Thursday, November 08, 2012

Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal: abduction of defence witness Shukho Ranjan Bali

On November 5, 2012 at around 10.00, defence witness Shukho Ranjan Bali was abducted from the International Crimes Tribunal premises.

He was coming to testify for the accused Allama Delwar Hossain Sayedee.

As the car taking Bali and the senior defence counsel Mizanul Islam approached the Tribunal, uniformed policemen stopped it for a security check at the entrance. The police said they had instructions not allow anyone except designated lawyers to go inside the Tribunal Room.

As Mizanul Islam was explaining that Bali was a defence witness, a group of plain-clothes men approached the vehicle, grabbed Bali and tried to pull him out of the vehicle. Islam and his associate counsel tried to prevent them and called the uniformed policemen who were silently observing the unfolding event.

At this point one of the plain-clothed men identified himself as member of the ‘Detective Branch’ and said that he had instructions from the ‘higher authority’ to take the witness away. They then removed him from the vehicle and forced him into their car.

Islam’s colleague Shohag Banna asked where they were taking Bali, and was told that it was to the Detective Branch head office at ‘Minto Road, Dhaka’. The uniformed policemen made no attempt to intervene.

Defence counsel believed these plain-clothes men belonged to the ‘Rapid Action Battalion’ an elite security agency, in view of the similarity of the incident to others in which the RAB were known to have been involved.

The Chief Defence Counsel Abdur Razzaq brought this to the notice of the Tribunal, and prayed that the Tribunal should issue directions to the law enforcing agencies to ‘produce’ the defence witness before the Tribunal. The Tribunal merely requested the Chief Prosecutor and Chief of the Investigation Agency to ‘look into the matter’. Defence counsel immediately tried to amend the order of the Tribunal, considering the probability that it was the Investigation Agency and Prosecutor themselves who had ordered the abduction, but the Tribunal refused this application.

Bali was both a victim and eye witness to crimes committed in 1971. He saw his brother Bisha Bali’s murder and arson which destroyed their village.

Mizanul Islam tried to file an official complaint (known as a ‘General Diary’ or GD) with the Shahbagh Police Station on the evening of the incident, November 5, but the police refused to accept it. They also refused to say why they were refusing to accept the GD. a legally obligation.

An urgent application before the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh was filed seeking direction upon the government to produce Bali (Writ of Habeas Corpus under Article 102(2)(b)(i) of the Constitution of Bangladesh) on November 6, 2012 and the Court fixed the hearing date as November 7, 2012. At that hearing the Deputy Attorney General appeared before the court and informed it that the Attorney General himself would appear on behalf of the Government, but not at that time due to personal difficulties. The Court felt obliged to postpone the hearing and fixed November 11, 2012 for the next hearing.

On November 8, 2012, the Chief Prosecutor held a Press Conference at which he alleged that the defence had engaged in ‘False Propaganda’. He claimed that the witness Bali was hiding due to intimidation by the defence team. He further claimed that Bali’s daughter Shukho Ranjan Bali had filed a General Diary with Police confirming that he was being so intimidated. The Prosecutor referred to GD No. 773 filed on February 25, 2012, almost 10 months previously, in the ‘Undur Kani Police Station’, according to the Investigation Officer’s deposition of August 5, 2012.

The Prosecutor did not say why Bali was not able to file the GD himself, nor could he say where either Bali or his daughter were now.

The Tribunal and the police ignored the testimony of the four eye-witnesses to the abduction, Senior Defence Counsel Islam, Senior Defence Counsel Manjul Ansari, Defence Counsel Hasanul Banna Shohag, and the driver of the vehicle Uzzal. No witness statements were taken from the police officers who saw the abduction, and there has been no attempt to find the abducted witness.

Knowing the fate of others who have been abducted by RAB in the past, if Bali has come to any harm, command responsibility will rest on senior law enforcement officials, and on those who were in charge of the Tribunal’s security.

A detailed account of this event by David Bergman:

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