The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Bangladesh Manobadhikar Sangbadik Forum (BMSF) has called on the Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal to allow the media to freely and fully reports on its activities, following further delays in the ongoing contempt case against Dhaka-based British journalist David Bergman.
Bergman, who is the editor of special reports at local English-language daily New Age, is facing contempt charges for questioning the number of deaths during Bangladesh’s liberation from Pakistan in his personal blog posts on the court proceedings written between 2011 and 2013.
According to reports, Bergman, who has already appeared twice before the Tribunal in April and May this year, was given until mid-June to provide explanation on why he shouldn’t be punished under the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act 1973 for demeaning the authority of the Tribunal by making “derogatory comments”. Bergman had maintained that his write-ups are “fair criticism”.
A Supreme Court lawyer filed the contempt petition on February 18. The court, which was set up to investigate war crimes committed during the 1971 war of independence, decided to initiate the trial on April 17.
The IFJ and the BMSF believe that this is a case directly relating to freedom of expression and that journalists should have liberty to question and fairly criticise the court’s rulings to ensure justice is delivered and its mandate followed.
Critics say the tribunal is being used to target political opponents of the ruling Awami League and that proceedings relating to the war crimes trials have been blemished by poor standards of due process.
Last year, Human Rights Watch was also targeted for its coverage of the tribunal and in 2012, authorities leveled sedition charges against Mahmudur Rahman, the acting editor and majority owner of the Bengali-language pro-opposition daily Amar Desh, for coverage that critiqued the impartiality of the tribunal. Rahman has been in jail for more than a year while his trial continues.
The IFJ said: “It is clear that David Bergman’s case does not stand in isolation but appears to be a pattern of intimidation against media coverage assessing the tribunal’s efficacy. We join the BMSF in urging the Bangladesh Tribunal to review this case for due process to prevail.”
“The authority and verdicts of the courts should be respected but it is firmly within the court’s responsibility to ensure that they respect the rights of Bangladeshi citizens including their right to freedom of expression and the right to know.”
“It is crucial that journalists in Bangladesh can operate in an environment where they can write fearlessly and without fear of legal retribution.”
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0950
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