SQC Trial: Strategy of obstruction, delay and offence

Published : 22 Nov 2015, 12:21 PM
Updated : 22 Nov 2015, 12:21 PM

Throughout his trial process, Salauddin Quader Chowdhury ("the convict") demonstrated the tendency to obstruct the course of justice using all and every means at his disposal as opposed to seriously defending the charges brought against him. From contradictory witnesses, to forged documents; from filing frivolous applications to submitting names of thousands of witnesses; from ridiculing judges to threatening prosecutors, the convict tried them all. However, the most controversial has been his fondness to obstruct the trial process, deploying delaying tactics, using forgery and misbehaving with others in court.

Before charge framing, he first dismissed his own lawyer, and applied to the court to represent himself. But when the court permitted him to do so, he refused to accept documents from the prosecution to prepare his case. Seeing such non-cooperation, the court appointed a state-defence counsel, who also did not get any response from the convict. He then applied again for instructing a lawyer of his choice. The convict cancelled power of attorney of his counsels twice and reappointed the same counsel thrice!

The convict regularly filed a series of applications on different dates to delay the disposal of the case. The topics ranged from staying proceedings of the case, to cancelling the power of attorney and permission to conduct case personally, to praying for permission to attend Parliamentary sessions, to challenging the jurisdiction of the Tribunal and its judges, to pray for bail, to praying for reviewing important orders repeatedly, to praying for application of laws like the Cr.P.C and the Evidence Act despite knowing well that the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act 1973 expressly prohibits so.

The last such attempt saw the convict's wife Farhat Quader Chowdhury filing a writ petition with the High Court Division challenging the constitutional provision that allows the trial of an individual for committing crimes against humanity during the Liberation War. The court refused to hear the writ petition saying the issues mentioned in the prayer were already settled by the HCD on earlier occasion.

The convict also attempted to make a mockery of the process by submitting a voluminous list of 1,153 witnesses. Although the defence now makes it a point of contention that the Tribunal had restricted their number of witnesses to 5 only, they could only however, examine 4 of the allotted 5. It was only after they could not produce any 5th witness, that examination of defence witnesses was closed for want of further evidence. Interestingly, although much has been said recently about certain Pakistani witnesses wanting to testify for the convict, their names were not included in that list.

The Tribunal and Supreme found that the convict had relied upon multiple documents which turned out to be forged, or of questionable authenticity at the very least, during the trial, appeal and review stages. This includes affidavits by certain individuals from Pakistan and an informal testimonial from a Pakistani academic. In the latest such attempt, the Supreme Court rebuked the convict's lawyer for presenting a "forged" certificate containing multiple signs of inauthenticity, which was not even mentioned in the preceding three years.

The convict's demeanour from the outset of the trial, which was carried on throughout the proceedings, demonstrated his complete lack of respect for the process and attempts to hinder its smooth and just resolution. For instance, in the early stages of the trial, the convict willfully used to violate decorum of the court room by shouting for which he was warned by the Tribunal for his unruly behavior by an order dated 10.01.2012.

He regularly violated the basic respect shown to courts by all by standing up when judges leave the courtroom, by remaining seated. Despite knowing that Judges of the Tribunal are Judges of the Supreme Court, rather than addressing them as "Your Lordship" or "My Lord" as per norms, the convict used to call them "Chairman Shaheb" or "Member Shaheb", presumably to ridicule, annoy, and agitate them.

The following are some, but not all, of the actual examples of how the convict often acted with contempt and abuse towards the Tribunal, judges, prosecutors and witnesses. In 2011, he threatened a judge by saying: "Don't show me your eyes. I am a Razakar. My father was a Razakar. Now, I dare you to do what you can to me". In May 2012, while being interruptive, the Tribunal Chairman asked the convict: "Mr. Chowdhury, will you please keep quiet?" To this the accused replied: "Mr. Nizamul Haque… don't show me your red eyes".

On 1 January 2013, in open court, he threatened the highest law officer of the land, the Attorney General, by saying, among other expletives: "You have kept me in prison for two years. Let me out and I'll show you". On 17 June 2013, during his own deposition, he refused to take the oath. Later, he started deposing without taking oath. He also used to regularly ridicule the prosecutors. On 2 July 2013, he openly threatened one prosecutor by saying that one day he "will be hanged" for putting him on the dock.

Counsel for the convict made the submission that all the prosecution witnesses are a bunch of "beggars and vagabonds" while all the defence witnesses are men of "blue-blood" having status in the society and as such the evidence of the defence witnesses are more reliable and acceptable than that of the prosecution witnesses. To this, the Tribunal reminded the defence that the legal system of Bangladesh does not assess the credibility of a witness based on his social status. The fact that such a submission was made in court is evidence of the convict and his defence team's attitudes towards other people.

Lastly, let us not forget that it has also been alleged, with good reasons, that the convict's family members and several lawyers working for him distributed a draft verdict to put into question the integrity of the Tribunal. Charges have already been readied on the basis of investigation that a draft of the Tribunal's verdict on the convict had indeed been stolen by certain Tribunal employees in October 2013 upon instruction and payment from the lawyers and the family.

We learnt that preceding his execution, the convict had "begged" for mercy and pardon from the President of Bangladesh. It was satisfying to think that even if he remained unrepentant at heart till the very end, his arrogant claim to invincibility was significantly diminished from his final surrender to the very State he actively fought to prevent being born. If execution of his sentence served him legal justice for his crimes, his "begging mercy" was poetic justice for the person's misplaced pride.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher