We express our deep concern about the use of contempt of court law to curb freedom of expression and at the recent conviction and sentencing of journalist David Bergman by the International Crimes Tribunal 2 on charges of “contempt of court”.
We state firmly and unequivocally that those responsible for committing genocide and other international crimes during the Liberation War must be prosecuted and punished. We also believe that the process of accountability should be above reproach, and that this can be best done through ensuring an open and transparent process of justice.
We are aware that in his blogs, posted most recently two years ago, Bergman cited figures from published research on deaths and other casualties during the 1971 Liberation War. These were sent to amongst others a senior Tribunal prosecutor, the Tribunal investigation agency as well as an Additional Attorney General and did not elicit an adverse reaction from any of them.
We firmly believe that it falls within any person’s right to examine and comment on the differing historic narratives about the 1971 liberation war including the official ones and that all institutions including the judiciary should welcome a fair share of commentary and rigorous analysis. The number of killings carried out during the genocide by Pakistani forces and their collaborators, whether more or less, does not in any way diminish the truth that heinous and widespread war crimes were committed in 1971 – and, in any case, Bergman’s articles in no way seek to do that.
It is in the nature of scholarly practice that all histories, including 1971, should be subject to scrutiny, review and continuous verification. Even more so in cases where legitimate researchers and historians widely differ.
We are also particularly concerned about the portrayal by the Tribunal of David Bergman who worked on an award winning film documenting 1971 war crimes which was used as key evidence in the Tribunal’s own proceedings against Chowdhury Mueenuddin; and has written widely in support of the need for accountability and war crimes trials in relation to the liberation war.
We find the Tribunals’ decision may have a stifling effect on freedom of expression with ramifications for journalists and other writers and hinder research and debate on the history of our War of Liberation. We also express our distress that no appeal is allowed against contempt orders of the court which undermines the very concept of due process and rule of law since appeal against any conviction is an integral part of fundamental rights. The sentencing of David Bergman is nothing but a continuation of curbing of all forms of freedom of expression and differences of opinion about the International Crimes Tribunal.
We urge and appeal to the authorities concerned to reform the contempt of court law as it is a relic of our colonial past that undermines the very spirit of Bangladesh’s glorious war of national liberation.
- Shahdeen Malik, Advocate, Supreme Court
- Rasheda K. Choudhury, Development Practitioner, Former Adviser to the Caretaker Government
- Ali Riaz, Professor and Chair, Department of Politics and Government, Illinois State University, USA
- Hafizuddin Khan, Chairman, Shujon
- Binayak Sen, Academic
- Imtiaz Ahmed, Professor of International Relations, University of Dhaka
- Shireen Huq, Women’s Rights Activist
- Zafrullah Chowdhury, Health Activist
- Ali Ahmed Ziauddin
- Badiul Alam Majumder, Secretary, Sushasoner Jonno Nagorik
- Syeda Rizwana Hasan, Advocate, Supreme Court
- Perween Hasan, Professor
- C R Abrar, Professor of International Relations, Dhaka University and President, Odhikar
- Firdous Azim, Academic
- Amena Mohsin, Academic
- Farida Akhter, Executive Director, Narigrantha Prabartana
- Mohiuddin Ahmed, Publisher Emeritus
- Faustina Pereira, Human Rights Advocate
- Bina D’Costa, Peace and Conflict Specialist, Australian National University
- Shaheen Akhter, Writer
- Afsan Chowdhury, Researcher
- Asif Nazrul, Academic and Political analyst
- Rahnuma Ahmed, Writer
- Shahidul Alam, Photographer
- Leesa Gazi, Cultural Activist
- Dina M. Siddiqi, Academic
- Anu Muhammad, Professor of Economics, Jahangirnagar University
- Lubna Marium, Cultural Activist
- Elora Shehabuddin, Academic
- Naila Zaman Khan, Professor and Head, Department of Pediatric Neuroscience, Bangladesh Institute of Child Health, Dhaka Shishu Hospital
- Zakir Hossain, Human Rights Activist
- Tahmima Anam, Writer
- Arup Rahee, Singer, Writer and Activist
- Muktasree Chakma Sathi, Activist
- Zarina Nahar Kabir, Associate Professor, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden
- Nur Khan Liton, Human rights activist
- Samia Huq, Associate Professor, Department of Economics and Social Sciences, BRAC University
- Shahnaz Huda, Academic
- Shabnam Nadiya, Writer
- Mahmud Rahman, Writer
- Nasrin Siraj Annie, Anthropologist and film maker
- Seuty Sabur, Academic
- Anusheh Anadil, Founder of Jatra, singer/song writer and activist
- Sarah Shehabuddin, Academic
- Ilira Dewan, Writer and Activist
- Tibra Ali, Editor at Alal O Dulal and Fellow at Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics
- Delwar Hussain, Anthropologist, University of Edinburgh
- Masud Khan, Consultant
- Rezaur Rahman, Activist
- Ziaur Rahman, Advocate
- Lutfus Sayeed, Professor, San Francisco State University
- Hana Shams Ahmed, Writer and Activist