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Zafrullah Chowdhury

Zafrullah Chy cleared of contempt

The International Crimes Tribunal-2 yesterday discharged Gonoshasthaya Kendra founder Zafrullah Chowdhury from a contempt of court proceeding as he apologised unconditionally for his “scandalising comments” about the tribunal and its judges.

The special court, however, said Zafrullah had proved himself a “precarious and extremely wrongheaded person” and heavily cautioned him “not to recur such irresponsible and scurrilous conduct in the name of right to freedom of expression”.

Zafrullah, also a freedom fighter, was present before the tribunal while its chairman Justice Obaidul Hassan read out the summery of the 42-page verdict.  Zafrullah did not say anything before the media yesterday. On June 10, the same tribunal found Zafrullah guilty of contempt of court for expressing concern over the punishment of Dhaka-based British journalist David Bergman, and gave him one-hour’s jail sentence in the dock and fined him Tk 5,000.

After serving the jail term inside the courtroom, he made some comments before the media. Five people, including three freedom fighters, filed a petition on July 6 seeking contempt of court proceeding against Zafarullah for his comments. “Today’s contempt of court verdict is the proof of mental illness of the three judges. It proves mental illness of three justices. Ensuring justice is not possible if the judges can’t tolerate criticism. When they can’t tolerate criticism and lack rationality, they hide themselves under cover of law,” a part of his comments reads.

The tribunal on July 12 initiated contempt proceeding against Zafarullah and asked him to explain as to why he should not be punishment for his “derogatory” comments. On August 10, Zafrullah, through his lawyer, sought unconditional apology and prayed to be exonerated from the proceeding.

Yesterday, the tribunal said: “We admit that we are allowed to suffer scrutiny and respectful comment on our ability and authority. But on no count, the above comment was ‘fair’, ‘reasonable’ and ‘legitimate’. Rather, the conduct and the utterance the contemnor Dr Zafrullah made before the media constitutes grossest scandalizing the tribunal…”

“We are of the view that only an ignorant and wrongheaded person opts to show such revolting and arrogant behaviour demeaning the dignity and lawful authority of a court of law,” the order reads. The tribunal expressed regret to note that Zafrullah, a valiant freedom fighter, was facing this contempt proceeding.

“But it does not mean that this credential has given him unfettered license to do and say whatever he likes aiming to the court of law and its judges remaining present inside the court room,” it added. Zafrullah, by his scurrilous and grave scandalising comments disparaging the lawful authority and ability of the tribunal and its judges, has committed the offence of “grossest contempt”, the tribunal said.

As he sought unconditional apology, the tribunal pardoned him saying, “Now pardoning the contemnor, as prayed, does not mean endorsing his deliberate wrong and contemptible conduct”. “It simply aims to provide space of self-correction so that in future the contemnor can remain restrained from maligning the judiciary and the judges…” it added.

Endorsing the finding of Justice Obaidul Hassan and another member Justice Md Shahinur Islam, Justice Md Mozibur Rahman Miah, also gave independent views over the case.

“I once again warn his [Zafrullah’s] act of criticism towards the judges seriously and rigorously and caution that, in future if he is found to repeat these sorts of hideous remark towards the judges, he shall have to face calamitous consequence,” Justice Mozibur Rahman wrote in the judgement, agencies report.

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