David Bergman was recently convicted on contempt charges by Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal (ICT). Bergman was sentenced to a symbolic “simple imprisonment” and a fine of $56. The charges were out of comments he made in three different blog posts about cases that were before the ICT. Specifically, the court looked at one blog post that questioned the number of dead in the 1971 war. The court stated that the questioning of this number Some observers have estimated that the number could be anywhere between 300,000 to 3 million. The court found that Bergman’s questioning of the number of people killed to have no legitimate public interest. It further noted that, his questioning “disgraces and demeans the nation’s wishes and holy emotion and that it was based on malicious intent designed to scandalize the court.” Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the International Commission of Jurists obviously disagree. They do not take a position on how many people were killed but do state that the topic is something that all international criminal tribunals have to deal with and was completely legitimate for Bergman to question. The three groups have also raised concerns about the language of the opinion that gives the court broad discretion to keep prosecuting journalist for criticizing the ICT.
The ICT is meant to serve as a war crimes tribunal in Bangladesh. Its purpose is “to bring to account those responsible for grave violation of international law during the country 1971 war of independence.” The ICT has used contempt of court proceedings against some of its critics. There have been concerns over the procedural aspects of the court including concerns about sours of law and rules of procedure. The conviction of Bergman is just another concern that has arisen. Many observers including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and International Commission of Jurists are concerned that the conviction narrows the ability for outsiders to comment on the proceedings at the ICT. Richard Bennet, a director at Amnesty International, stated “Rather than respecting the right to freedom of expression, the ICT has used contempt of court proceedings against some of its critics, and those who are convicted have no right of appeal.” The decision is also in direct conflict with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Bangladesh is a party to. The ICCPR states that all “branches of governmental authority, including the judiciary, must respect and protect freedom of expression. Any restrictions on free speech must be necessary and strictly proportionate to protect national security, public order, public health, morals, or the rights of others”. It is really not clear here that Bergman’s blog posts affected national security, public order, public health, morals, or the rights of others has specifically stated by the ICCPR.
Should it be within the ICT, a war crime tribunal, jurisdiction to convict a journalist for his blog posts?
What should the international community do to prevent future journalist from being persecuted?