Dhaka, Dec 1 (bdnews24.com) — Following a long discussion with Nurul Kabir, the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) on Thursday asked the 'New Age' editor to continue his explanation on Dec 20 why contempt charges should not be initiated against him.
The hearing relates to the tribunal's Oct 3 order over an article that appeared in the newspaper a day before, written by its special reports editor David Bergman.
The ICT sought response from Bergrman, editor Nurul Kabir and New Age's publisher ASM Shahidullah Khan. All three have decided to defend the article: 'A crucial period for the International Crimes Tribunal'.
The English daily's columnists were also present at Thursday's hearing at the tribunal, which is trying crimes committed during the Liberation War of 1971.
Thursday's order noted that Khan and Bergman's defence counsel Mustafizur Rahman Khan had completed his submissions, pending some citations, and that Nurul Kabir will conclude his deliberations before the court on Dec 20.
Mustafizur on Thursday reiterated his contention that the article would have to be taken in its entirety for a complete understanding, instead of isolated paragraphs, when the judges referred to them.
While he conceded that language used in some parts of the article were "perhaps robust", the counsel also said that any critical article would have "some degree of bitterness… some degree of sourness".
Mustafizur contended that the article was not published in a sensationalist manner, that it was not put on the front page, or carried bold headlines. He said the article used restrained language and fell quite within the limits of fair criticism.
Judge Zaheer Ahmed asked the counsel to return to the rostrum and clarify one sentence, which he "could not get out of his head".
Reading out from Bergman's article -- "Moreover, there is a separate issue about whether the tribunal even had, in its hand, all the witness statements when it took cognizance" -- the judge asked, "Does this not give a signal that we are quite inefficient? Does it not suggest that we, the judges, have taken a decision without even looking at the documents?"
He told the defence counsel, "Maybe I am wrong. Please clarify this for me."
In reply, Mustafizur reiterated his stance that the article should be taken into consideration in its entirety. He also requested the tribunal to allow him to submit some citations later, when he would not bring in any points of argument.
NURUL KABIR 'VERSUS' TRIBUNAL
Before he began reading his 19-page reply, Nurul Kabir said there is a common practice of trying to reach out to the Almighty through intermediaries like holy men, or "pirs". The situation, he said, is similar in courts, where lawyers are taken to be the intermediaries between people and the judges.
Kabir said "while it (may) not be in form", his deliberations "heart-to-heart and head-to-head" would be far more communicative of his concerns and the points he wanted to raise before the tribunal.
Nurul Kabir said he was solely responsible for the publication of the article in question, "or indeed anything that is published in New Age". He said though the publisher had decided to stand behind the article, Shahidullah Khan granted him full liberty and independence for journalism and he could only own up to his responsibility.
At this, as Nizamul Huq observed that Nurul Kabir was acting like a "trade union leader", the editor said he was not a trade union leader, and if that was indeed the attitude of trade unionists, then Bangladesh would have been transformed by this time.
AKM Zaheer Ahmed said, "In this country, no one really shoulders responsibility in the manner that you have, and we thank you for that."
As Nurul Kabir continued with his deliberations, backing the article and attempting to substantiate its veracity, ATM Fazle Kabir quipped, "Even the writer is not pleading in such language."
Justice Kabir said Bergman is "trying to plead his case to satisfy the court. But your case seems to be stronger than his! It seems you (Kabir) have drawn a clear line of battle."
Nurul Kabir replied, "No, I haven't but at the same time yes, I have."
He explained that he was not trying to pick a fight but at the same time he would vigorously establish he had done no wrong by publishing the article.
Tribunal chief Nizamul Huq said, "You need not refer so much by way of your reply but only defend your position as editor. That is what we have asked you to do."
To this, Nurul Kabir said, "I am sorry but I have not learnt to take things less seriously. And everything I do is in all earnestness."
Referring to the paragraph that he had posed at the defence counsel, AKM Zaheer Ahmed asked Nurul Kabir, "Does it not indicate the tribunal's prejudice for the prosecution?"
Zaheer Ahmed asked Nurul Kabir to also explain the point.
Besides reiterating defence counsel Mustafizur's contention -- about taking the entire article in cognizance -- the editor also said this was a question the writer was raising; one that might have bothered thousands of readers.
READING BETWEEN THE LINES
Nizamul Huq drew Nurul Kabir's attention to another paragraph, "To many in Bangladesh the guilt of Sayedee and the other detained men are foregone conclusions; tribunal hearings about cognizance and charge framing are simply procedural obstacles on a legal conveyor belt that will inexorably take Sayedee and the others towards their rightful convictions."
Huq asked, "Does it not indicate that (the) tribunal has prejudged the case and the conviction is a foregone conclusion?"
In defence, Nurul Kabir said when he had read the article before it went to press, he had thought: "This is how we (Bangladeshis) think…that their punishment only needed judicial approval.
"But I would have written it differently."
Judge Zaheer Ahmed then pointed out that there was a difference of opinion between Nurul Kabir and the writer Bergman. So, the judge remarked, "If 4,000 people read this article, there could very well be 2,000 different opinions".
Asserting that a certain write-up would be perceived differently by different persons, Judge Zaheer said, "Similarly, the way you have perceived this article, or the sentences of our concern, could well be different from how others see it."
He then said David Bergman is a "son-in-law" of Bangladesh, having married noted lawyer Kamal Hossain's daughter Sarah Hossain, who was also present in the court. "As such, he is our brother-in-law and we must keep in mind that he is British," he told Nurul Kabir. "But you must think like a Bengali: our brother-in-law (read Bergman) won't be able to rid himself of his British mindset.
"You must look at the article from the Bengali mindset -- not like an intellectual Bengali but like the masses who see things plainly and do not intellectualise everything."
Nurul Kabir replied that New Age had a different kind of readership. While Bangladeshi newspapers on an average have 10 percent of their readers go through the editorial pages, a far higher proportion of New Age readers go through the opinion and comments section. "Sixty-seven percent of our readers go through the editorial pages," said Kabir, trying to explain the intellectual height of the paper's readership.
He also said a survey of newspapers in the subcontinent put New Age third -- right after 'The Hindu' (India) and 'Dawn' (Pakistan).
The bench stopped Nurul Kabir when he was about to read out a section of his reply that contained concerns raised in the public mind about the tribunal's neutrality, which he said was to be taken with the utmost seriousness. Nizamul Huq said, "We would rather not bring politics here."
He was still going through this reply when Nizamul Huq asked Nurul Kabir whether he wanted to continue after the lunch recess or would like another date. The editor requested for another date and the tribunal complied.
The tribunal had told Nurul Kabir on Oct 27 that his reply to the court's notice was "not in form" and asked him to file it again. The ICT had then deferred the hearing to Dec 1.
The tribunal held that the article tarnished its image and pointed to four paragraphs that it found offensive.
The counsel had finished giving his replies for David Bergman, laying out his background and qualifications before the judges. He was about to do the same for Shahidullah Khan when the tribunal asked Nurul Kabir, who had submitted his own reply, to come forward.
The tribunal observed that his reply was not in proper format and lacked certain technical details, including the name of the court where it was being submitted and the case number. The court then asked Kabir to file the application again and ended the day's proceedings fixing Thursday for the next day of hearing.