BANGLADESH AUTHORITIES have been blamed for harassment, intimidated and threats to defense lawyers and witnesses of the suspects detained for war crimes.
New York based Human Rights Watch in a statement issued on Wednesday urged the Bangladesh government to investigate threats to defense lawyers and witnesses in cases at the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) and take adequate steps to protect them.
Lawyers representing the accused before the ICT have reported being harassed by state officials and threatened with arrests. Several witnesses and an investigator working for the defense have also reported harassment by police and threats for cooperating with the defense.
Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch insists that the authorities must ensure the rights of the suspects are respected. He stressed the need to ensure that the lawyers and witnesses does not face threats or coercion.
HRW has learned from credible source that threats made against a leading lawyer on the defense team of Maulana Delwar Hossain Sayedee.
A barrister received threats and was told that false charges were being prepared against him in order to arrest him and thus prevent him from participating in Sayedee’s defense.
Another defense lawyer and senior member of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Abdur Razzaq, faces an arrest warrant on charges relating to riots in capital Dhaka which took place in September when he was in Europe. He was, however granted bail.
The rights organization learnt that a key defense witness has been arrested and further nine defense witnesses are facing criminal charges based on complaints against them filed with the police by a prosecution witness.
In another development, a journalist who was conducting research for the defense has been threatened with arrest and has since gone into hiding in fear of persecution.
HRW has long called for the ICT to establish an effective victim and witness program which would ensure protection for both prosecution and defense witnesses.
The international rights group earlier said the rules being used to prosecute the war crime suspects fall short of international standards.
Adams of Human Rights Watch submitted detailed proposals for reforms that would ensure these trials are fair and fair.
Immediately after the pro-secular government came to power in early 2009, the parliament passed a bill for the trial of war crimes suspects to provide justice for victims of atrocities in the 1971 bloody war of independence from Islamic Pakistan.
The ICT detained five suspects who belong to pro-Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami and main opposition Bangladesh Nationalists Party. Several other suspects are under investigation and would be arrested to face the trial.
Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org