‘The Economist’ Accused of Hacking by Bangladesh's War Crimes Tribunal

The International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) is an ongoing tribunal in Bangladesh that was set up to investigate and provide justice regarding the war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed during the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971.

On 6 December, 2012 the war crimes tribunal accused The Economist magazine of hacking and asked it to explain how it got emails and heard Skype conversations between Presiding Judge Mohammed Nizamul Huq and Mr. Ahmed Ziauddin, a war crimes expert of Bangladeshi origin living in Brussels, Belgium. The two individuals have known each other for 25 years. The court ruling accused the Economist of “interfering into the work of the tribunal and violating the privacy of its presiding judge” as the magazine contacted the judge directly about the conversations.

On 8 December, 2012, The Economist responded with a blog post where it claimed that it had “heard 17 hours of recorded telephone conversations and seen over 230 e-mails between the two men”. They also published a short account of their dealings with Mr Huq and Mr Ahmed. The situation escalated when a local daily Amar Desh [bn] published some transcript of the conversations. That material was sourced from a ‘foreign country’, the report suggests.

Amnesty for 1971 war criminals

The Bangladesh government claims up to three million people were killed and between 200,000 and 400,000 women were raped by Pakistani Army and local collaborators in one of the worst genocides in the history of mankind.

According to a tri-patriate agreement between Bangladesh-Pakistan-India in 1974, 195 Pakistani prisoners of war were handed over to Pakistan from Bangladesh pending trial and Pakistan never prosecuted them. A War Crimes Fact Finding Committee revealed that the local collaborators of the Pakistani army were involved in at least 53 types of crimes. Among the local collaborators were a large number of members of Jamaat-e-Islami, one of the largest Islamic parties of the subcontinent, who opposed Bangladesh and sided with Pakistan during the war. In an effort towards national reconciliation the Government announced amnesty (pdf) to those who had been convicted or accused of offences under the Collaborators Order (1972), except those accused of murder, rape or arson. Later all prosecutions were stopped and all the accused were released leaving a scar on the society who believe that justice was not done.

Girls carry placards of painted pictures of alleged war criminals demanding a quick trial. Image by Rehman Asad. Copyright Demotix (30/11/2012)

1971 war crimes and amnesty revisited in 2010

The ruling Bangladesh Awami League formed the ICT on 25 March 2010 by amending some aspects of the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act 1973 of Bangladesh and the trial of war criminals was one of their election pledges. The tribunal is currently trying 10 individuals including several Jamaat leaders on charges of arson, rape and other atrocities committed during the 1971 war.

The ICT has been criticized by a number of human rights organization for certain flaws in the tribunal, they raised concerns about fair and impartial proceedings. On the other hand civil society in Bangladesh accused Jamaat-e-Islami for spending millions of dollars for lobbying against the ICT in several countries including USA and the UK. Jamaat is also conducting street protests across the country to stop the trial of their leaders, often using violent means such as attacks against the police.

The Economist's involvement in the Tribunal 

The blogosphere erupted with reactions after the news that The Economist magazine had been accused of hacking emails and Skype conversations between Presiding Judge Mohammed Nizamul Huq and war crimes expert Mr. Ahmed Ziauddin. Aunarjo Sangeet asked:

বিচারকের কথা/আলোচনা তাঁর অনুমতি ছাড়া কেন রেকর্ড/হ্যাক/প্রচার করা হবে? এই প্রশ্নটির জবাব নিশ্চয়ই মাননীয় আদালত চাইবেন। বাংলাদেশের আইনানুযায়ী (এবং ব্রিটিনের আইনেও) হ্যাকিং শাস্তিযোগ্য অপরাধ।

প্রশ্ন হচ্ছে এরা কতদিন থেকে সক্রিয়? জামায়াতের হ্যাকাররা কতদিন থেকে হ্যাকিং করছে?

Why was the private conversation of a judge recorded/hacked or published without his consent? The respected court should certainly ask why. Hacking is a punishable offence in Bangladesh (as well as in UK).

The question is how long were they active? How much infringement of privacy was done by Jamaat hackers?

This investigative post [bn] reveals the suspicious activity of a pro-Jamaat Facebook page titled ‘Awami Tribunal’ which has been publishing the audio and videos of the Skype conversations hosted in Facebook and YouTube long before the local newspaper published it.

David Bergman, a journalist covering the ICT questions in his own blog “Would Economist publication of Tribunal e-mails be in breach of Editors Code?” He comments:

So whether or not the Economist would be in breach of the Editors code in the publication of these e-mail communication depends upon whether there is a strong enough public interest in their publication, and that depends upon how serious the level of impropriety the published communication shows.

He adds in another post:

There are many in the government, and amongst its supporters, who think that the Economist has it in for the Awami League government. This is principally because of an article which claimed that the Awami League government won the last elections with ‘bags of Indian cash and advice‘ (without putting forward any evidence). It has also been consistently critical of the war crimes trials.

The former Jamaat chief Gulam Azam is taken to the Dhaka Central Jail as per the order of the tribunal. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (11/1/2012)

Bloggers also discussed whether there is enough public interest in the disclosed conversations which dealt with mainly personal affairs and some discussions on the trial.

Pritom Das comments [bn]:

আহমেদ জিয়াউদ্দিন এবং নিজামুল হক নাসিম দুইজনেই চাইছেন সরকারের তাগাদা অনুযায়ী তাড়াহুড়ো না করে একটু সময় নিয়েই কাজ শেষ করতে। একাধিকবার তারা ‘ফেয়ার ট্রায়াল’ নিশ্চিত করার কথা উল্লেখ করেছেন।

Both Ahmed Ziauddin and Ziaul Haque Nasim suggested that the trial should not proceed hastily as per government's request, proper time should be given. They have talked about a ‘fair trial’ a number of times.

Arif Jebtik writes [bn]:

ড.জিয়াউদ্দিন কোনো দলের নেতা কিংবা কর্মী নন, একেবারে আন্তর্জাতিকভাবে খ্যাতিসম্পন্ন একজন আইনজীবী যার মূল এক্সপার্টিজ ও আগ্রহের জায়গা হচ্ছে যুদ্ধাপরাধ। তিনি যদি আদৌ এরকম কথোপকথনে অংশ নিয়ে থাকেন, তাহলে সেটি ট্রাইবুনালকে আন্তর্জাতিক গ্রহণযোগ্যতা এবং সঠিক মান অর্জনে সহায়তা করার উদ্দেশ্য থেকেই করেছেন- এজন্য তিনি সাধুবাদ প্রাপ্য।

Dr. Ziauddin is not a political activist or leader, rather an internationally reputed lawyer with specialization in war crimes. If he engages in such conversation, that would only to help maintain the quality of the tribunal – so he should be commended.

গোটা আলোচনার স্ক্রিপ্ট নামে যে দীর্ঘ লেখাটি আমারদেশ পত্রিকায় প্রকাশিত হয়েছে তার অধিকাংশই ব্যক্তিগত আলোচনায় ভরপুর। একই সঙ্গে দুই আইনের মানুষ নিজেদের মধ্যে দেশের এবং আন্তর্জাতিক বিভিন্ন আইন আদালতের খবর নিয়ে আলোচনা করেছেন। এরকম আলাপের মাঝে আমি দোষ দেখি না।

The long transcript published in the Daily Amar Desh was filled with personal affairs. The both men of law discussed different issues of trials of home and abroad. I don't see any discrepancy.

It remains to be seen whether the Economist will publish the story and whether this will have any impact on the Tribunal.


  • Mujib

    What about preparing format and structure for the verdict by Ziauddin and Raihan? Does it not prove that Mr Huq is an incompetent hjudhg? What about hasting to finish the argument due to presure of the law minister? Is it not interference of justice? Mr Bali was abducted which is true beyond any question, why Mr Huqe did not consider it as a crime? There are hundreds of questions.

    • Bangladeshi people wants to listen the conclusion but the international authority wants to see the proper documentations so that they can verify the judging…so what is the harm here…if Ziauddin told the justice to make the decision then it would be an issue but there is no such thing so please stop spreading bullshit.

  • Topon

    thank you for the informative article on IWCT in Bangladesh and its discrepancy. The truth of the communication is published. there was no manipulation of the facts,conversations, communications or any unauthentic source of the document. And the involved individuals could not deny or falsify the document published. It shows the how much fair judgement could be expected from the chief judge who is connected with a non-residence legal adviser who has clear connection ( from his past active role analysis) with Ghato Dalal nirmol committee ( anti-Jamaat) and other political activities of Bangladesh. It is totally unethical and bised. The judge should resign immediately, if he has little respect to the judicial honesty. A dishonest, biased judge can’t produce a fair and just verdict. It is a question of some innocents people’s life and death.

  • […] First published at Global Voices Online. […]

  • Poor article Rezwan. I would have hoped that you would have dealt with the substance of the matter and the actual data before going for this eyewash and making a fool out of yourself and the people that you sincerely beleive you are fighting for. Perhaps you coldnt access youtube because it is blocked in bangladesh? try Vimeo The ICSF, liberation war Museum and genocide industrialissts have wasted political capital on this, undermined the prospect of a fair trial and lost the trust of a whole generation. http://vimeo.com/user15145873/videos

  • pleb

    what a pathetic post. How about addressing the content of the conversations and the clear cases of collusion between the judge, the prosecutors and ziauddin -( who is not a war crimes expert as suggested by Rezwan, but a member of the annihilation committees of the 1990’s, as is ‘Justice’ Nasim). These three entities have a clear political vendetta against Jamaat and are willing to use all means at their disposal to settle political scores and ultimately to murder their leaders. To cloak up these conversations as personal in their nature is pure folly. either Rezwan has not heard or read the conversations or he wants to mislead the readers here.

    • Trial of the war criminals is not a political Vendetta, if it was AL government would do that in their past term …but they did not…but by this time the war criminals have gathered wealth and they have gathered lots of it. Beside, their was no hidden game, the game was open as AL party declared the trial in their election manifesto and the new generation voters liked it and I liked it as a Bangladeshi and voted AL for it. I will not vote them again if they do not do the trial. BNP-Jamaat has lost the last election miserably so AL got the massage about their responsibility…now this is the high time for the trial and justice for the alleged war criminals of 1971.

  • It is quite amusing to observe how the news itches all four of the previous commenters the wrong way. Let us consider their complaints one by one.

    The first and most common line of attack is that the honorable judge is not fair. The premise of this accusation is that he was once related to Ghatok-Dalal Nirmul Committee. Someone even conveniently translated it as “anti-Jamaat”. An honest translation would be Committee for the Removal of Killers and Collaborators. A perfectly legitimate platform which gained wide popular support for its strong voice against war criminals. This attempted falsification alone exposes the motive of the respondents.

    Back to the topic. A judge being morally against war crimes is not a disqualification. If anything, this is the prime requirement is a person in charge of adjudication. The judicial process is not democratic. You don’t appoint equal number of thieves and honest men to try an act of theft. You don’t appoint equal number of (or any number of, for that matter) murders to adjudicate a homicide. You appoint someone who is fundamentally against an act which the society considers immoral and the legal system defines as unacceptable. Judge Nizamul Hoque passes this test of morality without any question.

    The issue here is not whether the judge is against the alleged crimes, it is whether he can maintain an impartial oversight of the judicial process. In the hacked conversations, we hear time and again that the judge is bitterly disappointed with the government for generating unnecessary pressure. He strongly mentions, repeatedly, that he will not submit to their request for a summary trial. The judicial process will take its own course, irrespective of political timeline or preference. (I have heard the entire conversation, do feel free to challenge me if you will.)

    The next major issue is whether the judge is out of order for discussing matters with an expatriate legal expert. Let us correct a factual error first — Dr. Ziauddin was never involved with Ghatok-Dalal Nirmul Committee, as claimed in one of the comments.

    Once again, back to the topic. Bangladesh’s legal system is plagued by partisanship — it is a common truth that we all know. The government, the prosecution, even the general masses are only interested in a ‘guilty’ verdict. They want their pound of flesh, that’s it. The judge, in an admirable and uncanny show of responsibility, disagrees with such demands and wants to achieve a higher standard. His conversations with Dr. Ziauddin are along these lines only. If you listed to the recordings, there are long segments where the two discuss similar cases around the world, common tricks and diversions and obstructions created for/against the trial, methodical processes of reaching a fair verdict, importance of laying out every detail in the verdict instead of just declaring the decision, etc. None of this is wrong. Our legal system denies a judge of such enriching consult. The judge, therefore, sought consult elsewhere. A relevant point to note: the fact that Judge Nizamul Hoque is seeking consult was never a secret. The contents were private, as they should have been.

    Another major accusation is that Dr. Ziauddin is somehow dictating the verdict. Once again, anyone who actually listens to the recordings will know that Dr. Ziauddin offered a ‘template’ to follow. They were saying that the verdict in a case so sensitive would run “500 pages” long or more. Dr. Ziauddin, given his expertise with international law and genocides, was to offer the judge sample ‘templates’ from similar trials. How the judge would decide the case and what content he would put in his judgment is his prerogative entirely. Never, not for once, is an indication of Dr. Ziauddin writing or dictating a verdict.

    Finally, it is very shrewdly suggested that the audio is authentic. I thank you for the rare honestly. The recordings were released without any apparent sign of doctoring (so far as I know). What is being doctored is the summary of the conversations. It is brandished everywhere that 17 long hours of conspiracy-talk has been leaked. Wildly inaccurate conclusions are coined, and then publicized with dramatic rhetoric. The recordings only prove (to whoever that actually cares to listen through them) that even in their most intimate private conversations, the primary concern on the judge and his consultant is about ensuring a fair and unquestionably acceptable verdict.

    Sorry to rain on your merry parade, but please refrain from such cheap tactics in the future. You are only embarrassing yourselves.


  • Jimmy222

    How on earth can the president’s website be hacked with the technologies on this planet? That is why we at website designing and hosting Uganda,http://fox.co.ug work hard to protect the site of our clients.

  • In any war there are two sides. The victor and the vanquished.
    If truth is any judge, the history is always written by the victor, in this
    case India and Bangla Desh.

    One must remember that the present Bangladesh government is
    headed by the Husina Sheikh, daughter of Sheikh Mujeeb-ur-Rehman and thus the
    claims that up to three million people were killed and between 200,000 and
    400,000 women were raped by Pakistani Army and local collaborators in one of
    the worst genocides in the history of mankind are not only extremely magnified
    but has a political connotation to it.

    No one should deny that atrocities happened but these were
    on both sides. Not all Bengalis were anti-Pakistan and thus did not agree with
    Mujeeb’s one sided effort to start a mutiny against the state and secede.

    Pakistan army was not there to rape and kill innocent
    Bengalis but was fighting not only Mukti Bahini but regular Indian troops who were
    disguised as Bengalis. India has always wanted to destroy Pakistan’s unity and
    Mujeeb helped to achieve this goal. Pakistani leaders of that time including
    Z.A.Bhutto also must be blamed for their arrogance and stupidity.

    One should not forget that rape and other atrocities were
    also carried out by the rebel militia raised by the independence movement and
    India. They targeted the Bihari ethnic group as well as those they thought gave
    aid to the Pakistani forces.

    Jamat-e-Islami of East Pakistan of that time is therefore now
    being targeted because they were against the mutiny, not on religious ground
    but on socio-political reasons.

    Interestingly, there has never been more than 30-40 thousands
    Pakistani army soldiers in East Pakistan and to say that they raped nearly half
    a million women is totally over the top. Facts should not be based on claims
    and counter claims.

    A tribunal of the truth is very important but it should have
    International judges who should be interesting in fact finding and not to score
    cheap points against Pakistan

  • didar

    the tribunal must be start newly.it has lost all its transparency.

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