Monday was the first time that a lawyer presented arguments with the aid of a computer at the first war crimes tribunal of Bangladesh.
The International Crimes Tribunal-1 indicted the former Jamaat chief for war crimes including incitement, conspiracy and complicity.
Afroz went through, what appeared to be, slides of a presentation with highlights for her own benefit and elaborated on the points for the tribunal. There was no presentation as such, however.
Barring the court stenographer’s desktop, the tribunal has seen occasional use of a laptop when the prosecution submitted video material as exhibits.
The tribunal exercises a strict bar on all kinds of electronic devices and visitors are required to submit not just their mobile phones but also their pen drives and modem sticks upon entry.
When asked if she had sought permission for taking the laptop inside the courtroom, Tureen Afroz said she had merely taken the device to help her with the presentation. “Instead of taking a sheaf of papers I took them in a virtual form. I was not using the computer for any publishing purposes.”
The prosecutor eventually told bdnews24.com that she did ‘inform and seek permission about carrying the laptop orally in the morning’ just before she began briefing the press after her maiden deliberation before the tribunal.
The prosecution, however, has been brazenly violating the tribunal’s orders not to bring in mobile phones or other devices and given themselves away as phones regularly ring out.
Even on Monday, Hannan Khan, head of the investigation agency, had his phone ringing inside the courtroom. He quickly turned it off, but on the last occasion on Dec 24, the lead investigator actually spoke on his phone while Jamaat’s chief defence counsel Abdur Razzaq was going through a serious application seeking retrial of Jamaat leaders’ war crimes cases.
The chief prosecutor’s phone rang out on Feb 12 while BNP leader Salauddin Quader Chowdhury was cross-examining the 19th prosecution witness Syed Wahidul Alam with the court appointed lawyer Salma Hai Tuny at his side.
Zahed Imam, one of the newly appointed prosecutors, found he had forgotten to turn his mobile silent when it started ringing on Jan 15. The prosecutor rushed out of the court clutching is breast evidently berating himself for the omission.
This was not the first time that a new prosecutor had a phone ring, however.
Just two days after her appointment to the Chief Prosecutor’s Office, Farah Khan, a junior associate of Prosecutor Zead-Al-Malum, found she had forgotten to mute her phone after lunch when it rang out on Nov 15.
It happened when Prosecutor Syed Haider Ali was minutes away from concluding his final argument of the first war crimes case at the International Crimes Tribunal. Farah left the office soon afterwards, however.
Several minutes later it has Farah’s senior’s turn. Zead-Al-Malum was sitting with his colleagues listening to Haider Ali finish up followed by the tribunal setting a date for the defence argument when the phone buzzed.
It was rather conspicuous with the prosecutor sitting in the front bench and the tribunal relatively quiet due to low attendance.
Tribunal member Justice Jahangir Hossain chose to acknowledge the ring. Indicating the prosecution’s side, he said, “There are just a little too many rings from that side.”
Tribunal Chairman at the time, Justice Mohammad Nizamul Huq’s frustration was evident. “All the rings are from that side. That is the only side that has phones ringing.”
Nov 7 was the first time that a junior lawyer, Sabina Yesmin Khan Munni, had her phone ring. A junior of Prosecutor Mukhlesur Rahman Badal, she quickly turned it off, obviously embarrassed at the loud Nokia tune.
Prosecutor Saiful Islam Tareque, handling Mohammad Kamaruzzaman’s case, could not help smirking at himself when his phone rang on Nov 27. He turned it off with a disapproving shake of his head.
On Nov 6 Mir Iqbal Hossain’s mobile phone was heard ringing which the tribunal took notice of and said that the phone be turned off.
The tribunal Chairman had categorically said on Dec 15, 2011 that his order barring people from carrying mobile phones into the court also applied for the security personnel as well as the prosecutors.
But despite the order not to carry mobile phones into the court room, the first war crimes tribunal on Oct 2 heard a handset ring out four times.
It was all the more conspicuous because the loud chime seemed to be coming out of the pocket of a prosecution witness testifying at the stand.
Gopal Chandra Das, the 14th witness against BNP MP Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, quickly took it out and silenced it.
However, upon a second ring, while he was still at the stand, tribunal Chairman asked a prosecutor to silence the mobile phone, which the prosecutor failed to do and there was a third ring.
By this time, the witness was being cross-examined and defence counsel Ahsanul Huq objected strongly pointing out that the court’s bar on electronic devices did not seem to apply for the prosecution.
The set was handed to the investigation officer in whose hands it appeared to ring for a fourth time.
Counsel Ahsanul Huq was even more voluble this time along with the audible grumble among the defence benches.
Justice Mohammad Nizamul Huq, referring to his order, had said, “We had said that no one would be allowed to carry mobile phones in.”
But, he noted, a mobile has been found on a witness and it might have been because he was not checked properly. The tribunal chief indicated that whatever the reason it was not acceptable.
Prosecutors at the tribunal have been flouting this order quite brazenly taking advantage of the court’s evident lenience.
The only other time that the tribunal Chairman acknowledged a ringing mobile and mildly admonished a prosecutor was when Prosecutor Zead-Al-Malum’s phone rang out on Jul 10 during cross-examination of a witness.
Justice Huq had said, “If you have to answer that, go out. The door is always open.”
Malum happens to be the conducting prosecutor of the case against BNP leader Salauddin Quader Chowdhury and he was sitting at the front row when his call came.
Embarrassed, the prosecutor stood up and said, “I have silenced it, my lord.”
There was no further discussion and proceedings continued.
Mir Iqbal Hossain’s cell phone rang out on Jul 2 when he stood up to apologise to the court but it rang a second time on Sep 3 when Mizanul Islam was cross-examining Misbahur Rahman Chowdhury, the first witness against Jamaat chief Motiur Rahman Nizami. The tribunal did not take note of the deviation on the second time.
Mir Iqbal happens to be conducting prosecutor of Nizami’s war crimes case.
Prosecutor Altaf Uddin Ahmed’s phone rang on Aug 23 while Abdur Razzaq argued for bail of ATM Azharul Islam. Altaf Uddin was initially the conducting prosecutor for Niami’s case but has been replaced by Iqbal Hossain since the case entered trial phase.
The prosecutor was seen fiddling with his mobile for several minutes afterwards conspicuous at the front row while Jamaat’s chief defence counsel laboured through his submissions.
The prosecutor’s phone also rang on Nov 7, when he handed it to a colleague to silence it, and on Feb 3 Altaf Uddin handed over his mobiles to a junior when one of them started ringing while cross-examination of the second prosecution witness against Motiur Rahman Nizami was going on.
On Dec 10, Altaf’s phone rang twice in close succession as his colleague, Syed Haider Ali, was congratulating tribunal member Justice Anwarul Haque on his confirmation as a High Court judge.
Visitors and journalists are only permitted to carry pen and paper for note-taking.
And officially the only electronic equipment inside the courtrooms are those of the tribunal’s which include the stenographer’s computer with displays for the accused, defence, conducting lawyer and the judges.
Occasionally, another laptop is brought in to play out CDs on an over-head projector.