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.