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Disclaimer: This article is not about the most important aspect of Bali abduction. The most important aspect is that Bali is yet to return to his family. The government should do everything to find him out. I can’t imagine the plight of his family without him and it should end now. I am sorry to discover some of the news agencies’ activities as counter-productive to his safe return. This article is about such activities. Moreover while writing this article I came across a recent Bergman news article about the Savar tragedy. I would like to assure the conspiracy theorists that this article was planned long before and is not intended to be reactive to anyone.

It started when I came across this statement which came out from Human Rights Watch (HRW) on January 16, 2013. I have been seeing the news of this abduction in social media for quite a long time but never paid attention. The major reason behind this carelessness was that most of the time it was the propaganda pages with low reliability which were sharing this news. But when HRW made the statement about the abduction which was alleged to take place on November 5, 2012, I decided to learn more. In the rest of this article I am going to walk you through what I did for next several days to learn more about the alleged Bali abduction.

I started with looking at the November 6, 2012 editions of the most circulated Bangla and English national dailies to know what was immediately reported. I found this news published by the most popular Bangla national daily. It is true that the defense informed the court about the so called abduction which made the court to ask the court officials and prosecutors to clarify. Here is what the court official said.

জানতে চাইলে ট্রাইব্যুনালের ডেপুটি রেজিস্ট্রার মেছবাহউদ্দিন আহমেদ প্রথম আলোকে বলেন, ‘আমি ফটকে ছিলাম। মিজানুল ইসলামের সহযোগী আইনজীবীকে ভেতরে ঢুকতে আমি সাহায্য করেছি। তখনো তাঁরা আমার কাছে কোনো অভিযোগ করেননি। ফটকে উপস্থিত প্রত্যক্ষদর্শী, সাংবাদিক ও অন্যদের কাছেও আমি এ ধরনের কোনো অভিযোগ শুনিনি।’

If you need let me offer a translated version.

When asked the deputy registrar of the tribunal told the Daily Prothom Alo, “I was at the gate. I helped the assistant lawyer of Mijanul Islam to enter. They didn’t complain about anything then. The people, journalists and others, who were present there at that time, said nothing such happened.”

Here is what the prosecutor said.

রাষ্ট্রপক্ষের কৌঁসুলি সৈয়দ হায়দার আলী পরে সাংবাদিকদের বলেন, ‘আজ (গতকাল) মামলার যুক্তি উপস্থাপনের দিন ধার্য ছিল, সাক্ষ্য গ্রহণের নয়। সুখরঞ্জন বালী নামে আসামিপক্ষের কোনো সাক্ষীও নেই। তা হলে কী করে তিনি আসামিপক্ষের সঙ্গে থাকেন, তা আমার বোধগম্য নয়। এ অভিযোগ উদ্দেশ্যপ্রণোদিত। আদালত বর্জনের একটি অজুহাত তৈরির জন্য আসামিপক্ষ এ ধরনের কথা বলছে।’ তিনি বলেন, ‘আইনে আদালত বর্জনের বিধান নেই। ওকালতনামা বাতিল না হওয়া পর্যন্ত আইনজীবী মামলা পরিচালনা করতে বাধ্য। তা না হলে সেটি অসদাচরণ হবে।’

Once again here is the translated version.

The prosecutor, Syed Haidar Ali told the journalists later, “Today was the day for arguments not witness testimony. In fact Sukhoronjon Bali was never in the list of defense witnesses. It doesn’t make sense to me how could he be with the defense? This allegation is intentionally fabricated. They are trying to creating this scene to get an excuse to boycott the court.” He said, “The lawyer must continue with the proceeding until his affiliation is revoked. Otherwise it would be considered as a misconduct.”

And this is what was reported on the most circulated English daily. Let me quote the relevant parts of the news.

Prosecutor Syed Haidar Ali told The Daily Star the tribunal had ended taking the testimony of defence witnesses and there was no reason for one of them to be in a defence counsel’s car.

He added until cancellation of vokalatnama [power of attorney] a lawyer could not leave the court as per law. “If anyone does, it would be held as misconduct,” he argued.

Deputy Registrar Mesbahuddin Ahmed said he had helped one of Mizanul’s assistants around 10:15am to enter the tribunal amid tight security.

Mesbahuddin added, “He [the assistant] did not tell me anything about the abduction while I was helping him in.”

What I get from these two reports is that the defense lawyers never presented any third party witness on  behalf of their claim. Moreover nobody other than them actually claimed that such incident happened. I thought it was too early to decide.

Bali’s family still doesn’t know about his whereabouts. So, it is true that he is missing and we have to try our best to find him. But we should not do anything which is counter-productive to achieve our goal. One such thing is to present false allegations and flawed speculations.

In the meantime this story spreaded like wildfire. A number of world media and humanitarian agencies pointed finger to the government for not doing enough to find Bali. As I had a feeling from the local newspapers that the allegation is not very strong I wanted to test my hypothesis against the international reports.

I collected thirteen news articles or statements from eleven agencies. Let me list them down here along with the dates and locations of publication.

Title Date Location
Bangladesh: Investigate Alleged Abduction of War Crimes Witness 11/13/2012 New York
Bangladesh: Find Abducted Witness 1/16/2013 New York
Bangladesh: Ever murkier 11/19/2012 Online
“Bangladesh: Find Abducted Witness”, Human Rights Watch 1/19/2013 London
Bangladesh ICT: Meeting with Lord Avebury at the House of Lords 11/20/2012 London
Abduction to obstruct justice 1/30/2013 Jeddah
From transitional justice mechanism to monumental revenge: the Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal sinks to new lows 11/15/2012 London
Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal: abduction of defence witness Shukho Ranjan Bali 11/8/2012 London
Letter to Bangladesh High Commissioner 3/22/2013 Malaysia
Explain actions taken to locate Bali: HRW 1/18/2013 Dhaka
BHRC statement on the International Criminal Tribunal in Bangladesh 11/16/2012 London
Bangladesh cleric sentenced to death for crimes against humanity 1/21/2013 New York
European Parliament resolution of 14 March 2013 on the situation in Bangladesh (2013/2561(RSP)) 3/14/2013 Strasbourg

I was curious to know whether they had mentioned any source of their reports at all. Here is what I found.

Reporter agency Source agency
Human Rights Watch Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch and an unnamed independent journalist
The Economist Defense lawyer.
The International Criminal Law Bureau Human Rights Watch and Lord Eric Avebury
Saudi Gazette Human Rights Watch and an unnamed independent journalist
Open Democracy David Bergman
Eric Avebury David Bergman
Citizen International The Economist
The Daily New Age Human Rights Watch
The Bar Human Rights Committe of England and Wales Not mentioned
The Guardian Human Rights Watch
EU Parliament Not mentioned

Here is a visual representation of the dissemination of information from the sources to the corresponding agencies.

Information dissemination

Information dissemination

I have interpreted the following from this flow network.

  • The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales and the EU Parliament do not have any incoming arrow. It means they didn’t mention any source. It undermines the verifiability of their statements.
  • It may be safely assumed that there was at least one local relay point between the Economist and its source, the defense lawyer, as there is not official representative of the Economist at this moment in Bangladesh.
  • ‘The unnamed independent journalist’ and David Bergman are the two high impact sources feeding directly or indirectly at least four and two organizations respectively.

I was curious to know whether the newspapers or organizations verified the tips through independent sources. I tried to contact them using a number of ways. Unfortunately they never clarified their queries. Being not a professional journalist I can hardly imagine how it works for a news agency. I thought the news agencies should always be happy to clarify if any issue is raised about the authenticity of their news. Here is a log of my failed correspondences.

Organization Email Twitter Web form
Human Rights Watch Didn’t reply Didn’t reply
The Economist Didn’t reply Didn’t reply
The International Criminal Law Bureau Just repeated the source hence not asked
Saudi Gazette Didn’t reply Didn’t reply
Open Democracy Just repeated the source hence not asked
Lord Eric Avebury Just repeated the source hence not asked
Citizen International Didn’t reply Didn’t reply
The Daily New Age Just repeated the source hence not asked
The Bar Human Rights Committe of England and Wales Didn’t reply Twitter Didn’t reply
The Guardian Just repeated the source hence not asked
EU Parliament Didn’t reply

This absolute silence left me with no option but to verify the two high impact sources by myself. We are talking about ‘the unnamed independent journalist’ and David Bergman. Several readers may ask me to take into consideration the profile statement  of David Bergman. He is the only independent Bangladesh based journalist who is following up the international crimes tribunal that I know of. So, a very valid question could be:

Is the unnamed independent journalist David Bergman?

I don’t have the answer. I asked several newspapers mentioned earlier whether the independent journalist was him? I never received a reply.

We can also look at this from a different angle if we compare the temporal relations among these news articles in the light of their referrals.

The timeline of referral

The timeline of referral

So, it looks David Bergman and ‘the unnamed independent journalist’ may have acted almost at the same time. It is interesting to discover that the Lord Eric Avebury made a statement on November 8 quoting a Bergman article which came out two days later. I don’t have clear idea how time machines work. A better explanation might be informal exchanges took place between Bergman and Lord Avebury. Moreover the timeline says it may have started with the defense lawyer and later spreaded out with initial help from both ‘the unnamed independent journalist’ and David Bergman.

We could not trace the unnamed independent journalist because organizations, who quoted him, didn’t care to clarify about his existence. We are left only with David Bergman. If we could verify the authenticity of the story as described by Bergman we could say that at least the organizations who quoted him are standing on a relatively firmer ground regarding their statement.

I hate to say that I am going to disappoint my readers. Some of you may have already read my review of the story of Bali abduction written by Bergman in his blog. Let me summarize the questions Bergman didn’t answer to in his writing.

  • How did the abduction take place in such a busy business district without having a single neutral witness?
  • How are both the journalists, who reportedly appeared at the scene out of blue, from the official newspaper of the political party of which the defendant is a senior leader?
  • Why are the uninformative photos presented in the blog among the most reliable proofs of abduction?
  • Why are both the most important witnesses of the abduction from the one of the least credible and subscribed newspaper in the country?
  • How did the so called law enforcement agency people know about Bali’s arrival at the court gate while his appearance on that day before the court was not even scheduled?
  • Why didn’t Bergman consider the statement of the reporter from his previous workplace who was present at the court gate on that day? For your convenience here is the relevant part of the statement. 

I was there at the tribunal on that day and it was the first day that the prosecution was scheduled to begin closing arguments in the Sayedee case. I had reached the tribunal at 9:45am and I walked around the premises. I had been in and out and finally came in through the gates at 10:20am from where the witness was allegedly taken away barely five minutes before, around 10:15am. I personally did not see anything unusual and having asked other people, could only find two persons who claimed to have seen the car that allegedly took away the witness. Both of them were reporters of Sangram, which is affiliated with the Jamaat-e-Islami. Other than the defence lawyers and these two, there were no other witnesses.

  • Why did Bergman believe the statement of the lawyer who according to Bergman himself lied about Bali’s identification in the court register (see the following picture)?
The defense lied about Bali's identification

The defense lied about Bali’s identification

The readers may suggest that I should ask these questions directly to Bergman instead of throwing them into the air. I did in my Blog and it was tweeted to him by some of my readers. We never received a reply.

At this point we see that the Bergman story has reliability issue and the unnamed independent journalist has the problem of lack of verifiability. On top of that quoting the defense lawyers, who have proven track record of lying, without independent verification also makes the statement weak. So, the timeline of the referral consists some weak links! Let’s take a look at those again!

Weak links of the referrals

Weak links of the referrals

As some of you may already have expected, the picture becomes a network of rumors without a solid base.

Sukhoronjon Bali’s family needs truth to be unearthed which will help the law enforcement agencies to find him. Spreading fake stories is not going to help the situation. I would like to invite the reporters or agencies, who helped spreading this allegation without independent verification, to  take a look at the horizontal impact they collaboratively created. Shame on you people!

Global spreading of unverified abduction story

Global spreading of unverified abduction story

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This is one of the poorest example of journalism I have ever seen on ICT. Behold! This is by a professor of journalism of California State University, Los Angeles. Some quick info about the report:

Source: http://www.saudigazette.com.sa/index.cfm?method=home.regcon&contentid=20130307155827

Title: Bangladesh ICTs: Monstrous injustice
Authors: Mohammad Auwal
Date of publication: March 07, 2013

The first paragraph introduces to the fact that the ICT has been handing out verdicts and Sayeedi is the most eminent preacher of the holy Quran in the country. Although I am not sure how to verify the second fact but let’s go by that. The second paragraph mentions that no charge has been filed against Sayeedi in last forty years. What point is he trying to make here? Can’t we punish a crime later if it is not punished immediately? Did the author explain how a 20 years of military rule within a decade of liberation can be a favorable time for justice? Did the professor mention that although it is thriving democracy is only about 20 years old there?

The fourth paragraph says the law enforcement agencies have been killing the activists of Jamaat – e – Islami and it’s student wing. Extra judicial killing can never be supported no matter who is killed. Being an avid follower of Bangladeshi politics I am aware of such events. But when a professor of journalism makes such general comment it impacts the quality of the writing and clouds the view of the reader. Why I am saying so? I invite the readers to read this I have written previously. Does this SG op-ed successfully hide the fact that there were cases where the Jamaat activists attacked the police while they were sitting inside their camp of petrol vans? Dear reader, I am referring to the two most circulated Bangla and English national dailies one with tenfold circulation of that of Saudi Gazette.

Let’s take a look at the first sentence of the fifth paragraph. I will not be surprised if the government uses its media and press to support what it is doing. I am not a big fan of Bangladesh Awami League of the present government! But wait a sec! Are they the most popular form of reflecting public opinion in my country? No! How could I say so? From TRP rating and circulations! It’s arithmetic. Has the author ever followed the most circulated national daily or the most viewed private cable network? They are not owned by the government. Reflecting public opinions is their bread and butter. How could an academician ignore the non-negligible part of the media which matters?

Enough about quality of the writing. Let’s talk about sheer lies. I invite you to read the second sentence of the same paragraph. Seriously! The Shahbag movement is orchestrated by the government? What about these reports of solidarity from 179 universities throughout the world? Are all these choreographed by the government? If so, I would suggest to replicate such an influential and motivator government in every country of the world!

The sixth paragraph contains twisted information about the so called Skypegate. The author truly said that justice Nizamul Haque Nasim was exposed collaborating with ruling party officials. What he ignored here is that how justice Nasim handled that exposure. I checked with the leaked conversation but failed to find where he agreed with the government about what will be in the verdict. To my understanding the discussion was more of prioritizing the cases from a logistics perspective. There might be a question whether a judge can have this kind of exposure but was it raised by the author? No! He hinted that the capital punishment might be handed by the ruling party in disguise of the justice. Excuse me! Which part of the conversation says so?

The later part of the same paragraph again presents another sheer lie. As I understand from the conversation that the Belgium based lobbyist (the author of our interest failed to mention that the lobbyist also happens to be an international criminal lawyer and academician) was helping about the technical format of the verdict and not about THE VERDICT. Dear reader, I encourage you to ask the question whether a justice can have such kind of informal professional relationship. What I should not encourage is paraphrasing a real fact and hint  to what not happened.

The next paragraph says the ‘loyal’ protesters of already knew about the verdict ahead of time. The author used the term ‘must have known’. So, it is a strong conviction which should have come from a rational thought process. I invite you to take a look at this demonstration by the students of MIT, Harvard and Northwestern universities. It took place on February 9, 2013, almost twenty days before the verdict was handed. If Bangla is not your first language let me translate the biggest banner for you. It says – ‘These criminals will never change. We want them hanged’. I would like to ask the author and you, my readers, whether these people also contributed along with the government and the Belgium based ‘lobbyist’ in writing the verdict. What about the students from 178 other international universities? All of them talked about hanging the accused. Did they all take part in the conspiracy? Let me tell you why the conspiracy theory about first men on the moon doesn’t count. It is because making all of you believe that men went to the moon is much more expensive than just sending men to the moon. Same case here! When 500000 people gather in one afternoon just saying hang them but not lynching the war criminals from the prison which is not very far it is about justice. You can confuse a person who doesn’t speak Bangla by exactly quoting from the slogans or banners but confusions never sustain.

This article is a disgrace to both academic integrity and quality journalism. How could the author forget to mention that Barrister T H Khan who was quoted in the tenth paragraph is also the vice chairperson of Bangladesh Nationalist Party who is a political ally of Jamaat – e – Islami. Does mentioning only his professional experience and not mentioning his political affiliation give you the whole picture?

The eleventh paragraph is the funniest misinterpretation of the International Crimes Tribunal Act 1973 I have ever read. Did the author take some time to go through the actual law? ‘International’ is used here for crimes not for the tribunal. International crimes are the crimes which any country can take into concern and prosecute. The crimes should be covered under international law. Let me quote from an article by Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, Switzerland.

The current system of international criminal law works through international ad hoc tribunals, internationalised or mixed tribunals, the International Criminal Court as well as national courts (military tribunals and ordinary courts).

So, the ICT is a national court which is well recognized in the definition. The Saudi Gazette failed to identify that the author, who is a professor of journalism, didn’t do his homework.

The next paragraph quotes a senior lawyer who once was the Chief Public Prosecutor of the Sheikh Mujibur Rahman government. Once again the author failed to recognize that the person is also an adviser to the chairperson of BNP which is a political ally of Jamaat – e – Islami. Two missing real affiliations and several false affiliations in the same article? The author must be having a bad day.

Then there comes a paragraph of theory stuffs out of which I was not able to make anything. Is it trying to answer the question whether there should be any tribunal at all? No clue!

In the fourteenth paragraph, the author claimed that one of the judges had the background of ani-Jamaat-e-Islami political activism. What does it really mean? In the last national election Jamaat-e-Islami got only about 4% of the popular votes from a Muslim majority country like Bangladesh. Can we claim from that fact that 96% of the Muslim majority voters were anti-Jamaat-e-Islami political activist? Cannot a citizen of Bangladesh have the right to reject what Jamaat-e-Islami is preaching or doing?

Let me quote the next paragraph exactly.

Even after the recent Skype scandal, the ICTs are strangely doing business as usual relying not on ethics but on the logic of power.

A single line paragraph with no reference or explanation. A newspaper with 50K circulation deserves better.

Dear author as I said this is one of the poorest pieces of journalism I have ever seen I can go on and on. Let me stop here and give you a break.

It is not always possible for a writer to estimate the impact of the op-ed s/he is writing. So, trying to remain as honest as possible might be the best practice just like we always try to write a computer program without fooling ourselves. I thank Professor Mohammad Auwal for taking interest in Bangladesh.

As I have said this is a live commentary on the press covering the ICT of Bangladesh, I am going to send my issues to the authors of this article. I will keep you posted in the comment section whether they agreed with me or not.

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