Known better for his antics
A crooked smile always played on his face. Legal procedures seemed nothing to him, so he violated the court decorum wilfully and laughed at the judges and lawyers. He was confident of getting freedom with a change of government, and he threatened to bring the prosecutors to book.
He sought to appoint foreign lawyers; dismissed and then reappointed his local counsels thrice. He stood in the dock to defend himself, and often made news by making controversial comments at the tribunal. At one stage of the 33-month-long trial process, he even said he was not a Bangalee and that he was a Bangladeshi by choice, not by birth.
The man is none other than war crimes convict Salauddin Quader Chowdhury. His bizarre behaviour did not go unnoticed by the International Crimes Tribunal-1.
“The accused [Salauddin] is an elected people's representative but his art of deliberation, actions and conduct as shown in the courtroom were not in conformity with rightness, decency and convention of good behaviour,” the tribunal said in its verdict yesterday.
“In the early stage of the trial, the accused wilfully used to violate the decorum of the courtroom by shouting and thus by the order dated January 10, 2012, he was warned about his unruly behaviour,” the court said.
It all started when the 64-year-old BNP leader was first produced before the tribunal on December 30, 2010. On the day, he began addressing the judges without seeking permission from the court, and interrupted the tribunal several times.
That day, as the judges left the courtroom, he said: "I have been a lawmaker for 32 years. I am a representative of half a million people…This government is a Karzai regime, not a constitutional one. This government has no validity.
“I will appoint 500 lawyers, 5,000 lawyers if necessary. Let the trial be held with me outside the court."
Yesterday, while pronouncing the verdict, the court said it was courtroom practice that those present in it stood up to show respect to the judges when they left the courtroom. "But the accused remained sitting on his chair; he seldom used to stand [up] at the time of exit of the judges.”
Salauddin gave a special show at the tribunal on April 19, 2010, when he pretended to be very sick but went on to make statements in a very loud and excited tone. He also tried to take his clothes off to show spots of torture allegedly inflicted on him by law enforcers.
The tribunal, in its order on that day, observed that Salauddin was pretending to be sick, although he was all right when he was being brought from jail.
But this was not something new for Salauddin. Back in 2008, he claimed to have fallen sick before being taking to a special court in a corruption case. He lay prostrate in custody for more than two hours and his lawyer told the court that he was suffering from cardiac pain.
Interestingly, he was seen smoking soon after the adjournment of the court.
Before the charge framing hearing, the war crimes convict sought permission to appoint foreign lawyers and 11 months' time to prepare his case but the tribunal turned down his pleas in December 2011. During the trial, Salauddin filed a series of applications apparently to delay the proceedings.
On the day of his indictment on April 4, 2012, he did not seem at all worried. He wore his trademark sneering smile most of the time as the tribunal chairman read out the charges against him.
The tribunal saw another face of Salauddin, perhaps his true face, on May 14, 2012, when he apparently threatened the former chairman of the tribunal, Justice Nizamul Huq, saying: "Mr Nizamul Huq! Please don't show me your red eyes."
It happened when Salauddin wanted to cross-examine the first prosecution witness, Prof Anisuzzaman, even though he had his counsels. This prompted the tribunal to caution him that the trial would be conducted in his absence if he did not stop behaving that way.
Yesterday, the judgment noted: “The tribunal has been set up by the government through appointing judges of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. Knowing the fact well, he used to address the Judges of the Tribunal as 'Chairman Shaheb' or 'Member Shaheb'.
“The accused is the sitting lawmaker of the country but his attitude towards the judiciary is found to be disrespectful.”
On January 1, 2013, Salauddin threatened the state counsels, saying if he got out of the jail, they would know the consequences of their actions. “Let me get out of jail. You will see.”
His lawyers did not lag behind. On the same day, one of his lawyers threatened to slit the throat of an assistant attorney general who came to assist the prosecution.
During the case proceedings, Salauddin cancelled vokalatnama (statement authorising lawyers to conduct cases) of his counsels twice and reappointed the same counsel thrice. Against the backdrop of his drama, the tribunal later kept a state defence team constantly till the end of the trial.
Salauddin did the unthinkable on June 30 this year when he testified that he was an active supporter of Bangladesh's independence during the war. More interestingly, he took references from the autobiography of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to defend himself.
But again on July 2, the last day of his deposition, he threatened the prosecution, saying the prosecutors might face execution in future.
“Everybody should keep in mind, especially the accused as a lawmaker should not forget the popular dictum -- 'Be you ever so high, the law is higher than you,'" the court observed yesterday.
But the tribunal added that these observations would in no way affect the merit of the defence case.
Salauddin often made a mockery of the tribunal, saying it would ultimately hand down capital punishment to him. Clearly irritated by his remarks, the tribunal on July 4 gave him a lecture on criminal psychology.
Justice ATM Fazle Kabir, the chairman of Tribunal-1, said on the day, “On several occasions Salauddin said, 'Hang me'. I have been conducting trials for 31 years. To date, no accused ever said, 'Hang me.'”
Quoting a book on criminal psychology, Justice Kabir had said: “When the magnitude of the sense of repentance grows in a criminal, he says 'punish me, kill me'.
“We don't know whether Mr Salauddin Quader Chowdhury committed any offence [during the Liberation War]. We don't know whether he is asking to be hanged out of repentance.”
He added the judges would not be able to fulfil Salauddin's desire to be hanged if they did not get appropriate evidence to convict him.
Yesterday, about three months after Justice Kabir's comment, the tribunal said it had sufficient evidence to give him the death sentence.