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War crimes trial: Prosecution hiccups from fickle witnesses

THE prosecution and the investigation agency probing war crimes have been failing over and over again to produce witnesses in a case against Jamaat-e-Islami leader Delawar Hossain Sayedee at the International Crimes Tribunal, Rizanuzzaman Laskar writes in The Daily Star.

Four days after failing to produce any witnesses on February 2, the prosecution Wednesday brought forth only one witness who could not even remember anything specific, and completed his deposition in just two minutes. The defence did not even bother to cross-examine the witness.

The prosecution’s frequent failure to produce witnesses became an issue at the tribunal Wednesday. The judges started their proceedings by asking the prosecution about the number of witnesses they had for the day.

After the prosecution said it had only one witness, tribunal Chairman Justice Nizamul Huq addressed Chief Prosecutor Ghulam Arieff Tipoo and said, “Mr Chief Prosecutor! What shall we do? You have managed to bring only one witness after four days!”

The chief prosecutor said they appreciate the court’s concerns and added that the prosecution’s efforts to produce the witnesses have been relentless.

Not satisfied with the answer, the chairman called forth investigation officer Helaluddin. “What is the problem?” asked Justice Nizamul Huq, pointing out that it was the investigators’ responsibility to produce the witnesses.

Helaluddin said the prosecution were facing many difficulties and that some witnesses had been sick.

“Bring them to Dhaka and provide them with treatment if they are sick,” said Huq. “Take them into your custody and have them treated.”

Prosecutor Saidur Rahman then began with the deposition of the 24th prosecution witness, Mohammad Hossain Ali, a 67-year-old.

However, the matter of producing witnesses came up once again after the very brief deposition.

As the prosecution could not say for certain that they would be able to produce another witness today (Wednesday), the defence appealed for an adjournment until Sunday and confirmation of the next witnesses by today.

Prosecutor Syed Haider Ali told the tribunal that the prosecution team was trying very hard and added, “This is not an easy task that we are doing. It’s a tough job, a really, really tough job.”

The tribunal told the prosecutor that it was not seeking an explanation and was only expressing its discontent. “It is your [prosecution’s] case and it is your responsibility to prove the charges.”

After some more exchanges of words between the tribunal, defence counsels and prosecutors, the tribunal adjourned proceedings till February 13.

The prosecution has failed to produce witnesses on several occasions, which has led to several unwarranted adjournments of proceedings.

On February 2, the proceedings were adjourned after three witnesses could not be produced as they had left the prosecution’s custody to visit relatives and did not return.

A source at the prosecution team told The Daily Star that the witnesses had been getting warnings and threats from Jamaat members, which pushes them into having second thoughts about testifying.

While 68 prosecution witnesses were supposed to testify in the case against Jamaat-e-Islami leader Delawar Hossain Sayedee, some changes have been brought to the list of witnesses since the trial began.

Talking to The Daily Star Wednesday, prosecutor Haider Ali could not confirm the actual number of witnesses who would testify in the case.

At the tribunal, Sayedee is facing charges of crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the Liberation War.

2-MINUTE DEPOSITION
Mohammad Hossain Ali, the 24th prosecution witness, told the International Crimes Tribunal Wednesday that he had seen Delawar Hossain Sayedee in Bagharpara of Jessore district sometime around the Liberation War period.

Two previous prosecution witnesses had said that Sayedee was in hiding in Bagharpara, where he took shelter in the house of one Rowshan Ali. The Jamaat leader was a hunted man in Pirojpur then for committing crimes during the Liberation War, they had said.

Hossain Ali, 67, however, could not say for certain whether he had seen Sayedee in the area before or after the war.

“I saw him around in the street,” said Mohammad Hossain Ali, “but I cannot remember anything specific.”

While prosecutor Saidur Rahman tried to extract what else the witness knew, Hossain appeared reluctant and pointed out that it was 40 years ago and he could not remember well.

This concluded the two-minute testimony of the 24th witness. The defence counsels declined to cross-examine the witness.

The day’s proceedings ended in less than half an hour.

REPORTERS CAUTIONED
Soon after the tribunal began Wednesday’s proceedings, defence counsel Mizanul Islam drew the attention of the court to a news report in the daily Janakantha of February 2 and said it was contrary to “journalistic principles” and was “unethical”.

The headline of the report, quoting the 23rd witness, read, “Returning home I learnt that Sayedee had raped my wife.” In actual fact, the witness only said that his wife had been raped and that she had told him that Sayedee visited his home that day.

The tribunal said it had seen the report and went on to caution the journalists present in the courtroom to be more careful about reporting on tribunal proceedings.

“If you are in doubt about something, leave it out.”

The defence counsel suggested that the newspaper should publish a correction. The tribunal responded by saying that it would consider the suggestion.

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