Zafrullah serves one-hour jail sentence
The International Crimes Tribunal-2 yesterday found Gonoshasthaya Kendra founder Zafrullah Chowdhury guilty of contempt of court and gave him one-hour jail sentence in the dock for criticising the punishment of Dhaka-based British journalist David Bergman by the same court.
The three-member tribunal led by Justice Obaidul Hassan with members Justice Md Mozibur Rahman Miah and Justice Md Shahinur Islam also fined Zafrullah Tk 5000, payable in seven days. In default, he will have to spend a month in jail.
The court observed Zafrullah deserved “significant punishment” but was
given the sentence “considering his age”.
Zafrullah said he would appeal against the order with the Supreme Court.
Earlier, he faced contempt charges before Tribunal-1, but the court pardoned him with a warning.
But the Tribunal-2 found the statement Zafrullah and 49 others issued over Bergman's punishment “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 committed for the first time.
They are Masud Khan, Afsan Chowdhury, Ziaur Rahman, Hana Shams Ahmed, Anu Muhammad, Anusheh Anadil, Muktasree Chakma Sathi, Lubna Marium, Farida Akhter, Shireen Huq, Ali Ahmed Ziauddin, Rahnuma Ahmed, Shahidul Alam, CR Abrar, Bina D'Costa, Mahmud Rahman, Zarina Nahar Kabir, Leesa Gazi, Shabnam Nadiya, Nasrin Siraj Annie, Tibra Ali and Delwar Hussain.
The court 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 fined Tk 5,000.
On December 20, the daily Prothom Alo ran a report titled "50 people express concern over Bergman's punishment," which stated that the order would restrict freedom of expression.
“The sentencing of David Bergman is nothing but a continuation of curbing of all forms of freedom of expression and difference of opinion about the International Crimes Tribunal,” read the statement.
'DON'T TOUCH, DON'T TOUCH'
On April 1 this year, the tribunal initiated contempt proceedings against 23 signatories as it was not convinced with their replies. During the trial, they argued that their statement fell under the parameter of fair criticism and that they had no intention to hurt the court.
But in its order, the tribunal said, “Threadbare discussion made above, patently reveals that the opinion expressed in that respect [freedom of expression] was not based on facts. Their opinion was proved to be absolutely omnibus.”
The court said the “impugned statement” created a sense among the general people that grave injustice has been done to Bergman by punishing him for his writings.
“This is a classic example of scandalising a court of law even though not having any iota of truth in such statement which is enough to create mystification in the mind of public as to fairness, dignity and independence of the tribunal,” the order said.
When the tribunal completed reading the summary of the 37-page order, Zafrullah went before the court's podium and appealed for stay of the order.
The tribunal rejected his plea, and when the judges left the court at 11:25am, Zafrullah was heard saying: “You have misused your power.”
As per the order, when police asked him to stand in the dock, he refused. Two cops then tried to take him to dock holding him by his hands. At this, Zafrullah and other accused present there shouted: “Hey! Don't touch, don't touch.”
At one stage, police personnel and tribunal officials requested him to comply with the order, but to no avail.
This continued for several minutes and at one point tribunal officials asked all but Zafrullah to leave the courtroom.
Around 12:50pm, Zafrullah agreed to stand in the dock once the tribunal officials showed him the order, tribunal sources said. He came out of the courtroom around 1:50pm smiling while those outside the court clapped.
Zafrullah then told reporters that he would not pay the fine because he would challenge the order in seven days.
Under the tribunal law, contempt convicts cannot challenge its order, but the High Court has recently observed that they can.
Earlier, the tribunal sentenced two Jamaat leaders to three months in jail for contempt in June 2013.
NEW YORK TIMES
The tribunal yesterday asked the authorities of the New York Times to be careful in publishing any news concerning the tribunal's order.
The court gave the caution as it found that an editorial of the newspaper regarding Bergman's punishment “did not reflect the principles and ethics newspapers should follow”.
In its editorial titled “Muzzling Speech in Bangladesh” published on December 23 last year, the NYT said: “If justice is truly what the International Crimes Tribunal seeks, it should immediately overturn Mr. Bergman's sentence and conviction.”