Bangla war crimes tribunal convicts UK journalist of contempt

Dhaka: A special Bangladeshi court today jailed a prominent UK journalist to a token one-day sentence on contempt charges for making “derogatory” remarks about the tribunal and for questioning the three million official death toll in the country’s 1971 independence war against Pakistan.

The International Crimes Tribunal (ICT)-2 of Bangladesh also fined David Bergman Taka 5,000 (USD 65), failing which to pay will lead to seven days in prison.

“He (Bergman) is to suffer simple imprisonment till the rising of the court and pay fine of Taka five thousand only, in default to suffer seven more days imprisonment,” said Justice Obaidul Hassan, chairman of the three-member panel of judges of the high-powered tribunal.

The judgement said Bergman, currently working for Bangladesh’s New Age newspaper, deserved the punishment for demeaning the court by his “irrelevant” criticism of the trial process on his personal blog.

It said the journalist had crossed the limit of his professional ethics in the name of freedom of expression.

The judgment came nearly 10 months after a Supreme Court lawyer filed the contempt petition saying Bergman made “relentless efforts to justify that the tribunal was absolutely wrong in mentioning three million deaths and the number of 200,000 women raped in 1971”.

The petitioner said through his write-ups posted on November 11, 2011 and January 28, 2013 Bergman maligned the dignity of the tribunal and tended it and its members into public hatred.

According to the petition Bergman’s first posting had a criticism about indictment of a war crimes convict Delwar Hossain Sayedee while in his second posting he lambasted the trial and judgment of fugitive Abul Kalam Azad.

Bergman, 49, submitted his reply on March 18 saying that the criticism was fair and it was to assist the tribunal.

But the tribunal in his judgement said his reply was “not satisfactory” and observed that Bergman had hurt the emotions of the nation.

The tribunal also asked the authority concerned to “look into the thing he is doing in Bangladesh”.

The British journalist, who himself earlier took newspaper headlines for his critical comments on war crimes trial, however, earlier told a news agency that “Whilst my blog does contain critical comments of some of the tribunal’s orders, the comments are measured, and fair – even though others may disagree with them”.

Bergman is the husband of prominent lawyer and rights activist Sara Hossain and son-in-law of leading lawyer Kamal Hossain, a close associate of Bangladesh’s founding father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

The two domestic tribunals are trying high-profile Bengali-speaking war crimes suspects, who were accused of masterminding or carrying out genocides, atrocities and rapes siding with the Pakistani troops in 1971 and most of them belonged to fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami which was opposed to Bangladesh’s 1971 independence.