Bangladesh court convicts British journalist on contempt charges

On December 2, 2014, a special war crimes court convicted Dhaka-based British journalist David Bergman of contempt in connection with his reporting, according to news reports. The court ruled that Bergman’s writing “portraying derogatory criticism” had “hurt the feelings of the nation,” and ordered him to pay a 5,000 taka (US$65) fine or serve seven days in prison, news reports said. The court added that Bergman’s reporting “tended to attack and [lower] the authority and majesty of the Tribunal.”

Bergman, an editor for the local English-language daily New Age who also writes a blog titled Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal, had written about the activities of the domestic tribunal, which is investigating alleged war crimes committed during the 1971 war of independence in which Bangladesh seceded from Pakistan. The court has come under international criticism for its statutes, rules of procedure, and practices since it was set up in 2009.

In February, a lawyer filed a case against Bergman in connection with three articles he published on his blog between November 2011 and January 2013 that criticized the domestic tribunal. Bergman had also questioned whether there was evidence to support the official death toll of 3 million and referred to studies suggesting the actual figure may be much lower.

In April 2014, the court ordered Bergman to provide a written explanation within 15 days as to why he should not face punitive measures such as a jail term, fine, or both.

Following the verdict, Bergman issued a statement on his blog that read, “[A]part from its impact upon me, the judgment is likely to make it increasingly difficult for journalists and other writers in Bangladesh to comment critically on any judicial proceedings and judgments, even when those proceedings are completed.”

The decision cannot be appealed under the rules of the court, according to Bergman.