Tag Archives: Abduction

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


This is the account of David Bergman about the alleged abduction of Sukhoronjon Bali. Bali was initially a witness for prosecution who went missing for a while. Later on the defense team brought him to the court as their witness. According to them Bali was abducted by the police when he was about to enter. Bergman is based in Bangladesh and has been devotedly reporting the detailed proceedings of the ICT for quite a long time. I must say overall he is doing a great job. But while going through the writings I have found some of the statements questionable. The article of our interest is one of them.

Some quick info about the report:


Title: Abduction of defense witness outside tribunal
Author: David Bergman
Date of publication: November 10, 2012

At the beginning Bergman made it very clear that his sources were the defense lawyers and two journalists who work for the Jamaat’s mouthpiece in print media, The Daily Sangram. Let me ask my readers at this point whether I should rely on the account of these people who are in no way can be considered as the poster boys of integrity. This argument will be made clearer as we proceed.

I think the most important statement of this article is the fourth paragraph. Just to point out that this statement is not the most important part of the Bali abduction case. The only important thing now to me and his family is Bali’s safe return. I don’t care whether Bali is going to vouch for the prosecution or the defense. A person, no matter who he is, cannot remain missing forever. It is his family who is suffering the most. If there is a credible allegation that he was abducted by the detective branch, the defense lawyer should take necessary measure to file report on the missing person so that the police actively search for him. Returning to my point, for this article let me quote the most important part here.

Although there remains at present no entirely independent witness to this abduction, this allegation is credible in light of the background circumstances to this incident, the detailed corroborating accounts provided, and the photographs taken of the police vehicle in which the Bali is said to have been taken.

Here, we see that based on the statements presented and facts observed David Bergman is trying to arrive at the decision that the allegation of abduction was credible. We will discuss whether Bergman has missed anything and if the misses are affordable.

The article discusses how Bali became involved with the case and mention that the prosecution applied before the tribunal to accept Bali’s statement as evidence to the investigation officer when he went missing. I would like to draw your attention to the fifth paragraph of the ‘Prosecution witness’ section. For your ease, please allow me to quote it here.

In Bangladesh, generally statements made to an investigation officer are not entitled to be accepted as evidence – only testimony of witnesses given in court. However, section 19(2) of the International Crimes Tribunal Act 1973 allows statements to be admitted as evidence if the witness:

So with this (subtle punch?) Bergman hints that what the tribunal was requested to do is very unusual and might almost be unique. I am curious to know whether he was trying to mean that even if a witness is missing, in general the courts in Bangladesh still expect him to be present during the hearing! I hope not. Because that’s is whole point of missing! A person cannot be present at a place or point of time if he is missing. The court is supposed to take this millennium old definition of ‘missing’ into consideration and proceed forward.  Let us come out of our nice comfort zone of ignorance and verify this claim. I invite you to review the THE EVIDENCE ACT, 1872 of Bangladesh. Through out the act, it was suggested in about nine places what the court should do in case a person is not found. In every case that was tried on this soil since 1872, this was the act used to deal with the situation when a witness went missing. Let me quote section 33 for my readers’ special attention.

33. Evidence given by a witness in a judicial proceeding, or before any person authorized by law to take it, is relevant for the purpose of proving, in a subsequent judicial proceeding, or in a later stage of the same judicial proceeding, the truth of the facts which it states, when the witness is dead or cannot be found, or is incapable of giving evidence, or is kept out of the way by the adverse party, or if his presence cannot be obtained without an amount of delay or expense which, under the circumstances of the case, the Court considers unreasonable:


that the proceeding was between the same parties or their representatives in interest;

that the adverse party in the first proceeding had the right and opportunity to cross-examine;

that the questions in issue were substantially the same in the first as in the second proceeding.

Explanation.–A criminal trial or inquiry shall be deemed to be a proceeding between the prosecutor and the accused within the meaning of this section.

So, it is clear that the prosecution can lawfully request the court to consider the statement of a witness to the investigation team or the prosecution as evidence if he fails to appear at the court for subsequent oral testimonial. At this point I would like to encourage my readers to ask the question whether this evidence will be as strong as the statements produced and later cross-examined by the witness who were able to appear at the court. My naive answer is of course not. Let me quote from the conversation between the court and the prosecution which was not considered in the argument made by Bergman in our article of interest.

Justice Nassim: Is there any value of this type of witness if they are not cross-examined

 Haider Ali: My lord, it will be considered as weak evidence. And Sukho Ronjon Bali has disappeared for the last 4 months. A GD was filed in local Police Station.

It looks the prosecution and the court also agree with us that the evidence was going to be a weaker evidence. So, we all are on a pretty rational standing. The million dollar question is why on the earth Bergman mentioned that something unusual was about to happen? He is going to be asked this question as soon as this article is finished.

I have another bonus issue for my patient readers.  Let’s go back to the original statement of Bergman that,

In Bangladesh, generally statements made to an investigation officer are not entitled to be accepted as evidence…

It will be rational to ask why Bergman didn’t mention it to his readers that generally in Bangladesh an investigation officer is a police officer who belongs to the executive branch of the government. But by the ICT Act 1973, the investigation officer for Bali was from the judiciary which is Independent of the executive branch. I apologize to my readers for quoting again from the evidence act. This time it is from section 25.

25. No confession made to a police-officer shall be proved as against a person accused of any offence.

So, yes, the court doesn’t consider statements made to the police as evidences. But how can the argument be valid for the investigation officers of the ICT while they are not directed by the police department and also don’t have access to the infrastructure of interrogation of the police department?

Let us proceed to the section ‘From prosecution to defence Witness’. Let me quote from the third paragraph of the section.

On 21 October, the defense filed an application asking the tribunal to issue a summons requiring Bali to come to the tribunal as a defense witness.

Bali’s family had filed a general diary in the police station in the last week of February that he was missing. This was subsequently reported to the ICT. Why did Bergman fail to ask the question that while his family was living in uncertainty about missing Bali for about four months why the defense started grooming him as soon as he was found for witnessing without prior reporting to the police or the family or the ICT? I am perfectly fine if Bali decides not to cooperate with the prosecution and take the side of the defense. But a person is reported to the police missing! Isn’t it unusual that whenever you first knew about his whereabouts you start working on your own agenda instead of notifying the police or his family? Doesn’t this need more scrutiny? Do we see that in this article?

The last paragraph of the section is also interesting to me. It describes about how the date for Bali’s testimonial was fixed. In this article Bergman decides on the credibility of the allegation considering the statements of the defense lawyers. These are the same lawyers who took the pass for the day before the hearing date in the name of Atis Sen and later claimed to Bergman (mentioned in another post but ignored in the arguments made in this article) that they wanted to take Bali using Atis Sen’s pass. My dear readers, do you find this practice usual? Moreover, given this act of dishonesty by the lawyers, do you find Bergman’s interest to rely on their accounts usual?

Let us go to the section ‘The next day: the abduction’. Here Bergman gives the detailed accounts of what happened on that day as reported by his sources. He quoted the Jamaat lawyer who, by the way, was the collector of pass in fake names on the previous day. The fourth and fifth paragraphs amused me like a standard Chuck Norris lore. So, in broad day light, while the abduction drama was going on, the first two journalists who were incidentally appeared one after another at the spot were both from the Jamaat mouthpiece in the media, The Daily Sangram! I would like to present some supplementary information for those who are not aware of the circulation of the Daily Sangram. This government report shows that the circulation of the Daily Sangram is among the worst. Being an avid follower of the Bangladesh media this is not a surprise to me but could be to some of the readers of the Bergman blog. Here is a screenshot of the list. Please look for the Daily Sangram at about the bottom.

A little old circulation information of the Daily Sangram.

A little old circulation information of the Daily Sangram.

If you are not a big fan of government survey here is another report by a private market research company which shows that the Daily Sangram is never considered as a player in private sector PR campaign. Let me include a screenshot of the figures.

The Daily Sangram has no place in private sector marketing campaign strategy.

The Daily Sangram has no place in private sector marketing campaign strategy.

So, going back to the original point, these are the people, taking fake pass from the courts and working for a newspaper with an ultra poor readership, who gives ‘credible’ accounts of Bali abduction to Bergman.

The final circus of the article is the photographs. Bergman quoted Shahidul Islam’s account, another Sangram reporter(!), that he saw the incident and had some exchanges while in the picture he was still wearing helmets and the police vehicle had already been leaving. Bergman also found the allegation credible based on the second picture with a white figure inside the car that he took to be Bali. Isn’t the following picture of Bigfoot clearer?

A bigfoot

A bigfoot!

The ‘Credibility of the allegation’ section lacks seriously in mentioning Sangram’s amazing track record as a newspaper, the coincidence of appearing two Sangram reporters and no reporter from any other house at that moment, the fake pass the defense collected for Bali, not reporting to the police or court that missing Bali was found etc. I wish I could follow the thought process of arriving at a decision about the credibility given all these missing points included in that section.

It is not always possible for a reporter to estimate the impact of the article s/he is writing. So, trying to justify the statements as much as possible with facts and rationale might be the best practice just like we always try to document the code of a computer program as much as possible. I thank David Bergman 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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