The International Crimes Tribunal-1 yesterday once again faced interruptions from the prosecution and some defence lawyers during cross-examination of the second witness in the war crimes case against BNP lawmaker Salauddin Quader Chowdhury.
The tribunal had actually begun the day’s proceedings by laying down some ground rules for the two sides to keep order in the courtroom. The instructions stemmed from the recent experience of frequent interruptions during the proceedings.
“He [the 68-year-old witness Mohammad Salimullah] is a very old man,” said Tribunal-1 Chairman Justice Nizamul Huq.
“Prosecution, you tend to jump up at every question. Don’t do that. There is a system to draw the court’s attention. Follow that,” he told the prosecution.
The tribunal chairman asked defence counsel Ahsanul Haq Hena to keep his voice low, and be respectful while quizzing the witness. The justice told the witness to listen to each question carefully, enquire if there was any confusion and not to answer without fully understanding the question.
Earlier proceedings against the BNP lawmaker were marked with frequent interruptions, verbal spats and heated exchanges between the prosecution and the defence and the outspoken accused. Salauddin on Monday last week was given the “last warning”. He was told that if he continued such behaviour, the tribunal would go ahead with his trial in his absence.
Despite yesterday’s instructions, the two-and-half-hour-long cross-examination of the prosecution witness was marked by several heated exchanges between defence and prosecution.
At one point, a defence lawyer and several prosecutors were up on their feet and the defence claimed that the prosecution had “threatened” them.
Tribunal chairman Justice Md Nizamul Huq had to intervene to keep the situation under control. “Should we dictate that you keep quiet, or should we ask all of you except for Mr Hena [defence counsel Ahsanul Haq Hena] to go out of the court room,” he said with a certain edge to his voice.
The three-member Tribunal-1 yesterday recorded the cross-examination of Mohammad Salimullah, the second prosecution witness against Salauddin Quader, who is facing 23 counts of crimes against humanity committed during the Liberation War.
Defence counsel Hena began the cross-examination by asking questions about the witness’ neighbourhood in Chittagong. The questions include which road led where, intersections, alleys and residents on those streets.
The witness and the defence counsel, both from Chittagong, went through the names so fast that the tribunal found it difficult to follow. “You two understand very well, but we can’t seem to understand a thing,” said AKM Zaheer Ahmed, a judge of the tribunal.
As the defence counsel continued with his line of questioning, at one point Salimullah said, “What would you do by having these [answers]? The truth will always remain the truth”.
“Just answer what you are asked, nothing else,” said Hena. “My temper is really hot, I lose it quite easily.”
“Mine is cool,” was the answer from the witness.
As the defence counsel asked more questions about the streets of Chittagong, he told the witness, “Let’s walk together on the streets.”
To this Justice Nizamul said, “When will this walk of yours end?” He reminded the defence counsel to keep the cross-examination short.
Later, the counsel even asked the witness if there were beautiful women in a Christian-dominated neighbourhood near his house in Chittagong.
Salimullah also faced questions about the area of Salauddin Quader’s Goods Hill home in Chittagong and about the garage he was confined to.
The witness on Monday narrated how he was abducted on September 2, 1971, taken to that house, tortured and kept hostage in a garage where he almost died.
Yesterday, the witness said the garage he was tortured in was on the ground floor of a two-storey building at Salauddin Quader Chowdhury’s Goods Hill home in Chittagong.
The garage was located at the north-western side of the house, and had wooden stairs leading upstairs, which accommodated Sindhi policemen, he said.
Answering other questions, the witness said he saw around 15 to 16 Sindhi policemen, and they wore three different types of badges possibly reflecting their ranks.
The soldiers spoke Urdu with an accent, he said.
Later, the defence counsel told the witness that he was pretending to be sick before the tribunal.
“It is not true,” said the witness. “Learned advocate, I don’t pretend to be sick like you to take leave from the court.”
As the proceedings drew closer to lunch break at 2:00pm, the tribunal chairman told Hena that he needed to conclude the cross-examination within that day.
The defence counsel said he had just begun the cross-examination. “My lord, give him some time. He has to save his client after all,” remarked the witness.
The tribunal then adjourned the proceedings against Salauddin Quader until today.
The legislator from Chittagong was produced before the court yesterday. He is among four Jamaat-e-Islami and BNP leaders facing charges of crimes against humanity before the tribunal.