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Witness scandal exposed in Bangladesh War Crimes Trial:
Quazi Shahreen Haq, bdnews24.com
British lawyer Toby Cadman, who demanded an investigation after seeing a video of a so-called prosecution witness (PW) in the war crimes case of Jamaat-e-Islami leader Motiur Rahman Nizami, says he is not sure of the identity of the man in the video.
Speaking to bdnews24.com on Sunday night, he said: “I am not in a position to confirm (or) deny anything at this stage. I will review the various videos and issue a full statement in due course. I stand by my previous statement that this requires a full investigation by an independent authority.”
In a recently released video footage which went viral on the YouTube and Facebook, a man named ‘Nannu’ claimed he was a prosecution witness and testified in the Jamaat leader Nizami case under government coercion.
In a report on Sept 20, London-based ‘The Daily Telegraph’ said Cadman had seen the video as he demanded a fully independent and international investigation if the claim made in the video was true.
The Telegraph report also said Cadman was working as a lobbyist on the case of war crimes convict and Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Molla.
Prosecution witness in the Nizami case, Shamsul Huq Nannu, at a press conference at the prosecutor’s office of the International Crimes Tribunal on Saturday night protested the Telegraph report and said information was ‘distorted’.
He also said his family was living in insecurity.
Nannu said, “I have come to know that my statement was quoted by the defence’s international lobbyist Toby Cadman in a report published in The Daily Telegraph. Not only that, a video which supposedly was my interview was also released. I was told later that the video was also on YouTube.”
Nannu said the man in the video was only an imposter and definitely not him.
Then, the ‘real’ Nannu at the press briefing went on to set apart his appearance with that of the man in the video who claimed himself to be Nannu.
“The man who has been shown on YouTube has no moustache but I have been sporting one for quite some time. I have had long curly hair since childhood, but that man does not have such hair.”
“Even the voice is not mine. It is a distorted version of my voice,” he said.
Nannu claimed the remarks made in the video were not his. “I have never been forced to testify. I am a freedom fighter. I willingly gave the testimony to the court against Nizami being driven by my conscience.”
He said that after the testimony, he and his family were insecure. “We are receiving death threats. Miscreants of Jamaat and Shibir may kill us anytime.”
Meanwhile, prosecutor Mohammad Ali told bdnews24.com Shamsul Huq Nannu came to their office at around 7:30pm Saturday and told them about the matter. As he sought help from them, they organised the press conference for him at a room in the office.
However, when contacted about the issue, British lawyer Cadman emailed his response to bdnews24.com.
He said, “In the Daily Telegraph interview I stated that I found the contents of the original video deeply disturbing. I made the point that if the allegations set out in the video are true it warrants a full inquiry into whether there is a practice of witness tampering.
“I made no assessment as to the authenticity of the video, only that it required a full investigation by an independent authority acceptable to all parties.”
bdnews24.com provided Cadman with a video clip of Nannu’s press conference and asked whether he was the same man seen in the video Cadman had watched.
He responded: “In my view the fact that the witness has denied making the statement is to be expected. He clearly does not want to go up against the Government, as what is stated in the interview is a very serious allegation. I stand by the statement that I made in the Daily Telegraph and repeat the request that there needs to be a full, independent, international inquiry into these matters.”
However, Cadman ended his email interview saying, “I have absolutely no reason at this stage to doubt that the original video recording of the witness is authentic; however, this should be the subject of an independent investigation.
See here for original article:
THE gallows, not jail, had always seemed like the more likely destination for Abdul Quader Mollah. On September 17th the Supreme Court of Bangladesh made it so. In revising Mr Mollah’s sentence, the Supreme Court also taught a stern lesson to the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), a flawed but popular war-crimes court. When it comes to the determination of guilt and punishment of war criminals, the Supreme Court will not be gainsaid.
A bench comprised of five Supreme Court judges had to deal with two appeals in the case of Mr Mollah, a leading member of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh’s biggest Islamic party. Mr Mollah’s lawyers had appealed against their client’s conviction by the ICT on February 5th on five crimes against humanity committed during Bangladesh’s war of secession from Pakistan in 1971. The judges dismissed the appeal. In addition, they had to decide whether there was merit to the prosecution’s call for a death penalty. Here, the court reversed an earlier acquittal on one charge (the killing of hundreds of villagers) and ruled that on another (the murder of a family) the sentence should be changed: from life imprisonment to death by hanging.
On February 5th Mr Mollah became the first defendant not tried in absentia to be sentenced by the ICT, which is a domestic court set up by prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s ruling Awami League (AL) in 2010. The initial sentence, which would have spared his life, was seen by many Bangladeshis as being too lenient. It triggered mass demonstrations calling for the death sentence to be handed down to all war-crimes defendants and, for good measure, that the Jamaat be banned as a political party. (Another court has since ruled that the party is unfit to contest national polls because its charter puts God above democratic process.) The opposition soon framed the trials as a struggle between anti-Islamist forces and the pious. That paved the way for another kind of march on Dhaka, the capital, by Hefazat-e-Islam, an Islamic splinter group with fundamentalist demands, in May. Then security forces killed as many as 50 of those demonstrators. The effect on the government’s popularity has been devastating.
Three of the charges against Mr Mollah relied on hearsay evidence. The charge for which Mr Mollah will hang was based on the testimony of a single witness, who was an 13-year-old at the time, and no corroborating evidence whatsoever. Mr Mollah was convicted nonetheless, but his guilt proved far harder to establish than his nickname, the “Butcher of Mirpur”, would have suggested.
Bangladesh’s attorney-general, Mahbubey Alam, has said that the verdict is final and there is no room for judicial review. The defence rubbished Mr Alam’s claim and said that it will file a review petition within 30 days of receiving the full verdict. The death penalty cannot be applied before the Supreme Court comes up with a written judgment, and that can take months. Even then Mr Mollah would have the right to seek clemency from the president. It now seems inconceivable that more than two or three of the accused will be sentenced and executed before the elections, which must be held by January 24th.
Mr Mollah is likely to be joined in his predicament by another defendant who is fast running out of legal options. Delwar Hossain Sayedee began his appeals process before the Supreme Court on September 17th. Mr Sayedee is a firebrand preacher, who was sentenced to death by the ICT on February 28th. That ruling resulted in the worst single day of political violence in the history of modern Bangladesh. Just maybe, according to observers of the trial, two other cases might progress to the stage where executions become possible. They are the cases of Ghulam Azam, the Jamaat-e-Islami’s leader in 1971, and of Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, a prominent member of the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), and one of the closest advisers of its leader, Khaleda Zia.
Mr Chowdhury’s party might someday soon be in a position to have some influence over Bangladesh’s war-crimes trials. The BNP has been silent on what it intends to do with the trials if it wins the election. It fears that the stain of 1971 which still sticks to the Jamaat-e-Islami, its main electoral ally, may cost it votes. But it has a commanding lead in opinion polls and no party has ever won a second term. A BNP victory has come to seem very plausible indeed. That a BNP government would try bringing the trials to an end is a foregone conclusion.
Even with a government minded to do so, however, it would be tricky for anyone to halt the trials; they are still incredibly popular. An opinion poll by AC Nielsen in April 2013 showed that though nearly two thirds of respondents said the trials were “unfair” or “very unfair”, a whopping 86% wanted them to proceed regardless. The public view of the ICT is curious, but not self-contradictory. Annual opinion polls show that the war-crimes trials ranked among the top three “positive steps that the government has taken”, but they consistently fail to make the top-ten list of “issues that need the greatest attention of the government”. Fair or unfair, the trials pale in comparison before such matters of concern as inflation, education, power supply and food security.
Helpfully, from the BNP’s point of view, if it does decide to scotch the trials it need not fiddle with the judiciary or the constitution. According to the constitution the president has the “power to grant pardons, reprieves and respites and to remit, suspend or commute any sentence passed by any court, tribunal or other authority”.
For now, the conversation as Bangladesh heads towards its elections is focused on whether the BNP will boycott. The party says it won’t run unless the AL agrees to hold polls under a neutral caretaker. But the BNP is desperate to contest. It only persists in griping about the electoral procedures as an insurance policy, in case it fails to secure the victory it expects. The chances of an actual breakdown of the democratic process at or around election time seem (relatively) low at this point. Both parties are keen to contest, the army has no further appetite to intervene, having tried installing a technocratic government, which ruled from 2007 to 2008, already.
The more worrying prospect must be that of a political backlash and perhaps even the rehabilitation of the BNP’s Islamic allies; a less secular Bangladesh; and millions of AL supporters incensed by their government’s utter failure to deliver credible war-crimes trials.
Human Rights Watch published the following article about Professor Ghulam Azam’s Trial. Since then, a case has been filed accusing HRW of contempt against the ICT.
Analysis Outlines how Fair Trial Rights of Accused Seriously Compromised
(New York) – The trial of Ghulam Azam, the former chief of Bangladesh’s Jamaat-e-Islaami (Jamaat) party, at Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal was deeply flawed and did not meet international fair trial standards, Human Rights Watch said today.
In March 2010 Azam was charged with six counts of conspiracy, planning, incitement, complicity, murder, and torture as crimes against humanity at the International Crimes Tribunal, known as the ICT, a specially constituted tribunal set up to try those responsible for war crimes during Bangladesh’s 1971 independence war. The judgment, handed down on July 15, 2013, found Azam guilty on all counts and sentenced him to life in prison for 90 years. He was spared the death penalty due to old age. On August 12, the prosecution appealed the sentence, arguing that Azam deserved the death penalty.
“Human Rights Watch has long supported the efforts to deliver accountability for the atrocities committed during the 1971 war, and to ensuring meaningful justice to victims and survivors, through fair trials which meet international standards,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “We sounded the alarm that the law and trial process were deficient, but the government ignored the warnings. The government has got the conviction it wanted, but it has failed to ensure a fair trial that settles once and for all whether Ghulam Azam was guilty.”
Human Rights Watch’s concerns about the Azam trial include:
· Judges improperly conducted an investigation on behalf of the prosecution
· Collusion and bias among prosecutors and judges
· Failure to take steps to protect defense witnesses
· Changes in the trial court panel; and
· Lack of evidence to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt
Among the most serious problems is the fact that the judges stated that they conducted an investigation to make up for deficiencies in the case presented by the prosecution. Judges in Bangladesh are only empowered to examine the evidence placed in front of them by the parties to the case. The defense counsel was not aware of this investigation and was thus unable to comment on or challenge the evidence obtained by the judges, which constitutes a serious violation of article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bangladesh is a party. The investigation calls into serious question the impartiality of the court.
The ICT had not answered allegations of judicial bias raised by intercepted Skype and other communications in which The Economist revealed prohibited collusion between the judiciary, the prosecution, and the executive branch via an external consultant. Many conversations concerned the Azam trial, including ones which show that the judges laid out a blueprint to be used by the prosecution as to how to conduct the trial, which witnesses to call, and how to question them. The conversations make it clear that the judges were closely advising and directing the prosecution on presenting their case against Azam.
In addition, there have been ongoing problems with intimidation of defense witnesses and raids on defense chambers, including in the Azam case. The trial chambers have not ordered any investigation or offered any practical solution to overcoming the security concerns expressed by defense witnesses.
“The problems with the Azam trial are manifold, and lead to the inescapable conclusion that there has been strong judicial bias towards the prosecution and grave violations of due process rights,” Adams said. “The victims of these crimes and their families deserve real answers, which can only be found through fair and transparent proceedings.”
Statement from Toby Cadman, International Defence Counsel on International War Crimes Tribunal, Bangladesh
Friday, July 19, 2013
– Defence team has seen new evidence of high-level government interference in the International Crimes Tribunal, Bangladesh
– Material compromises both past and current trials
– New evidence will be released to the public within the coming days
– Azam trial saw no evidence that establish charges
– Defence reiterate their claims of witness interference, prosecution witness perjury and executive interference
– ‘These recent verdicts follow a trial process reminiscent of the darkest days of the Soviet Union’s show trials and unbefitting of a democratic nation.’
– Risk of continuing instability within Bangladesh if tribunal is permitted to continue to operate in its current form
This week has been a landmark moment for the International Crimes Tribunal, Bangladesh. It has seen two important verdicts. The first on Monday of Professor Ghulam Azam, found guilty of all 61 counts with which he was charged and sentenced to 90 years, commuted from the death penalty. The second was a guilty verdict for Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid. He has been sentenced to death.
This week the defence has outlined in detail what it sees as the profound unfairness of these trials as well as the misconduct and illegality that lies at the heart of this tribunal.* These recent verdicts follow a trial process reminiscent of the darkest days of the Soviet Union’s show trials and unbefitting of a modern democracy. Despite widespread international condemnation over the grave deficiencies at the tribunal, the Bangladesh government’s unwillingness to investigate any of the reported malpractice raised by the defence or international human rights organisations is both highly suspicious and even an admission of guilt.
The defence has now seen further evidence that strongly links the highest levels of the Bangladeshi executive with witness intimidation and tampering. We hope to make this evidence public in the coming days, as soon as it has been properly verified. Our initial analysis is that this material indicates a judicial process completely undermined by high-level political interference. It reaffirms our suspicions at the commencement of the tribunal – that these trials have no basis in justice. Rather, the tribunal has become a ruthless political tool for the current government. It is an affront to justice, and an insult to the victims the tribunal was supposedly created to honour. We are confident that this new evidence will engage stakeholders in Bangladesh and internationally to dismantle this tribunal and work towards a fairer, internationally sanctioned, solution.
To restate categorically: these trials have brazenly ignored the most basic of legal norms. In the Azam trial, no evidence was presented during the trial that confirmed a single death. No evidence was heard to establish genocide or crimes against humanity. No evidence was presented that connected Professor Gulam Azam to any crimes. It is clear that the Judges themselves conducted their own investigations. Prosecution witnesses perjured themselves, while the Defence was prevented from producing witnesses. Furthermore, as was reported by Human Rights Watch amongst others, there has been witness disappearances as well as witness interference. Finally, the level of prosecutorial and judicial misconduct is unprecedented for a court of this type.
The defence has always maintained that the victims of the grave crimes perpetrated in the 1971 independence war deserve justice. This tribunal could have helped lay the ghosts of the past to rest by conducting an open and transparent restorative process. However, Bangladesh risks being plunged back into those dark years once more if the government continues this political witch hunt. The defence has always called for non-violent protest by those Bangladeshi’s who rightly feel aggrieved by this process. Yet we are extremely concerned for the stability of the whole country as important elections approach. We feel the irresponsible and openly divisive manner in which these trials are conducted may create an irreparable and dangerous political divide within the country. The Bangladeshi government and its international partners now have a duty to stop this tribunal creating a toxic political atmosphere that could plunge the country into a sustained period of civil or political unrest.
Yesterday, the Tribunal, in delivering Mujahid judgment, issued a warning that anyone who criticises the Tribunal or rejects its verdict may be charged. This attempt to muzzle criticism and silence opposition is a concerning development as elections approach. Despite the grave charges facing the defendents, they deserve a fair trial. More importantly, for the victims and their families, this tribunal is not fit for purpose. For the political benefit of a few, it risks turning back the clock in Bangladesh at this important juncture in its history.
9 Bedford Row
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Please see the downloadable file below for the full verdict in the ICT case against Ghulam Azam. The case was admitted to be flawed by the judge himself.
Flaws in the PGA’s trial admitted by ICT’s Presiding judge:
The presiding judge of the International Crimes Tribunal-1 said that Ghulam Azam’s case was distinct from the others for two specific reasons. “There are no allegations that he was physically present at any crime scene. And secondly, there are no allegations that he actively directed the commission of war crimes.”
The judge said that most of the evidence against Ghulam Azam was based on documents, essentially news reports.
“It would have been better if the prosecution had submitted more scholastic material like books, research paper or journal articles.”
Justice Kabir said that it was perhaps unwise to depend entirely on news reports since they were written immediately after the event without affording the journalist much time to think.
“Books and journals, they are different. The authors get more time to reflect on the events and research the matter, which make them more authentic,” observed Justice Kabir.
“But the prosecution did not really provide us with much, in a manner of speaking.”
The tribunal, he said, went out and collected relevant material on its own. “We needed to satisfy ourselves. It was also necessary for a better judgement.”
“This took us a long time. That is why it took us three months to give the judgement,” Justice Kabir continued, “But we are still not too satisfied with the documents we were able to collect.”
In this blessed month of Ramadan we are deeply disappointed and saddened by the unjust verdict of the so called International Crimes Tribunal in the case of our beloved father, Professor Ghulam Azam. We strongly reject any suggestion that he was responsible for the crimes he has been accused of, and believe that he has not received a fair trial. At an age nearing 91, this respected leader and Islamic thinker has been kept imprisoned for some 18 months. In addition, we have been appalled by his treatment during this time. Before his conviction, he was denied access to proper medical care, and was even refused permission to attend the funeral of his late brother who passed away earlier this year.
Professor Ghulam Azam is a respected Islamic thinker who is honoured by Muslims all over the world. As a student, he was a leader of the Bangla Language Movement and promoted the cause of Bangladeshis in Pakistan. He has since dedicated his life to promoting Islam in Bangladesh and has written prolifically on this subject. He has made an immense contribution to Bangladeshi politics, including the establishment of the caretaker government system, which has, until recently, continued to be used as the peaceful means of transferring power. Throughout his career, he has never sought fame or wealth, instead living a simple, disciplined lifestyle unusual amongst Bangladesh’s political leaders. As the leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, he has personally suffered much hardship including being imprisoned, exiled and vilified by the media and his political opponents. As a family, we have also by association been subjected to discrimination and mistreatment. My brother former Brigadier General of Bangladesh Army Abdullahil Amaan Azmi was dismissed from the army without a legitimate reason and I myself was unable to continue my academic career in Bangladesh. Family members have been refused visas to travel to Bangladesh without explanation.
Ghulam Azam was opposed to the creation of Bangladesh, as were many others at the time, but he was not responsible for any atrocities committed during the war of independence. Like many others, He supported the political unity of West and East Pakistan at the time of the war of independence, but he was opposed to a military solution to political problems and spoke out repeatedly against the crimes perpetrated by the military and paramilitary. Many of his statements during the war were not published due to strict censorship imposed on the media by the Pakistani officials. The 1971 war victims and their families have the legitimate right to receive justice for the crimes committed during the war of Independence from Pakistan. We also agree that the culture of impunity should stop and the real perpetuators of the crimes against humanity should be brought to justice. Furthermore, it is imperative that through punishing the real criminals we bring an end to the slandering and endless character assassination committed by politicians and a large section of Bangladeshi media against their opponents by exploiting the 1971 victims and the sensitivities associated with the War of Independence .The International Crimes Tribunal was set up to try those it says were responsible for the crimes committed during the war. The entire responsibility for war crimes committed by the Pakistani Army has been placed on a few individuals who did not hold any military power or influence, while the real perpetrators have never been brought to justice.
The International Crimes Tribunal has been the subject of concern by many leading international bodies and organisations, including the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the International Bar Association, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as US Ambassador for War Crimes Stephen Rapp. A number of internationally respected media outlets including The Economist, International Herald Tribune, Wall Street Journal etc have also raised questions about its legality and true motives.
The proceedings of the trial have not satisfied demands for justice. Although we did not have much hope that the trial could be conducted fairly, the failures of the Bangladeshi legal system have been exposed and have proven our fears to be correct. Throughout the case, the defence team has been subject to intimidation and prevented from effectively doing its work. They were prevented from having the expertise of international human rights lawyers who were not allowed to enter Bangladesh. In addition, although they presented a list of over 2000 people who were willing to act as defence witnesses, they were arbitrarily restricted to only 12 witnesses. Due to the political turmoil and events such as the kidnapping of defence witness Shukho Ranjan, very few of those witnesses eventually gave testimony in Ghulam Azam’s favour. The prosecution were not restricted in their number of witnesses and had 16 in total. The politically motivated prosecution case is based on hearsay evidence and media reports, much of which cannot be relied on due to the passage of time. A photograph of my father with General Tikka Khan has been used as evidence that he was a war criminal. Ghulam Azam maintains that he was attempting to convince the General to change his policies towards the Bangladeshi people and there is no evidence to suggest otherwise. The prosecution has also argued that he is responsible for the death of police inspector Suru Miah on the basis of a letter which they have failed to produce. He has also been charged with the deaths of 38 men without any proof. The prosecution used some newspaper statements and tried to implicate him through command responsibility; however, they could not produce a single evidence that showed that Ghulam Azam’s statements led to a particular crime in a particular place. It is astonishing that the ICT has found my father guilty without any concrete evidence at their disposal. No genuine evidence or bona fide witnesses have been presented which could prove that my father was responsible for any crimes that occurred during the 1971 war. We believe that the reason this evidence was not obtained, is because he is innocent of the crimes he is being blamed for.
The judges in the case have also been proven to be in collusion with the prosecution. The leaked Skype conversations provided confirmation that the trial was being manipulated by Awami League sympathisers abroad, and that judgements were being prepared before the evidence had even been heard. Even though no judge has heard the evidence in its entirety, the tribunal has continued regardless, a fact that has been severely criticised internationally. How can a judicial process claim to be impartial and legitimate when no independent investigation took place to punish those involved in these serious crimes to pervert the court of justice? Rather, the editor of a Bangladeshi newspaper that published reports of the ‘Skypegate Scandal’ has been arrested and tortured under police remand.
We have repeatedly requested that the trial should be conducted with the presence of international observers, in an international court, as we do not believe it is possible for a fair trial to be conducted in Bangladesh in the current political climate. This is a hollow victory for the Awami League and not the justice that the victims deserve. It is essential that the appeal process should be internationally supervised to prevent a serious miscarriage of justice. We believe that history will judge this trial to be deeply flawed and unable to provide the standard of justice required for the sentence imposed.
Bangladesh wishes to be known as a progressive country determined to right the wrongs of its past. By wrongly convicting my father, the Bangladeshi justice system has failed itself and the Bangladeshi people. The trials have already succeeded in deepening divisions in Bangladesh, resulting in violence and instability. To date, hundreds have been killed and thousands have been rounded up and are suffering in custody. Our prayers are with all those who are facing oppression, malicious prosecution, custodial torture, police brutality and political violence.
We call upon the international community to ask the Bangladesh government to ensure that the appeals process is carried out under international supervision so that my father and his colleagues receive fair justice. The government has already interfered with the appeals procedure by appointing some controversial judges to oversee the appeals. Therefore, the need for international oversight in this process is absolutely crucial. We are not afraid of fair justice as we know that my father is innocent, but the way the government is influencing the judiciary process clearly proves how politically motivated the whole process is. If the Appeals Court fails to ensure fair justice and eventually kills him through judicial murder then one of the darkest days in the justice system will be written in Bangladesh.
My father is not afraid of death. He strongly said in a TV interview before his arrest that he is more concerned at the plight of the people in Bangladesh rather than his own safety. We love him and are naturally worried about his life. Millions of people around the world respect him for his service to his country and the wider Muslim Ummah. We hope that conscience will prevail over vengeance and through the help of United Nations and the international community, the Appeals Court will ensure that no miscarriage of justice takes place.
His many supporters will be upset by today’s verdict, and many protests are expected. We urge everyone to remain calm and protest peacefully for a man we have always known for his peaceful nature.
Finally, we would like to thank the defence team for their heroic efforts in representing my father. We appreciate that they have faced many difficulties, including intimidation and threats to their personal safety. We will pursue all avenues available through the appeal process, and are praying that the justice system is able to rectify the failings of this trial by properly reviewing the evidence. Ultimately, we rely on Allah to provide justice, and ask you to pray for him in this blessed month.