Criticism was fair
Reasoning that the statement expressing concern over Dhaka-based British journalist David Bergman's sentence fell under the parameters of fair criticism which does not constitute contempt of court, lawyers representing 12 of 23 eminent citizens yesterday prayed for their exoneration.
Earlier in the day, International Crimes Tribunal-2, following Prosecutor Tureen Afroz's prayer, decided to allow the prosecution to place arguments.
The three-member tribunal led by Justice Obaidul Hassan also fixed May 11 to continue hearing for the second day the contempt proceedings, initiated against the 23 on April 1.
On December 2, 2014, the tribunal found Bergman, editor (special reports) of New Age, guilty of contempt for two of his blog posts of January 2013 on the verdict of Abul Kalam Azad, known as Bachchu Razakar.
It sentenced him to imprisonment “till rising of the court” that day and fined him Tk 5,000.
On December 20, 2014, the daily Prothom Alo ran a report titled “50 people express concern over Bergman's punishment” on the basis of the statement, which observed that the tribunal's order would restrict freedom of expression.
One signatory, Khusi Kabir, later withdrew her name. The tribunal exonerated 26 signatories who sought unconditional apology.
Yesterday, Akhtar Imam, who along with Rashna Imam represented two of the 12, said his clients have utmost respect for the judiciary and believed they did not do anything that belittled the tribunal. He said criticism over any judgment does not “ipso facto” or by the very act constitute contempt if done honestly and on good faith without ill intention and his clients had no mala-fide intention behind issuing the statement.
Imam said his clients did not question justification of the conviction and sentence but merely opined on the decision's impact on the scope of freedom of speech and expression.
Justice Obaidul Hassan pointed out a part of the statement reading, “The sentencing of David Bergman is nothing but a constitution of curbing of all forms of freedom of expression and differences of opinion about the International Crimes Tribunal.”
“This may be continuation of their opinion,” said Akhtar.
“They might have crossed the invisible line between fair criticism and the contempt while giving their opinion and even if they did this, they did this from bona-fide intention,” he added.
Md Asaduzzaman, representing 10 of the 12, said he adopted Akhtar and Rashna's arguments.