My response to Tahmina Anam’s article on ‘Shahbag’, 1971 war crimes trials in Bangladesh, and demands for hangings

by David Bergman on Friday, February 15, 2013

The writer, Tahmina Anam has written a piece on ‘Shahbag’ on the UK’s Guardian website. This is my response:

“Hi Tahmina, You do realise, I hope – and I say this just on a point of accuracy – that Abul Quader Mollah was not actually convicted of ‘beheading a poet, raping an 11-year-old girl and shooting 344 people’ as you put it so starkly. He was convicted – if you happen to have read the pretty well reasoned verdict – of being present on all these occasions with a range of men who did; he was not himself the principal actor according to what the court found. I think it is important to make that point clear – as the way you write it is rather misleading. He may be a brute or worse – but you kind of make him into a monster, which is not what the court found.

And while I like the tenor of much of your piece, I don’t understand why you – and why so many of those who support Shahbag – are totally blind/silent to the significant problematic parts of the trial process. Just in relation to the Mollah case, the defense was only allowed 6 witnesses to come to court, when the prosecution could bring an unlimited number (in fact the prosecution could only bring 12 in order to support six offenses that took place on 6 different dates at 6 different locations!).

And then, of course, whilst the court did convict him on five charges – on three of them they were on the basis of a couple of hearsay witnesses (not direct eye-witness evidence), the others were on the basis of limited eyewitness testimony, and four of the witnesses had in fact given statements to 1971 ‘museum’ prior to the tribunal establishment in which they never mentioned Mollah.

Mollah may well have committed offenses in 71 – but the evidence before the court was far from overwhelming, the defense had their hands tied behind their backs and contradictory statements made by witnesses were rather ignored by the tribunal.

As you know – and I hope you don’t deny by bona fides – I am and have been a supporter of war crimes accountability and understand resentment of years of impunity (and I also agree that there are certainly many aspects of Shahbag that are exciting and positive – secular space, youth, peacefulness etc., etc.) but I also think it is important to consider the actual process of accountability in the tribunals, which do raise very serious questions indeed.

I know you are not unaware of all the Skype/Economist material which showed significant collusion between prosecutors/tribunal/govt – as well as other problems. Not even alluded to in your article! So many people here in Bangladesh that I know just assume these men are guilty by dint of them having been Jamaatis during the war – and are not concerned about the credibility of the evidence before the court, or indeed the fairness of the trials. That is a real shame. It is kind of odd that you choose to ignore all these points about the trials in what is otherwise a gracefully written article.

Shahbag promises much. But the demand for hanging – not only Mollah, but also those who have not even been convicted (something which you again ignore in your article) – is worrying in itself (how can the tribunals now run independently?) but also for those concerned about the rule of law and due process in the future in Bangladesh (when perhaps the BNP/Jamaatis are next in power?). ”

Tahmina Anam is the daughter of Mahfuz Anam of The Daily Star and David Bergman is the husband of Sarah Hossain, daughter of Dr. Kamal Hossain. David works for New Age – a leading English daily in Bangladesh.

9 Responses to My response to Tahmina Anam’s article on ‘Shahbag’, 1971 war crimes trials in Bangladesh, and demands for hangings

  1. Yes you have written well “Chagu”. But the truth is you have manipulated the truth and have provided some shameless nonsense reasons to save the Razakars.

    • Mr. Bergman has been dead right in pointing out serious factual gaps/distortions in Ms. Tahmina Anam’s article.

      There is no denying the fact every one in Bangladesh wants trial of war criminals, but they want/wanted this to happen through a fair and transparent process. Neither Kader Mollah’s nor any of the other cases that have followed since experienced fair process. As a matter of fact many may not know this that Mr. Kader Mollah case has now found its honoured place in the Law Schools of many Western Universities, as an example of gross miscarriage of justice!

  2. David bergmans letter is a scholarly letter with factual accuracy. One sided criticism is oppurtunistic and politically motivated. It is only possible in a third world country like ours were people in politics swing from one extreame to another and the uneducated mass get manipulated against there best interest.

  3. Those who are demanding death for ‘war-criminals’ might not even have been born, at least many of them, before liberation. But just observe their reaction. How illogically but effectively motivated they are. While the tribunal, the judges, the prosecutors – all are appointed by the govt, who should be put to blame?The ‘craze’ that is heating up ‘Shahbagh Chattar’ is but a naked interference to the system of justice and a potential threat to democracy. If their demand is met just because they want it, what’s the necessity of the tribunals, the prosecutors, the judges? The govt could just hand the caged ‘war-criminals’ over to the ‘Shabagh mob’ and they hang them at the ‘Projonmo Chattar’. Why so much dirty drama? The common people who still have a bit of common sense understand it well why this ‘craze’ has been sustaining for days. But could the general public be beguiled all the time? By the way, I would request Ms. Anam to read carefully her grandpa’s ‘Amar Dekha Rajnitir Ponchash Bosor’ to get a good perception of politics in Bangladesh. Sadly enough, our new generation has proved the saw -A little learning is a dangerous thing.

    • Mr Ali, how do you know that Ms Anam did read her Grandpa’s book, I would guess she well had read it. And I trust she understand the historical truth of ’71 atrocities. Just to mention one more thing, I do not think you would claim that you are not a ‘A little learning is a dangerous thing” type of a people.

      By the way I read ‘Amara Dekha Rajnitir ponchash Bosor’, However, that’s not a bible.

  4. Why British born, son in law of Dr. Kamal Hossain ( he is married to Sara Kamal) suddenly is so concern about Jamat and Qader Mollah ??

    Was he involved in hacking of the computer of the resigned judge Nasim?
    Govt. Should inquire his role.

  5. did you need to identify yourself as Mr.Hossain? Both Tahmina and you should stand on your own merits and not to be identified by your wife and in her case who her father is! What a shame!

    • He didn’t actually identified himself as such… He is well educated and well established on his own identity, The caption which refers him as who’s son-in-law was added by the person who posted his writing.

  6. Baning of any political parties is an undemocratic action, whether it is Awami League, BNP or Jamaat. If the people doesn’t like Jamaat to get involve into national politics, then let the people decide it in the election. I think the whole judiciary system surrounding this tribunal is a sham. The Skype conversation says it all. As David Bergman puts it right in his response to Tahmina Anam’s article that she didn’t mention anything about the Skype Conversation which led to the resignation of Judge Nasim and exposed the corruption. In a democratic society, even a criminal has the right present its case.

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