Crackdown on Bangladesh protesters: ‘Heinous genocide’

death man

A few months ago, I wrote an article in this newspaper in which I expressed doubts about whether the apprehensions of the world renowned lawyer and expert on war crimes Toby Cadman would come true in the case of the trial of Bangladeshi war crimes suspects. In an exclusive interview with Saudi Gazette in October 2012, Cadman spoke at length about the flaws surrounding the trial as well as the violation of international and domestic laws in the manner in which the trial is being conducted. The barrister also voiced his apprehension that the Bangladesh government might expedite trial proceedings so as to convict and execute at least three of its political opponents whom it accuses of committing crimes against humanity more than 40 years ago.

I felt that Cadman’s fears would not materialize because of my conviction that all of the claims made to reactivate the war crimes tribunal had no legal basis and lacked even the minimum international legal criteria and standards. Apart from this, those who are currently facing trial at the tribunal were not included in the list of suspects who were supposed to be tried in front of the first war crimes tribunal, which was constituted in the early 1970s but was later abandoned. Likewise, there is no justification for trying any of these suspects at present in the wake of a general amnesty issued in 1973 by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh.

Unfortunately, the apprehensions of Cadman have now come true as the tribunal has issued a verdict against Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, one of the three suspects, mentioned by Cadman in the interview. In a verdict issued last Thursday, the tribunal sentenced Sayeedi to death and the verdict has sparked widespread protest and violence across the country. The government launched a brutal crackdown on protesters, leading to the death of a number of people about which the leader of the opposition and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party President Begum Khaleda Zia said: “It is genocide, and unprecedented in the history of Bangladesh.”

In a press conference, she said: “I am outraged. I am deeply hurt. I have no words to condemn and protest. Heinous genocide is taking place again in our country. People are being killed like birds.” She added: “The government has gone on a barbaric killing spree. Old people, children, adolescents and even chaste women are not being spared. It looks like foreign occupation forces are committing atrocities against the people of Bangladesh.”

It is beyond our imagination, she said, that a government can carry out genocide against its own people. “We liberated our motherland in 1971 and are standing against such genocide. We cannot accept that any government, for any reason, would choose the path of genocide in an independent country.”

Begum Khaleda urged the government to stop this genocide and called on people to seek justice against this barbaric killing. She also asked police and other security agencies not to use the weapons that were purchased with the peoples’ money to kill them and not to be a party in this genocide by carrying out the orders of a failed government. She stressed the need for saving the nation from anarchy unleashed by the government. Begum Khaleda also alleged that the government is resorting to killing and genocide to draw attention away from its total failure and rampant corruption as well as to cling onto power through rigged elections.

Barrister Abdul Razaq, head of the lawyers who appeared for Sayeedi, said that there were no grounds for Sayeedi to remain even a single minute in jail if the tribunal had considered the evidence and information that had been presented to the court. He wondered how the court could sentence Sayeedi to death. The lawyer announced plans to appeal the verdict to the Supreme Court. He noted that among the 20 allegations framed against his client, 16 were related to crimes against humanity and the remaining four connected with genocide but that the prosecution had failed to prove even a single charge against Sayeedi. Abdul Razaq also noted that though the prosecution presented the testimony of 28 witnesses, the defense lawyers were able to prove that all of this testimony was unfounded for lack of evidence. Even then the tribunal accepted the testimony of 16 witnesses as substantial evidence. He also highlighted the fact that the prosecution failed to produce witnesses in court on the pretext that their present whereabouts were unknown.

The lawyer said that Usha Rani Malaker was one of the witnesses whom the prosecution said it was unable to find. However, in a television interview, she said that Sayeedi was not involved in any way whatsoever with the killing of her husband. As for another two witnesses, they appeared before the tribunal simply to testify that the prosecution’s arguments about them were not true. They were Gonesh Chandra Shaha, and Shukho Ranjan Bali.

According to Barrister Abdul Razaq, the Skype conversations between the tribunal’s presiding judge Mohammed Nizamul Haq and Ahmed Ziauddin, a war crimes expert of Bangladeshi origin living in Brussels, and the subsequent resignation of Nizamul Haq also clearly demonstrate that the Bangladesh government and the tribunal were hatching conspiracies to hand down a death sentence to Sayeedi. The barrister noted that the tribunal turned down a demand for a new trial after the Skype scandal came to light and even after evidence in this respect was produced before the court. He also drew attention to the fact that although there is a provision in the law to accept an equal number of witnesses from both the prosecution and the defense, the tribunal allowed the prosecution to produce 28 witnesses and only granted permission for 17 witnesses for the defense.

The abovementioned facts as well as the criticism raised by international human rights organizations, such as the UN Human Rights Council, International Bar Association, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch, against the war crimes tribunal and its violation of both international and local laws, in addition to my familiarity with Sayeedi whom I have known for 30 years demonstrate that the death sentence against him is an unjust political verdict aimed at getting rid of him. This is because it is impossible for any politician in Bangladesh to defeat him in a free and fair election. If the verdict of execution is carried out, it would be the murder of justice and would remain a black spot in the history of the country’s judiciary.

 — Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at algham@hotmail.com

Source: Saudi Gazette