ICT-appointed counsel to defend SQ Chowdhury

The first war crimes tribunal of Bangladesh said it will appoint a defence lawyer to conduct BNP MP Salauddin Quader Chowdhury’s trial.

After accepting the BNP policymaker’s application cancelling the appointment of his two lawyers, tribunal Chairman Justice A T M Fazle Kabir said on Wednesday that the new counsel would begin cross-examination of the 17th prosecution witness on Thursday.

The deposition was conducted behind closed doors, with the accused and four lawyers of each side present.

The three-judge International Crimes Tribunal, set up to try crimes against humanity during the 1971 Liberation War, indicted the former prime ministerial adviser for 23 war crimes charges on Apr 4, 2012.

The deposition had been originally scheduled for Dec 12. The matter was decided on Dec 3 last year after the BNP MP’s chief defence counsel said he had no objections to holding the deposition on camera.

On Wednesday, the tribunal rejected three petitions of Chowdhury. One sought permission to, what the defence said, ‘answer presidential summons’ and attend the parliament session that began Sunday. Another one sought to adjourn proceedings till a week after the session ends citing a parliament member’s privileges.

Chowdhury’s chief defence counsel, Ahsanul Huq, said he would file for a review of the court’s order and prayed that the proceedings be adjourned till it was disposed of.

Justice Kabir said both tribunals had given decisions on this earlier. “We will not adjourn proceedings on account of a review.”

The defence counsel said, “But there is a difference between those other review petitions and this one.”

Huq pointed out that none of the other petitioners were sitting MPs. “And this application is very important to us.”

He said he would need further instructions from the client when the tribunal refused to budge. Huq returned before the court after a brief parley with the opposition MP to say that the defence stood by the petition.

When the court made a move for witness deposition, the counsel said that since the defence was unable to make its point with the tribunal, it was better that they all left.

The tribunal said that there were certain rules for counsels to leave the court once appointed. Having gone through the relevant provisions, Huq said his power of attorney would be duly cancelled by the BNP MP. “I did not file the ‘vokalatnama’. My client will also cancel it duly,” he said refusing to file his inability to defend Chowdhury in writing as the judges insisted.

The tribunal also pointed out that cancelling the appointment also depended upon the court’s satisfaction. “We would like you to conduct the trial, but we certainly cannot force you to do it,” said tribunal member Justice Jahangir Hossain when Huq said he would be unable to continue due to his ill health.

The judges eventually agreed to a brief recess of 20 minutes during which time the counsels were told to discuss with their client.

The tribunal Chairman made it clear that the witness deposition on camera would begin when the court returned. “So I would request you all stay outside.”

The court convened around 2:45pm, a quarter hour after it was supposed to, only to find that there were no defence lawyers present to conduct cross-examination of the witness.

Salauddin Quader answered to Justice Kabir’s query about his lawyers, “I have sent them off and duly filed an application.”

A six-time MP from Chittagong, Salauddin referred to the parliament members’ privilege act and said — with due respects — that he would be unable to acknowledge the court’s proceedings as long as the parliament was in session.

He said that the law guaranteed him certain privileges and he would not relinquish them for the sake of his constituency. “A week after the parliament session is prorogued, I will once again, god willing and if I am not hanged by then, continue the proceedings appropriately then.”

The tribunal Chairman said the BNP politician’s application was accepted. Referring to a relevant section of the tribunal’s law, Justice Kabir said, “The court will appoint a defence counsel who will conduct the witness’ cross-examination tomorrow at 10:30am.”

Salauddin Quader’s other lawyer Fakhrul Islam is facing a contempt charge initiated by the court for filing an application seeking clarification from the judges whether they were party to a certain Skype conversation between former tribunal Chairman Justice Nizamul Huq and a Brussels-based academic.

The lawyer was told to file his reply on Feb 3.

SQ Chy in ICT

The prosecution submitted formal charges against Salauddin Quader on Nov 14, 2011 and the tribunal took them into cognisance three days later.

A former prime ministerial adviser on parliamentary affairs when BNP chief Khaleda Zia was in office, the Chittagong MP was shown arrested for war crimes charges on Dec 20, 2010, five days after his arrest.

The investigating agency submitted a 119-page report with around 8,000-page data to the chief prosecutor on Oct 3 in a bid to prove allegations of war crimes during the 1971 Liberation War.

The BNP leader was indicted on Apr 4 on 23 counts of war crimes.bdnews24.com

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