British reporter convicted for doubting Bangladesh war toll

David Bergman
David Bergman

David Bergman

DHAKA: A Bangladesh court on Tuesday found an award-winning British journalist guilty of contempt for questioning the official death toll of three million in the country’s 1971 independence war.

Judges from a special war crimes court ruled that a blog and two other articles written by David Bergman “hurt the feelings of the nation” and ordered him to pay a 5,000 taka ($65) fine or go to prison for a week.

The case was seen as a test of the country’s commitment to free speech after Bergman cast doubt on the official version of one of the most contentious issues in Bangladesh’s short history.

In a November 2011 post, he questioned whether there was evidence to support the official death toll and referred to other studies suggesting the real figure may be much lower.

Most independent estimates put the actual toll at hundreds of thousands.

Delivering the verdict in the capital Dhaka, presiding judge Obaidul Hassan told the courtroom that “freedom of expression can be exercised in public interest.”

“Bergman has no issue of public interest,” the judge added.

The judges also ordered that the 49-year-old journalist, who writes for Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper, remain in the courtroom until they left their seats, in a symbolic imprisonment.

Bergman said he was “shocked,” terming the order a matter of “great concern to those interested in freedom of speech and the proper scrutiny of state institutions.”

“It is likely to make it increasingly difficult for journalists and others to comment on judicial proceedings and judgments in Bangladesh, even when those proceedings are completed,” he told AFP.

The International Crimes Tribunal, a domestic court that has found several top opposition leaders guilty of mass murder during the war, also asked the government to investigate Bergman’s reporting on its work.

“He has a perverse mindset about the 1971 war. Let the government carefully scan the matter,” said Hassan.

 
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