ICT embroiled in controversy once again
THE fact that the judgement of the International Crimes Tribunal against Bangladesh Nationalist Party lawmaker Salauddin Quader Chowdhury on charges of genocide and killing during the war of liberation in 1971 had been leaked, that too, allegedly from a computer at the office of the law secretary, hours before it was read out on Tuesday has dragged the war crimes trial into yet another round of controversy. According to a report published in New Age on Wednesday, no sooner had the judges of the tribunal pronounced the verdict and left the courtroom than Chowdhury alleged that the verdict was available online and ‘had been for two days’. Later, his lawyer showed journalists a ‘copy’ of the document said to be part of the judgement that he claimed had been downloaded from www.justiceconcern.org and alleged that ‘this is a verdict of the law ministry.’ He also termed the verdict a ‘miscarriage of justice’ and announced that the defence ‘will go to the Appellate Division and seek retrial.’ Moreover, Moudud Ahmed, a senior BNP leader, claimed that the leaked document indicated that the verdict may have been in the process of being written since May, i.e. even before the trial was complete, and thus lent some credence to the allegation raised by Chowdhury and his lawyer. That the judgement was leaked is evident from the government’s order for an investigation to determine how it was leaked and who were behind it.
It needs to be pointed out that controversy has been a constant companion of the war crimes trial, with the tribunal having been accused of toeing the political line of the Awami League-led government on more occasions than one, thanks particularly to the over-enthusiasm of a section of the incumbents to stake what may be called a partisan ownership of a national issue. It is noteworthy that, in the early days of the trial, a few key members of the government and the ruling party even went to the extent of publicly asserting who among the accused would be found guilty and when. If such partisan overkill was not enough to raise concern at home and abroad about the freedom and fairness of the tribunal in conducting the trial, a former chairman of the tribunal was found to be sharing the nitty-gritty of an under-trial case with a non-resident Bangladeshi legal expert, who had no official relationship whatsoever with the litigation. Subsequently, amidst the furore over his Skype conversation with the said legal expert, the content of which was leaked to the local media, the judge stepped down. However, the damage had already been done; questions about the tribunal’s functional and procedural soundness had become more intense and more widespread than ever.
The latest controversy looks set to revive all those questions and more, which is precisely why the incumbents need to come up with some credible answers and explanations. Regrettably, however, although the government has rightly ordered an inquiry into the allegations, its objective seems to be, as the statement by the state minister for law that these are ‘part of the conspiracy at home and abroad to thwart the war crimes trial’ suggests, anything but establishing whether the verdict was actually prepared outside the tribunal. The incumbents need to realise that their conspiracy theories have increasingly fewer takers in society these days. Hence, they need to get to the bottom of the controversy, if any, with a competent and transparent investigation of the allegations and thus dispel the question mark that hangs over the tribunal. After all, ensuring credibility of the trial process is as important as trying those who committed crimes against humanity during the war of liberation.
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