Libel Laws,  Your View

“This article has been removed”

This is a guest post by Effendi, cross-posted from The Spittoon

Back in December 2007, the Economist published ‘Guilty at Birth’, an article dealing with Jamaat-e-Islam’s stake in the elections (January 2008) in view of its legacy and culpability in war crimes that took place in the 1971 Bangladesh genocide. Soon after, the editor of the Economist received a letter before action from the representatives of the Jamaat’s leader Motiur Rahman Nizami, demanding the withdrawal of the article backed up by a threat to sue the magazine.

Soon after receiving the letter from Nizami, the Economist retracted the article from its online archives. So if you have a pass into the subscription-only Economist website, you are able to see that the article no longer exists at this address, as it previously did, and is instead replaced with this cryptic message:

“This article has been removed”

Luckily however, the journalist Saleem Samad, who runs the ‘Bangladesh Watchdog’ blog published the article in its entirety prior to it being pulled, which you can read here.

Frequent calls for war-crimes trials have been ignored. This time, however, the unelected government’s hand may be forced by the new unity among the big parties, and by support for the demands among parts of the army. The army may want only to clip Jamaat’s wings and cleanse it of the taint of 1971. Many civilians, however, are motivated by distrust of religion-based politics.

Time is running out. Many witnesses, and many of the accused, have died. The head of the interim administration, Fakhruddin Ahmed, has said that the government would welcome prosecutions initiated by private citizens. But citizens’ groups insist that the state must act as prosecutor in crimes of such magnitude.

So far, the interim government has not faced a serious political challenge. But election boycotts are a common tactic in Bangladesh, and could be used to put pressure on it—provided, of course, that its military backers decide to go ahead with the polls. Trials relating to crimes committed so long ago may seem irrelevant in a country facing so many immediate disasters. It is still reeling from Cyclone Sidr and devastating floods. But for those demanding trials, Bangladesh’s very identity is at stake. Many agreed with Zafar Sobhan, a political commentator, when he wrote recently that the immunity enjoyed by Jamaat since 1971 is the country’s “original sin”, polluting the body politic far worse even than financial corruption. Is there another country, he asked, where those, like Jamaat, “who opposed the birth of a country or those who collaborated with its enemies” have been rehabilitated?

Now I can’t find a single word on there which could be regarded as defamatory or even factually incorrect. The depressing upshot of this story is that when clerical-fascists with a track record of mass murder can call the shots and silence even the most robust and respectable journalistic institutions in our land, it is a sign of the appalling state of our defamation laws and of our freedom of expression.

I mean, just take a look at Yossarian’s latest entry to see what I mean.

hat tip: zxxm


A commentator (Imad) made this observation:

“Who gives a toss what you think is not defamatory or factually incorrect. The article claims he was a part of al badr. Nizami states denies being part of al badr and has never been tried for war crimes. Therefore unless the Economist can prove otherwise, they are obliged to remove the accusation.”

And that is wholly correct, Nizami has never been tried for war crimes which places him in untouchable territory when it comes to assigning guilt against him. The irony is that the then secular leader of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman of the Awami League granted, in a fit of despotic largesse, a “general amnesty” to all suspected war criminals in November 1973. (here is the JI crowing about that same Amnesty on their own website). Which is how members of Jamaat who were guilty of “rape, murder, arson and plunder” have managed to remain unprosecuted and have, in essence, walked away scot-free for their crimes against humanity. But as you rightly point out, this is the same reason why the Economist can be forced to retract any reports which associate the crimes to key members of the Jamaat-e-Islami.

However, there is enough physical, anecdotal and oral-historical evidence from multiple, independent, reliable and well placed witnesses and victims to suggest that members of the Jamaat-e-Islami commited the crimes that they are accused of. And that is why the Economist and anyone else can cite these sources when reporting on the Jamaat. Which is what they do when they publish an objective analytical piece exploring why there is there is still such deep electoral antipathy towards the Jamaat-e-Islami in Bangladesh nearly 40 years after the genocide took place. Nizami is not concerned about being implicated in a court of law, he knows that Mujib’s Amnesty ensures that may never happen. What he is concerned about is the damage it has done to the electability of Jamaat in South Asia. So he threatens to sue the Economist! Nice work.

But as it stands, Nizami can and will continue to deny all allegations against him, till the cows come home. And he and other members of the Jamaat can, when they want to, unleash the full force of expensive solicitors firms in London (Saudi backed, naturally) to bring pressure on The Economist (or the Guardian) to withdraw reports linking them to their alleged and completely unprosecuted crimes.

To add to the sordid hypocricy, it is now possible for Jamaat-e-Islami, who base their politics on the fundamental premise that ‘the only law is Sharia law’, to insist that Nizami is innocent of all charges of rape, murder, arson and plunder of Bengali Muslims because he has never been prosecuted by a secular court of law.