War tribunal in Dhaka initiates contempt of court proceedings

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July 13, 2015

The International Crimes Tribunal-2 yesterday initiated contempt of court proceedings against Gonoshasthaya Kendra founder Zafrullah Chowdhury for his “derogatory” comments over the court’s order and its judges.

Taking cognisance into a petition, the three-member tribunal headed by Justice Obaidul Hassan also ordered Zafrullah to appear before it on July 22 “without failure” and show cause as to why he should not be punished for “scandalising” the tribunal.

This is the third time Zafrullah, also a freedom fighter, is facing contempt of court charges for his comments over war crimes tribunals and judges. If found guilty, Zafrullah may face highest one year imprisonment or up to Tk 5,000 in fine or both.

Earlier on July 6, five individuals — three freedom fighters and two organisers of Gonojagoron Mancha — filed the petition for initiating contempt proceedings against Zafrullah for his comments of June 10 when the same tribunal found him guilty of the same offence.

The court imprisoned him at the courtroom for an hour and fined him Tk 5,000 for criticising the punishment of Bangladesh-based UK journalist David Bergman for contempt of court.

As Zafrullah challenged the tribunal’s order, the Supreme Court on June 16 stayed the verdict following his petition. The apex court is set to hear the petition today.

The petitioners said Zafrullah after the punishment on June 10 made a statement before the media, which was “scandalous” for the tribunal and its judges, and he should be punished for the crime.

“Today’s contempt of court verdict is the proof of mental illness of the three judges. It proves mental illness of three justices. Ensuring justice is not possible if the judges can’t tolerate criticism. When they can’t tolerate criticism and lack rationality, they hide themselves under cover of law,” reads a part of his comments.

The tribunal in yesterday’s order said they had gone through the media reports on Zafrullah’s statement and a CD, which was submitted by the petitioners’ lawyers.

“As the guarantors  of  justice in  a  law-governed  state,  now  we  cannot  remain  mute, especially when the reports and briefing made to the electronic media go to show a demeaning attack made by the opposite  party [Zafrullah] directing  the tribunal  and  its  judges without any valid reason and basis,” reads the order.

The tribunal also mentioned a part of Zafrullah’s comment where he said: “If we see today that the higher court [Supreme Court] finds the verdict [of tribunal]wrong, then will they [the judge]be able to get back this time of my life or will the three judges sit at the place [the court dock]for one hour where I had to sit?”

The order says the comment prima facie appears “derogatory and a threat to the lawful authority of the tribunal which is likely to diminish the public confidence.”

“Above all, illegitimate conduct, actions, and attack displayed by Dr Zafrullah were visibly contemptible and scandalising the tribunal and its judges,” the order reads.

“Prima facie, it transpires that the opposite party deliberately attacked the judges of the tribunal and their lawful authority by using extreme scurrilous language that is likely to shake public confidence in the justice delivery system of the tribunal, a court of law,” it adds.

Zafrullah has already faced contempt proceedings twice for his comments on the tribunals. For the first time, he faced contempt charges before the International Crimes Tribunal-1 for his comment in a TV talk show, but the court pardoned him with a warning.

On June 10, the tribunal-2 found Zafrullah guilty of contempt of court for criticising punishment of Bergman. The tribunal said the statement Zafrullah and 49 others issued over Bergman’s punishment was “contemptuous” and punished him for repeating the offence.

The tribunal, however, acquitted 22 eminent citizens with a caution as they “were not well aware of the consequence of their action” and as they regretted their action, one they had committed for the first time.

The court had earlier exonerated 26 signatories from the charge as they apologised unconditionally, while another signatory — Khusi Kabir — withdrew her name from the statement.

On December 2 last year, the tribunal-2 found Bergman, editor (special reports) of English daily New Age, guilty of contempt for writing two blog posts in January 2013 on the verdict of war crimes convict Abul Kalam Azad. He was sentenced to imprisonment “till rising of the court” that day and was also fined Tk 5,000.

On December 20, the daily Prothom Alo ran a report headlined “50 people express concern over Bergman’s punishment,” which stated that the order would restrict freedom of expression.

Source: The Daily Star

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