Two international rights bodies urged the UN authorities to raise their voice on the restrictions on freedom of speech in Bangladesh in general and to uphold Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury’s rights to exercise the freedom in particular.
On June 18, the Asian Legal Resource Centre, sister organisation to the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission, submitted an oral statement to the UNHRC about how certain ‘repressive legislations and “contempt of court” charges are being used as tools to suppress independent voices.’
The statement referred to both Dr. Zafrullah Chowdhury’s conviction for contempt by the International Crimes Tribunal-2 and that of Dhaka-based British journalist David Bergman, as ‘significant blows to freedom of speech in Bangladesh’.
On June 17, representatives of the ALRC and the Right Livelihood Award Foundation, a Sweden-based rights organisation, met with David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, to apprise him about the ‘alarming’ restrictions on freedoms of expression in Bangladesh.
They urged him to ‘issue a public statement on the case of Dr Chowdhury’s conviction’ in exercise of his mandate.
On June 10, 2015, Zafrullah Chowdhury, a freedom fighter, renowned activist, and recipient of the 1992 Right Livelihood Award, was convicted of contempt by the International Crimes Tribunal-2 for being one of the signatories to a statement in support of Dhaka-based British journalist David Bergman.
They argued that Zafrullah Chowdhury’s conviction by the International Crimes Tribunal-2 violates his fundamental rights as per the Bangladesh Constitution and international law and requests the Special Rapporteur to urgently communicate with the Bangladesh government expressing his position and ‘take any and all further measures to defend the right of Zafrullah.’
‘In light of the Tribunal’s actions with regard to contempt proceedings, and against the backdrop of growing violence and intolerance in Bangladesh, Zafrullah Chowdhury’s courage of conviction to refuse to pay the fine and stand up for free speech in Bangladesh has significance far beyond the individual case itself,’ said the statement.
The ALRC and the RLA said Zafrullah’s conviction for signing a joint statement in support of Dhaka based British journalist David Bergman, who was himself convicted for contempt, was the latest in a series of contempt proceedings by the International Crimes Tribunal against members of civil society, journalists, and organisations, including The Economist, Human Rights Watch, and The New York Times.
On June 16, a Chamber Judge of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh accepted Zafrullah Chowdhury’s petition to stay the realisation of the Tk 5,000 fine, a part of the punishment for contempt imposed by the International Crimes Tribunal-2. The stay extended to July 5 2015, when the next hearing is scheduled before a full bench of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.