The Bangladesh Supreme Court's decision today to uphold the death sentence of opposition leader Salauddin Quader Chowdhury shows that the judiciary in Bangladesh is exacting political revenge on behalf of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina instead of dispensing justice. As a result of this decision, Chowdhury could be executed at any moment despite eyewitness evidence that calls into question the validity of his conviction and the fairness of his trial.
The International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) and, now, the Supreme Court have fallen short of their responsibilities by handing down a death sentence without adhering to internationally recognized due process standards. Several key defense witnesses - including a former U.S. ambassador -attest in sworn statements that Chowdhury was out of the country when the alleged crimes were committed. The ICT and Supreme Court have denied this crucial evidence from being presented at trial or in appeals. In total, the ICT prevented 26 defense witnesses from testifying.
In today's decision, the Supreme Court refused to accept a certificate and attested letter from the University of the Punjab in Lahore, Pakistan that clearly shows Chowdhury was a student there at the time of the alleged crimes.
While the courts have arbitrarily limited evidence on behalf of the defense, they have given the prosecution free reign. During Chowdhury's trial, the ICT accepted hearsay and subjective written accounts as legitimate evidence on behalf of the prosecution. Chowdhury could only submit four defense witnesses while the prosecution was allowed 41. Pointing to further deviation from international norms, Amnesty International reported that Chowdhury was subjected to torture during detention before his trial.
This and other ICT trials have rightfully drawn criticism from prominent human rights and political figures from throughout the world, including the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U.S. Congress, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law, No Peace Without Justice and Amnesty International.
Among the strongest critics have been U.S. Senators John McCain and Jack Reed, who recently sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State of John Kerry expressing deep concerns about Chowdhury's case.
- "We are writing to express our deep concerns over reports regarding the case of Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, a prominent political opponent of the current Bangladesh government, who faces the imminent prospect of execution despite substantial doubts about his guilt of the alleged crimes."
- "As the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, we are troubled by these developments. We have long supported assistance for Bangladesh, recognizing the immense needs of its people, and have also supported a strong relationship between the United States and Bangladesh in defense and military issues. But we expect our partners to respect human rights and basic principles of justice. Consequently, we urge you to press the Bangladeshi government to delay any steps towards Mr. Chowdhury's execution, to review his case closely, and to ensure the ICT proceeds under the highest standards of fairness and due process."
Should Bangladesh wish to remain in good standing with the international community, Prime Minister Hasina must correct this injustice. Bangladesh has demonstrated a disregard for basic principles of jurisprudence and human rights. With the world looking on, it is imperative that Prime Minister Hasina halt this unjust execution, reform the ICT and allow legitimate political opposition to flourish.