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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

One of the very first reports which triggered me to start this blog is this piece published on The Guardian. Some quick info about the report:

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/feb/28/bangladesh-death-sentence-deadly-protests

Title: Bangladesh death sentence sparks deadly protests
Authors: Syed Zain Al-Mahmood in Dhaka and Jason Burke in Delhi
Date of publication: 28 February 2013
Date of amendment: 1 March 2013

I sincerely thank Al-Mahmood and Burke for covering the event. Overall this is a good report. But when I look at the fact that one of the authors was from Dhaka I become little curious about whether he had enough chance to check facts.

I start with the third paragraph. Here is the original version:

The verdict first set off wild scenes of jubilation in Shahbag square, in the capital, Dhaka, where hundreds of thousands of people have been agitating for weeks in favour of executing Islamist politicians on trial for war crimes.

How do you, my readers, feel about ‘in favour of executing Islamist politicians on trial’ part? You have all the rights to disagree but I have found it little too general. Do you see the difference in the impact on readers’ minds if it had been written as follows?

The verdict first set off wild scenes of jubilation in Shahbag square, in the capital, Dhaka, where hundreds of thousands of people have been agitating for weeks in favour of capital punishment  of Islamist politicians on trial for war crimes.

Forgive me if it is just because English is not my first language. But what about the fourth paragraph?

But clashes erupted when backers of Jamaat-e-Islami protested at the verdict. At least 14 demonstrators were said to have been shot dead by security forces across the country in the afternoon. Two policemen and a ruling party activist were also killed. By Friday the death toll was being put at more than 40, according to the Associated Press.

Do you notice the word demonstrators? Are those people vandalizing Hindu localities and temples demonstrators? Are those people removing fish plates from railroads which resulted into derailed coaches and passenger injuries protesters? I understand that there could be (I am certain there was) peaceful protests. Does this article differentiate between police actions on peaceful activities and police actions on terrorizing citizens?

The sixth paragraph horrifies me the most. After portraying the people, who reacted against the verdict of the convicted war criminal Sayeedi,  the report added that the protesters set fire to a Hindu temple etc. after an ‘also’.

Protesters also set fire to a Hindu temple and houses in Noakhali district, south of Dhaka, news agencies said. In the town of Cox’s Bazar, a police camp was attacked.

The verdict came out in the afternoon and by midnight communications between the capital and a number of localities were cut off. Let me pick some of those activities from the most circulated national daily of Bangladesh. I have chosen the edition which came out on the same day The Guardian published the news.

Jamaat activists killed three polices after attacking a police camp at the Sundarganj sub-district of Gaibandha district. An engineer who was a government employee was pushed off the roof and killed by Jamaat activists in Chapainawabganj. Jamaat activists set fire to the Bamondanga railway station in Rangpur. Some part of the Santahar-Lalmonirhar railroad was also destroyed by the same people.   Jamaat activists also attacked the Hindu localities of Rajgang bazaar in Begomganj, Noakhali. In Chiribondor sub-district of Dinajpur district three shops were vandalized by the local Jamaat activities. In Kodimchilan, Nator, Jamaat activists set fire to a police van which had polices inside. In Sonamosjid, Chapainawabganj they set fire to a government funded hotel which was under construction.

I just quoted a few. Dear readers, if you take a look at any map of Bangladesh you will be able to recognize that these acts of terror were distributed widely throughout the country. Does the news article cover the depth and breadth of violence happened on that day? You may argue that a newspaper article has a word limit and the reporter has to cover the context and other things. But look at the title! It is about ‘deadly protests’. Does the article cover all aspects of these ‘deadly protests’?

If you are not from Bangladesh or started following the situation lately let me give you some hints why  the ‘protest’ needed to include vandalizing Hindu temples and destroying railroads.  Here is the screenshot of instructions which came out on the FaceBook page of Islami Chatri Sangstha, the female students’ wing of Jamaat – e – Islami right after the verdict was declared.

Jamaat instructions came out after Sayeedi verdict
Jamaat instructions came out after Sayeedi verdict

Let me translate it for you.

What you should do right at this moment:

  1. Destroy the rail roads as much as possible.
  2. Destroy all the water and land transport stations.
  3. Cut off Dhaka from all the districts.
  4. Gather around your closest police station and lock it up.
  5. Start propaganda war about Sayeedi in the rural areas.
  6. Vandalize the assets of the presses which are not in favor of us.
  7. Make videos of when police shoots at us and publish in world media.
  8. Gather around embassies and lock them up.
  9. Same as # 3.
  10. Set fire to the houses of ministers and members of the parliament.

Could you related these ten points with what happened country wide?

Rest of the article is about the background of what is going on and comments from different organizations. I understand that most parts of the article reflect the reality but what if it is quoted by an organization which is not interested about the war crime which took place about forty two years ago but the statement that police opened fire at the ‘protesters’? Does this article tell them that police had to open fire because they were attacked by the ‘protesters’ while sitting inside the police camp?

It is not always possible for a reporter to estimate the impact of the article s/he is writing. So, trying to remain as complete as possible might be the best practice just like we always try to determine the worst case scenario while writing a computer program. I thank again Syed Zain Al-Mahmood and Jason Burke 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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