Author”s note: There is no question that the issue of Bali’s safe return to his family is of paramount importance and the government of Bangladesh should do everything in its power to ensure that, since it is the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens’ constitutional rights to life and liberty. This article, however, looks at a different aspect of the whole Bali saga, ie, the manner in which international human rights bodies and the media has handled the matter so far, the discrepencies and less than professional sensationalisations in coverages that I am concerned may be counter-productive to Bali’s safe return.
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.
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.
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.
|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||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
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 reviewof 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 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
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
Originally published here.
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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed, or the assumptions made within the analysis in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of International Crimes Strategy Forum (ICSF).