History will absolve Zafrullah and his comrades

Mr. Dr. Zafrullah Chowdhury

New age Editorial

The International Crime Tribunal, which was set up to try perpetrators of war crimes committed during Bangladesh’s war of liberation in 1971, convicted a reputed freedom fighter, Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury, on Wednesday on charge of contempt of court and sentenced him to ‘one hour’ of ‘confinement in the dock inside the courtroom’ and fined him Tk 5,000.

The right thinking sections of society may not appreciate the punishment of an outspoken freedom fighter, and that too by a court meant for punishing war criminals. Chowdhury was an organiser of the liberation war and one of those who set up a 500-bed field hospital for the wounded freedom fighters during the war. Moreover, Chowdhury and many of his co-accused fought for setting up of the tribunal for trying the war crimes, particularly when successive governments were reluctant to bring perpetrators of war crimes to justice. As the tribunal/s were set up, many a democratically-oriented freedom fighter, Dr Chowdhury and his co-accused included, remained vigilant about the workings of the court to ensure that the trial process is transparent and that justice is ensured without keeping any room for adverse criticism at home and abroad, for such a trial would further enhance the dignity of a heroic populace that wrestled out its independence at the cost of enormous sacrifices.

Dr Chowdhury made public criticism of a previous judgement of the same court that punished a foreign journalist, David Bergman, on charge of contempt of court. The prime criticism that Chowdhury, along with some 50 professors, writers and rights activists, made was that the Bergman verdict would have a ‘stifling effect on the freedom of expression’ of the citizens on the trial process. They neither obstructed the trial process of any war criminal nor they did ‘scandalise’ any judge of the tribunal. But the tribunal reacted sharply to the public statement and summoned them to explain. In the process, some of the signatories, perhaps out fear or in fear of impending hassle, got out of the legal procedures by submitting an ‘unconditional apology’ while the rest, who admitted that some wordings of the statement might have been faulty though, stuck to the essence of the statement, resulting in the contempt procedure. Finally, the court punished Dr Chowdhury, who is, otherwise, very vocal about the undemocratic functioning of the political incumbents, on grounds that he committed the crime of contemning the court for more than once. The court spared the rest, for they committed the crime ‘for the first time’.

The entire proceedings of the case and consequent punishment of the reputed freedom fighter, we are afraid, would not enhance the reputation of the tribunal in question. In a democratic dispensation, seeking transparency in the judicial process is a responsibility of citizens and valid criticism of court verdicts is a right. Chowdhury had performed his responsibility and exercised his right, but the tribunal has found him guilty of a crime. History, we believe, will absolve him.

Source: New Age