague Shohag Banna asked where they were taking Bali, and was told that it was to the Detective Branch head office at ‘Minto Road, Dhaka’. The uniformed policemen made no attempt to intervene.
Defence counsel believed these plain-clothes men belonged to the ‘Rapid Action Battalion’ an elite security agency, in view of the similarity of the incident to others in which the RAB were known to have been involved.
The Chief Defence Counsel Abdur Razzaq brought this to the notice of the Tribunal, and prayed that the Tribunal should issue directions to the law enforcing agencies to ‘produce’ the defence witness before the Tribunal. The Tribunal merely requested the Chief Prosecutor and Chief of the Investigation Agency to ‘look into the matter’. Defence counsel immediately tried to amend the order of the Tribunal, considering the probability that it was the Investigation Agency and Prosecutor themselves who had ordered the abduction, but the Tribunal refused this application.
Bali was both a victim and eye witness to crimes committed in 1971. He saw his brother Bisha Bali’s murder and arson which destroyed their village.
Mizanul Islam tried to file an official complaint (known as a ‘General Diary’ or GD) with the Shahbagh Police Station on the evening of the incident, November 5, but the police refused to accept it. They also refused to say why they were refusing to accept the GD. a legally obligation.
An urgent application before the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh was filed seeking direction upon the government to produce Bali (Writ of Habeas Corpus under Article 102(2)(b)(i) of the Constitution of Bangladesh) on November 6, 2012 and the Court fixed the hearing date as November 7, 2012. At that hearing the Deputy Attorney General appeared before the court and informed it that the Attorney General himself would appear on behalf of the Government, but not at that time due to personal difficulties. The Court felt obliged to postpone the hearing and fixed November 11, 2012 for the next hearing.
On November 8, 2012, the Chief Prosecutor held a Press Conference at which he alleged that the defence had engaged in ‘False Propaganda’. He claimed that the witness Bali was hiding due to intimidation by the defence team. He further claimed that Bali’s daughter Shukho Ranjan Bali had filed a General Diary with Police confirming that he was being so intimidated. The Prosecutor referred to GD No. 773 filed on February 25, 2012, almost 10 months previously, in the ‘Undur Kani Police Station’, according to the Investigation Officer’s deposition of August 5, 2012.
The Prosecutor did not say why Bali was not able to file the GD himself, nor could he say where either Bali or his daughter were now.
The Tribunal and the police ignored the testimony of the four eye-witnesses to the abduction, Senior Defence Counsel Islam, Senior Defence Counsel Manjul Ansari, Defence Counsel Hasanul Banna Shohag, and the driver of the vehicle Uzzal. No witness statements were taken from the police officers who saw the abduction, and there has been no attempt to find the abducted witness.
Knowing the fate of others who have been abducted by RAB in the past, if Bali has come to any harm, command responsibility will rest on senior law enforcement officials, and on those who were in charge of the Tribunal’s security.
David Bergman has also revived his blog ‘Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal’ to report on this important event. See http://bangladeshwarcrimes.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/abduction-of-defense-witness-outside.html
International NGO, No Peace Without Justice, calls for removal of death penalty and strict application of due process guarantees at the Bangladesh ICT. The article is reproduced below.
The atrocities committed during the 1971 conflict still haunt Bangladesh and efforts to bring justice are essential for the country to moving forward without the heavy burden of impunity. The hundred of thousands of victims and survivors deserve that justice is done and seen to be done. For the sake of posterity, the International Crimes Tribunal must uphold due process rights and guarantee fair trials. Unless the defence is able to bring witnesses and challenge the prosecution case free from harassment and intimidation and unless the threat of the death penalty is removed from its books, the ICT will have failed the victims and the promise of justice, and it will be rightfully consigned to the annals of history as a politically motivated exercise of vengeance.
No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ) commends the determination of the Government of Bangladesh finally to bring an end to the culture of impunity that has existed for more than 40 years for the massive atrocities committed during the nine-month 1971 conflict, from which Bangladesh emerged as an independent State. As with any conflict, the senseless loss of life and human suffering was experienced on all sides. All those who suffered during the conflict have a right to see justice through an independent and impartial judicial process.
Even after two decades, the call for justice is shared not just by the victims of atrocities, but by the whole of Bangladesh, as a country. The establishment of an International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) was a key promise on the basis of which the BLA-led Grand Alliance received a strong popular mandate and Bangladesh’s commitment to justice was reaffirmed when it became the first South East Asian State Party to the International Criminal Court in 2010.
The ICT, which began its work in March 2010, has an historic mission to close this traumatic chapter and redress the historical burden of atrocities that has accompanied Bangladesh since its birth as a country. It can fulfil this mandate by bringing to justice those who ordered and committed widescale atrocities; providing acknowledgement and redress to countless victims; and creating an undeniable factual record of the events that reflects the real experiences of all affected communities.
The ICT’s obligation and responsibility is, therefore, not just to punish perpetrators who are proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but to provide a fair process that is explained to victims and to the people of Bangladesh, so that they can understand and follow the proceedings and feel that justice is being done. Having expressly excluded any investigations of Pakistani Army officers, who are widely believed to bear the greatest responsibility for the crimes committed, and having focussed its investigations on the current leadership of opposition political parties for their role during the conflict, it is now up to the ICT to demonstrate its ability and willingness to conduct proceedings with fairness, impartiality and strict adherence to due process.
Should the ICT fail to be seen as applying the highest international standards in the enforcement of crimes under international law, even as a domestic tribunal, then it will have failed in its historic mission. Furthermore, such a failure would make it inevitable that a future government will negate all of the tribunal’s achievements and promote revisionist policies that will glorify perpetrators and vilify the victims. In particular, any application of the death penalty for individuals being tried by ICT will virtually guarantee that the process will be viewed by opponents and potential supporters alike as a clumsy attempt to exact political revenge on opposition leadership under the guise of fighting impunity.
The continued exclusion of due process guarantees enshrined in Constitution of Bangladesh as foreseen in the International Crimes (Tribunal) Act 1973 and its 2009 amendment bring discredit to the Tribunal. ICT supporters point out that the provision is needed to address retroactivity concerns (international human rights law specifically allows retroactive jurisdiction for crimes under international law). However, the ICT has since expressly declined application of Bangladesh due process norms in its proceedings, opening itself to further legitimate criticism not only by its opponents, but also by those who should by rights be its most prominent supporters in the international community.
Bangladesh’s failure to address the legitimate concerns of human rights organisations whose mandate is to fight impunity for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, all of whom have voiced strong concerns about the application of due process by the ICT, reinforces the claims of those who are bent on rewriting history to negate the crimes. Even official rulings by United Nations bodies are being ignored: after more than one year, Bangladesh has still not responded to a formal ruling issued on 3 October 2011 by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that ICT pre-trial detention of one BNP and five JEI leaders is “arbitrary” and in breach of article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to both of which Bangladesh is a party. The worst case scenario, whereby the ICT will have contributed to turning into heroes those it was meant to punish and will have demolished the chance for victims to have durable acknowledgement of their suffering, is already upon us.
To keep the promise of justice for victims that the ICT’s establishment represented, Bangladesh needs immediately and categorically to exclude the death penalty for individuals accused by ICT and apply in full all due process guarantees, including protection of defence witnesses, potential witnesses and counsel from harassment and intimidation; full application of the presumption of innocence; and all other due process rights, to the highest international standards. As trials are ongoing, the ICT can still ensure that these standards are applied and that they are seen to be applied.
No Peace Without Justice urges the Government of Bangladesh and the ICT to assure a real chance for durable justice for the thousands of victims and their families, so that the work of the ICT can sustain the test of time. This includes removing the option of the death penalty and according all due process rights guaranteed under international law and under Bangladeshi Constitution to those accused before it. It is essential that the legislative framework and procedures adopted by the Bangladeshi Government comply with its treaty obligations and ensure that the trial process is conducted in a fair and transparent manner, in order to prevent its proceedings from being easily dismissed by a future government as unjust, widely condemned, politically motivated judicial vengeance.
Finally, No Peace Without Justice calls for the UN Human Rights Council to activate its Special Procedures to conduct an urgent re-assessment of the ICT process, which will provide an opportunity for Bangladesh and the ICT to demonstrate its ability and willingness to conduct fair impartial and independent proceedings.
It is reported that on the 5th November 2012, a defence witness named Shukho Ranjan Bali was forcibly removed by a group of men as he entered the ICT tribunal premises. One of the men claimed the group was from the ‘detective branch’ and would take the witness to their offices on the instruction of a ‘higher authority’. Although the defence team appealed for help, there was no effort from the uniformed officers present to intervene in the abduction of the witness.
Since this incident, there has been no information about the whereabouts of the witness, which is a matter of deep concern for his family. A writ petition has been filed in the High Court challenging the legality of Ranjan’s detention.