Monday, January 30, 2012

Irate ICT adjourns proceedings

A stumbling prosecution lost in its own documents prompted an irate war crimes tribunal to adjourn the proceedings for the day soon after it returned from a half-hour recess on Monday.

Earlier, the International Crimes Tribunal, set up to try crimes against humanity during the 1971 Liberation War, was adjourned for half-an-hour, with the prosecution directed to organise its documentation.

The tribunal was expected to hear deposition of witnesses in a case against Jamaat-e-Islami executive council member Delwar Hossain Sayedee.

Sayedee has been indicted on 20 counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, arson and loot.

According to the prosecution, Mohammad Ezabuddin Miah, 39, an assistant librarian of Bangla Academy, was to have confirmed for it the seizure of several exhibits regarding the case.

However, even post-recess, the prosecution faced the same problems as it had before the adjournment. While the prosecutor appeared to be utterly lost in the pages of his own volume, the defence lawyers proceeded to help the tribunal, even suggesting where the court should be looking.

At one stage, addressing the prosecution, Judge A K M Zaheer Ahmed commented, "The defence is helping us!"

When prosecutor Saidur Rahman referred to another page for marking exhibits seized on a certain date, tribunal chairman Nizamul Huq found that his volume did not correspond with that referred by the prosecutor.

Justice Huq then turned a few more pages, going back and forth, as senior prosecution counsel Syed Haider Ali had suggested before the recess, but failed to find the seizure list.

Addressing Saidur Rahman, Justice Huq asked, "Did you see if the pages matched?"

As Saidur Rahman replied he had, Huq gave his volume to a bench officer who handed it to the prosecutor. The judge said, "Show me."

Saidur Rahman had referred to page 3,264 but that page had an article of the daily 'Azad' in the volume that Huq was provided with. The prosecutor appeared flustered and hurried back to his senior colleague Syed Haider Ali, who, for his part, failed to make much headway with the document.

Syed Haider then called for an end to witness testimony for the day and marking of exhibits.

The defence cross-examination was brief.

Counsel Mizanul Islam asked Bangla Academy staffer Ezabuddin to confirm the headline of one report dated May 8, 1971 which said: "Pirojpur Mahakuma Peace Committee formed", which Ezabuddin confirmed.

He also confirmed, upon the defence counsel's query, that news items seized from him were dated approximately 1970-72, from around the time of the Liberation War, and none of their headlines mentioned Sayedee's name.

Shortly afterwards, the proceedings came to a close as prosecution's next witness, Madhusudan Gharami, was not allowed by his physician to testify, owing to his physical condition.

Haider Ali submitted that he was hopeful of producing the witness on Tuesday.

The court then adjourned for the day, almost 30 minutes before the scheduled time for lunch recess.


Earlier, Ezabuddin's testimony in the morning was interrupted several times as the volumes of documents provided to the tribunal and Sayedee's defence team did not correspond with that of the prosecution. The prosecution counsels were able to locate the right page for the first exhibit after a considerable time, much to the annoyance of tribunal chairman Huq.

Once the tribunal had located the seizure records of an issue of 'Azad' dated February 3, 1972, tribunal member Judge A K M Zaheer Ahmed asked prosecutor Saidur Rahman whether the other exhibits were in order.

"How many exhibits do you have for this witness?" he asked, to be told that there were seven.

This drew a wry response from the judge: "Is it going to be like this for all of them? For one, we can take this trouble but this cannot be the case for every exhibit."

Huq said the copy provided to him was the original and therefore the other copies had to correspond with that.

However, the second exhibit proved to be more elusive than the first. While the tribunal chief could locate the document in his volume in one page, the defence said they could not locate it all, and the only record regarding that article was one of custody but not seizure.

Zaheer Ahmed's copy was also incomplete. "It may be acceptable if my copy is not in order but you must make sure the defence has a proper set," he told the prosecutors-in-general.

Saidur Rahman kept going back and forth from the witness stand to his podium, checking his volume, while the investigation officer went to the bench officers in a bid to locate the right page for the judges.

Prosecutor Haider Ali's arrival hardly helped the matters.

At one point, Haider Ali, investigation officer of the case Mohammad Helaluddin and prosecutor Saidur Rahman huddled together at the podium, seemingly at a loss over what to do.

This again drew a comment from tribunal chief Huq: "Mr Haider Ali, what can be done?"

Haider Ali suggested that they try looking for the specific record one or two pages before or after the page that the prosecution was referring to. At this, Huq retorted that this could be acceptable only as an exception but not for so many exhibits.

Justice Huq then adjourned the proceedings for half-an-hour, directing the prosecution to get their documents in order for all exhibits it wanted to have marked on the day.

Defence counsel Mizanul Islam, meanwhile, appealed to the court that the prosecution be also directed to provide with copies of the missing documents.

"Of course! That is what I meant by getting the documents in order," said Huq.

He, however, reminded the defence team that this was only the first case and hence could naturally be faced with certain difficulties and slips from all sides.


Earlier in the day, the proceedings began with an application from the defence counsels pleading for privileged communication with Jamaat guru and former party chief Ghulam Azam, who was denied bail and sent to jail on January 11.

The tribunal granted the plea fixing Feb 4, Feb 11 and Feb 18. The court said two of the three counsels mentioned in the application would be allowed to meet the former Jamaat chief on those days.

According to the prosecution, Azam was instrumental in mobilising the party and several other organisations — such as the Razakar, Al-Badr and Al-Shams — to thwart and oppose the liberation efforts in 1971.

Huq exclaimed at not finding the usual names on the list of three counsels who would meet Ghulam Azam. "No Razzaqs or Tajuls?" asked the tribunal chief, looking at M Tajul Islam, who was present briefly.

Sayedee's case is the first one to proceed to the trial stage at the tribunal. On September 4, the prosecution proposed framing of charges against him on 31 counts for crimes against humanity and genocide. On October 3, the tribunal indicted Sayedee on 20 counts.

The tribunal also sent Jamaat's former chief Ghulam Azam to jail on January 11. His indictment hearing, as well as that of the present Jamaat chief Matiur Rahman Nizami, is scheduled for February 15.

Besides Sayedee, Jamaat chief Matiur Rahman Nizami, secretary general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujaheed and assistant secretaries general Mohammad Kamaruzzaman and Abdul Quader Molla, and Bangladesh Nationalist Party's standing committee member and MP Salauddin Quader Chowdhury have been detained on war crimes charges.

The tribunal granted conditional bail to former BNP lawmaker and minister Abdul Alim on March 31, 2011. The bail was further extended on January 16, ordering him to be present in the court on March 15 when the prosecution has been directed to submit formal charges against the BNP leader.