A Nation of Tricoteuses Awaits the Drop: Bangladesh Prepares for an Execution

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As Bangladesh awaits the execution of Kamaruzzaman, too few are concerned about the flawed trial that heralded this verdict

As the forty-third Victory Day anniversary of Bangladesh is upon us, preparations are being made at the Dhaka Central Jail to execute the 62-year old Muhammad Kamaruzzaman, one of the Assistant Secretary-Generals of Bangladesh’s largest Islamic party, the Jamaat-e-Islami.

Since his party had opposed independence, the government intended to have Kamaruzzaman hanged before the Victory Day celebrations of December 16. But the judgment which was announced in open court on November 3 is yet to be signed. And much to the chagrin of the Prime Minister and her Law Minister, writing a judgment takes time and the prison authorities were reluctant to execute without a signed order. So the Law Minster, in an attempt to persuade the prison that Kamaruzzaman could be executed on the basis of an oral order, embarked on a marathon of press conferences. However, only days later he was compelled to eat his own words when the jail authorities, not convinced by the soundness of his arguments (and fearful of reprisals by future governments), decided to wait for the signed order instead.

This has come as a rude shock to the supporters of the ruling party and the vast majority of the journalists of this country. They feel cheated out of an execution. A number of online newspapers had already been speculating on who would be leading Kamaruzzaman’s funeral prayers and even on where he would finally be laid to rest. One foreign journalist, in order not to be outdone by his local colleagues, had started a real-time ‘Rolling Blog on Kamaruzzaman Execution.’ There was some activity on the blog for a week but now it has ground to a halt.

No one however, is really interested in examining whether Kamaruzzaman has had a fair trial or not. No one wants to know why Human Rights Watch has described the process as being ‘replete with fair trial concerns,’ or why international law experts such as Lord Carlile QC are calling the trials ‘hopelessly flawed.’ In fact, very few people actually know why Kamaruzzaman is being executed at all.

So why is Kamaruzzaman being executed? Well, on November 3, Bangladesh’s highest court confirmed his death sentence, passed earlier by the country’s controversial war crimes tribunal, on the charge of mass murder in the northern district of Sherpur. From the very beginning it was clear that the prosecution would be seeking a death sentence on this charge as it supported the government’s narrative of mass murder by members of opposition Jamaat-e-Islami during the Liberation War.

However, on October 1 2012 the prosecution case fell flat on its face when only one of the four listed witnesses turned up and even he failed to place Kamaruzzaman at the scene of the crime. What followed was a flurry of activity with investigators and even prosecutors themselves travelling up to the scene of the massacre to identify new witnesses. On October 8 the prosecution filed fresh statements of seven war widows. However, the statements prepared by the investigators revealed that none of the widows had seen Kamaruzzaman at the scene of the crime. But on October 11, when three of the war widows finally took the stand, they identified Kamaruzzaman as being present at the scene of the crime.

On cross examination it transpired that two of the three war widows had not named Kamaruzzaman in their earlier descriptions of the massacre to the author of a book which had been published only months before, in February 2012. Nor was his name mentioned in the statements of 13 other war widows, all of whom had described the massacre to the same author. And moreover, Kamaruzzaman had not been named in any of the pre-trial books on the massacre.

So why did his name come up after 41 years? What has prompted this sudden and simultaneous recollection in the witness box of the same name by the three war widows? According to the defence, this was a clear case of witness tutoring. According to the prosecution, the explanation is to be found in the earlier case of Abdul Quader Molla, where a witness explained her failure to name the accused for over 40 years (even in a book authored by herself on the same event) by saying that she had been saving the truth for the witness box.

So how does one justify this execution? Supporters of the government, when faced with international criticism, gloss over the flaws in the prosecution’s case by describing them as procedural. One journalist even described the abduction of a defence witness as a procedural concern. Can the consistent failure by witnesses to name the accused during the course of over 41 years – including to the investigating officer less than a month before deposing – followed by their sudden blaming upon taking the stand of the then teenaged accused for one of the worst massacres of 1971, be described as procedural concerns? One suspects not. These are substantial issues which lend credence to some of the more serious concerns of human rights organisations and lawyers.

But lack of fair trial standards will be the last thing on the mind of most Bangladeshis this December. Many Bangladeshis, including a section of the younger generation, will just want to revel in the excitement of a hanging in the same obscene and violent manner of a year ago when Kamaruzzaman’s party colleague Abdul Quader Molla was executed. In a country short on entertainment, a hanging provides our modern day tricoteuses with a distraction from the everyday drudgery of their lives. And 24-hour news media with their real-time updates right up to the moment of the drop have made Madame Defarges of us all by providing a front row experience of the gallows.

Source: The Platform