Judges’ Refusal to Order Inquiry Suggests Bias
An allegation as serious as the abduction of a witness deserves prompt action, and a thorough and impartial investigation. Instead of ordering an independent investigation, the court asked a party in the case to investigate, and then blithely accepted its answer. This is an unacceptable way to respond to an allegation of an abduction. Where is Shukho Ranjon Bali?
(New York) – The Bangladeshi authorities should urgently investigate the alleged abduction on November 5, 2012, of a witness at the gates of the war crimes court in Dhaka. Shukho Ranjon Bali, originally a prosecution witness, had allegedly agreed to testify for the defense in the case of Delwar Hossain Sayedee at the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT).
Defense lawyers told the tribunal that Bali was forcibly taken away around 10:30 a.m. by plain-clothes officers who identified themselves as members of the police Detective Branch as he entered the court premises with members of the defense team. Instead of using their powers under Bangladeshi law and the tribunal’s rules of procedure to order an impartial investigation, the court asked the prosecution to look into the allegations and later accepted its statement that the entire story was fabricated. On November 11 the attorney general testified before the High Court on a writ of habeas corpus that the abduction claim had been fabricated by the defense to bring the tribunal into disrepute.
“An allegation as serious as the abduction of a witness deserves prompt action, and a thorough and impartial investigation,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of ordering an independent investigation, the court asked a party in the case to investigate, and then blithely accepted its answer. This is an unacceptable way to respond to an allegation of an abduction. Where is Shukho Ranjon Bali?”
The case against Sayedee had been officially closed on October 21, when the court refused to allow the defense more time to call witnesses. On October 31, the defense filed a petition to re-open the case to allow evidence from Bali and three other prosecution witnesses to be heard as defense witnesses. Defense applications alleged that some of these witnesses were prepared to testify that they were forced to give false testimony to support the prosecution. The hearing on that petition was scheduled to be heard on November 5.
According to the defense team Bali met the defense team at their offices on the morning of November 5, and they drove together to the court. At the gate, Bali and the lawyers were ordered out of the car and told to identify themselves. When Bali was identified by name by a senior defense counsel, the police detectives insisted that Bali come with them. Bali and the defense counsel both argued that Bali was a witness due to appear before the court later that day.
A white van marked “Police” then drove up from inside the tribunal premises. Several defense lawyers who were there said that 10 to 12 uniformed regular police were at the gates of the tribunal at that time. The defense team alleges that officers slapped Bali several times around the face and head and forced him into the van. The van then drove off. Bali has not been seen or heard from since.
The defense team immediately complained to the tribunal’s registrar and then the trial chamber. After hearing the allegation, the presiding judge asked the chief prosecutor and the senior investigative officer for the prosecution to look into the matter. After some time, the prosecution team reported that the abduction never happened and that the defense teams had concocted the story. The trial chamber then moved on to other matters and refused to take further action on the complaint.
The defense team later tried to file a complaint with the relevant police station under the Bangladeshi penal code. The police refused to receive the complaint, stating, contrary to the law, that they needed the permission of the trial chamber to register the case.
“Finding out what happened in this case is essential to the credibility of the court and the entire war crimes trial process,” Adams said. “If the defense was involved in a hoax it should face penalties. If Bali was abducted then his life may be in danger, and the court and government, by failing to investigate, are responsible for his fate.”