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Dhaka Tribune

23 citizens issued contempt notice

Update : 01 Apr 2015, 06:58 PM

A war crimes tribunal yesterday initiated contempt of court proceedings against 23 eminent persons for expressing concern in a statement over the sentence of Dhaka-based British journalist David Bergman.

They are among the 49 signatories of the statement. Earlier, 25 noted citizens were cleared of the charge as they had tendered unconditional apology for their conduct. Yesterday, the court exonerated another person.

The court found that explanations furnished by the 23 citizens were coupled with a “defence” and rejected it.

The three-member International Crimes Tribunal 2 led by Justice Obaidul Hassan issued show cause notices upon the 23 people asking why they should not be punished for contempt of court.

The court made the decision against them “for protecting authority and dignity of the tribunal, and to keep the notion of the administration of justice untainted in the minds of public,” Justice Obaidul Hasan said.

The tribunal on December 2 last year sentenced Bergman, editor (special reports) of the daily New Age, to imprisonment until the end of the court session on that day and fined him Tk5,000 for two articles he had posted on his personal blog.

The court yesterday said: “We are constrained to infer it prima facie that the 23 citizens in the name of expressing concern by making the impugned statement are not found to have expressed true remorse and repentance for their comment, by submitting explanation. Rather, they have made effort to justify their conduct they have shown by initiating the impugned statement.

“The tribunal finds the ‘regret’ they have expressed it to be without real and sincere remorse. The tribunal thus finds that it has been merely tendered as a ‘weapon of defence.’ It is to be noted that ‘regret’ and ‘justification’ or ‘defence’ cannot stand together. We are not convinced to accept it particularly when it is coupled with a ‘defence.’ Thus it is rejected.” 

The tribunal also asked the persons to submit their reply before the court by April 23. Among them, those who are in Bangladesh were also asked to appear before it on April 23.

The citizens are Masud Khan, Afsan Chowdhury, Ziaur Rahman, Hana Shams Ahmed, Anu Muhammad, Anusheh Anadil, Muktasree Chakma Sathi, Lubna Marium, Farida Akhter, Shireen Huq, Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury, Ali Ahmed Ziauddin, Rahnuma Ahmed, Dr Shahidul Alam, Dr CR Abrar, Dr Bina D’ Costa, Mahmud Rahman, Dr Zarina Nahar Kabir, Leesa Gazi, Shabnam Nadiya,  Nasrin Siraj Annie, Tibra Ali, Dr Delwar Hussainthe.

The tribunal exonerated Rezaur Rahman, one of the 49 signatories, yesterday as he apologised unconditionally for his statement.

After over two weeks of Bergman’s conviction, 50 noted personalities issued the statement, observing that the tribunal’s order would restrict freedom of expression. One of them, Khusi Kabir, later withdrew her name.

The tribunal earlier also sought explanation from the daily Prothom Alo and The New York Times. The Bengali newspaper published a report on the statement on December 20 titled “50 people express concern over Bergman’s punishment.” 

Bergman was convicted in the contempt case originated from an application of a lawyer filed in February last year alleging that he had circulated “derogatory criticisms and remarks about the tribunal” through his three articles.

The title of the first article published in November 2011 was “Sayedee indictment: 1971 deaths,” which questioned the death figure during the nine-month-long Liberation War. The tribunal did not convict him for this but condemned and warned for his writing.

Moreover, the titles of the second and third articles posted in his blog in January last year – for which Bergman has been punished – were “Azad Judgment Analysis 1: In absentia trials and defence inadequacy” and “Azad Judgment Analysis 2: Tribunal assumptions.”

Pronouncing the order against Bergman, the trbunal had said: “...in the name of exercising right to freedom of expression, he [Bergman] has crossed the limits of his professional ethics.” The contemnor “has rather acted as a mere ‘mouthpiece’ of the quarters engaged in the act of organised undesirable campaign, by circulating unfair, unreasonable and scandalising ‘criticism’.”

The tribunal said: “We are surprised indeed how and on what basis David Bergman, the contemnor, who is a foreign national, has been working in Bangladesh carrying such perverse mind set towards our ‘war of liberation’ and the trial process being held in the tribunals.

“It is not yet clear to us. However, we are not concerned with this matter. Let the government authorities concerned scan the matter lawfully.”

Bergman, his wife and lawyer expressed disappointment over the order. On the other hand, some persecution lawyers dealing with the war crimes cases said the judges had taken lenient view awarding punishment to Bergman and gave him symbolic imprisonment even though the law gave them the authority for awarding tougher punishment. 

Sara Hossain, human righsta ctivist and Bergamn's wife, expressed strong reservations about the court’s observations saying that the court’s ruling, in the name of the spirit of Liberation War, in fact contradicted its very premise — the right to speak freely.

“This ruling does not advocate dissent or free speech in any way. In fact it obstructs that very concept.”

Also the daughter of noted lawyer and politician Kamal Hossain, Sara said cases had been lodged against the Human Rights Watch and The Economist for questioning on the number of martyrs of during the 1971 Liberation War. But neither party was punished since they are not within reach. “But he [Bergman] was sentenced because this man is within reach,” Sara said.

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