The International Crimes Tribunal-2 on Thursday issued warrant of arrest against veteran freedom fighter Zafrullah Chowdhury as he failed to pay the fine imposed by the tribunal for contempt of court within the stipulated time of seven days of awarding the sentence.
On June 10, the tribunal sentenced him to suffer one-hour jail and pay a fine of Tk 5,000 within seven days, in default suffer jail for one month, as he was found guilty of contempt of court for a statement criticising the tribunal’s conviction of journalist David Bergman for contempt of court.
Zafrullah, also the founder of Gonoshasthaya Kendra, served the sentence on the same day, spending the one-hour time at the tribunal’s dock.
On June 16, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court had stayed till July 5 the tribunal’s verdict that fined Zafrullah Tk 5,000 on charge of contempt of the tribunal.
The tribunal’s acting deputy registrar Md Aftabuzzaman said that the tribunal issued the warrant of arrest against Zafrullah to serve the one-month jail term as he failed to pay the fine within seven days.
He, however, said that the tribunal was unaware about any stay order by the Appellate Division on payment of the fine. Zafrullah’s lawyer Rashna Imam told New Age that issuance of the warrant ‘surprised’ her because the Judge-in Chamber of the Appellate Division stayed the payment of the fine on Zafarullah till July 5, two days ago, in presence of the attorney general, and the matter was circulated widely in the media.
‘We have already obtained certified copy of the stay order today,’ she said.
Rashna said the Supreme Court’s registrar would communicate the Appellate Division’s judge-in chamber’s order in due course to the International Crimes Tribunal.
She said that if the police come to arrest Zafarullah, they will show the certified copy of the order to the police.
‘I think the order of the highest court of the country must be complied with,’ she added.
Besides Zafrullah, the tribunal also found the statement co-signed by 22 others eminent citizens contemptuous but exonerated them giving ‘serious caution’ as they had done such activity for the first time.
The tribunal said that it was Zafrullah’s second contempt offence and that he should have been given ‘significant punishment’ but it had considered his old age in giving the sentence.
This was for the first time that a tribunal meant for trying 1971 war crimes suspects has awarded punishment to an eminent freedom fighter for contempt of court. The same tribunal had earlier awarded punishment for three Jamaat leaders and David Bergmen in two separate cases of contempt of court.
The 23 contemnors are among the 49 citizens who signed the joint statement on December 18, 2014 which Prothom Alo published on December 20, 2014.
The rest 26 were exonerated earlier from contempt proceedings as they offered ‘unconditional’ and ‘unqualified’ apologies. As soon as the conviction was announced on June 10, Zafrullah requested the tribunal to stay the orders to give him chance to appeal to the higher court.
As the tribunal did not pay heed to his request, he, addressing the tribunal judges said ‘you have misused your power.’ Meanwhile, the Asian Legal Resource Centre in a statement said the government in Bangladesh constantly denied freedom of expression and assembly.
‘Repressive legislations and contempt of court charges are being used as tools to suppress independent voices,’ said the statement sent on Thursday.
It mentioned that Zafrullah, a laureate of the Right Livelihood Award, had been convicted last week by the ICT-2 for a statement supporting a British journalist, who was himself convicted by the Tribunal in a contempt of court charge. ‘Both contempt convictions are significant blows to freedom of speech in Bangladesh.’
The government was also curtailing the freedom of peaceful assembly and association of civil society organisations and political opposition, the statement read.
‘There is a tangible fear that, in the absence of space for liberal voices, radical groups will proliferate.’