Bangladesh war crimes trial: Blogger killed, violence escalates


Feb 17, 2013

 

Dhaka, Bangladesh: Blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider, a 30-year-old architect, was found dead near the gate of his home on Friday night, a local police official, Abdul Latif Sheikh, said. An autopsy showed Haider had at least eight stab wounds, said Sohel Mahmud, a physician at Dhaka Medical College Hospital said.

Police have launched an investigation into the killing, but would not say anything about who may have been responsible. Haider’s family and friends suspect Jamaat-e-Islami in the attack, but the Islamic party issued a statement Saturday denying involvement.

Demonstrations in Bangladesh. AP.Demonstrations in Bangladesh. AP.

His friends said Haider posted many statements in his blog urging the young generation to support tougher punishments for Mollah and others facing charges stemming from the 1971 war for independence.

For many in Bangladesh, the “V” for victory sign was more than they could bear.

They had waited more than four decades for justice in the mass killings and rapes during their independence war. But there was a smiling Abdul Quader Mollah on Feb. 5 apparently celebrating his life sentence — given in place of an expected death sentence — for his role in the killing of 381 civilians.

Within hours, thousands of university students demanding his death poured into the streets of Dhaka, the seeds of what has grown into a mass protest that has exposed again the unhealed wounds from the nation’s 1971 war for independence from Pakistan.

“I could not take it. That was really insulting,” Gazi Nasiruddin Khokon, a protester who works for an online newspaper, said of Mollah’s victorious gesture after his sentencing last week. “If we don’t get proper justice for such crimes, where would we stand in the future?”

Mollah was convicted by a special war crimes tribunal that was set up to hold people accountable for the first time for their roles in the civil war, where Bangladesh says as many as 3 million people were killed and 200,000 women raped by Pakistani troops and local collaborators.

But the trials are also seen as part of a long and bitter rivalry between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the main opposition leader, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, who is allied with the Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami, many of whose leaders face charges before the tribunal.

Jamaat, which opposed Bangladesh’s fight for independence, and Zia have called the tribunal politically motivated, while international rights groups have raised questions about the conduct of the trials. The head of one of the tribunals resigned in December over reports he had improper conversations with a lawyer about the panel.

Mollah, an assistant secretary of Jamaat, was found guilty Feb. 5 of killing a student and a family of 11 and of aiding Pakistani troops in killing 369 others. Members of his party took to the streets in anger at his conviction, exploding homemade bombs and clashing with police.

But they were soon overshadowed by thousands of protesters who flooded a major intersection in the capital, Dhaka, upset by what they said was a lenient sentence of life in prison, which actually means just 14 years in Bangladesh. They also were inflamed by the image of Mollah smiling at journalists and holding up two fingers in a “V” sign as he was led from the court, apparently in celebration of his avoiding the death penalty.

Fueled by online posts, the protests grew until hundreds of thousands of people took over the Shahbagh intersection, which they renamed Projonmo Chattar, or New Generation Platform.

Many slept there, collecting donations for food. Others came after work and stayed late into the night, listening to chants for justice over loudspeakers. Some beat drums and wrapped their heads in scarves with slogans saying “We want death for the war criminals” and “Traitors have no place in this land.”

The protesters also called for Jamaat to be banned.

The immensely popular national cricket team came to the site to express solidarity with the protesters, and on Thursday evening, organizers said more than 100,000 candles were lit at the site.

To counter any accusations that the protest was organized by Hasina’s government, politicians were banned from the stage.

“This is a history. A new history is in the making,” said Aminul Islam, a 30-year-old bank employee at the protest site.

“It is unbelievable,” he said. “This is our fight, this is another war, not with rifles in hand, but with an unconditional urge to bringing those to book for killing our people and dishonoring our mothers and sisters.”

Even though many of the protesters had not been born when the war raged, they were still scarred by it and the lack of accountability for those accused of crimes during the fighting, said Hassan Shahriar. To some that lack of accountability was reflected in the fact two members of Jamaat have served as Cabinet ministers.

“Generation after generation have seen no remedy, no punishment for the perpetrators. Rather they have become influential political actors, social actors, and the new generation has been silently frustrated,” he said. “The wounds are still fresh.”

The protesters are also fed up with corruption, nepotism and other perceived injustices and have seized on the tribunals to express their dissatisfaction, he said.

On Saturday, nearly 100,000 people mourned as the body of a blogger believed to be one of the organizers of the protest was brought to the intersection.

In response to the demonstrations, the government has sent a bill to Parliament that would amend the law creating the tribunals, allowing the prosecution to appeal if it felt a sentence handed down was too lenient.

Law Minister Shafique Ahmed said the bill was expected to be passed by Parliament on Sunday, and the government has said it would use it to appeal Mollah’s sentence.

One legal analyst, Shahdeen Malik, said the amendments would strengthen the law, and that the country’s legal system could be counted on to give verdicts based on evidence and not simply in response to street pressure.

But New York-based Human Rights Watch criticized the proposed amendments, saying that passing retroactive laws to overturn unpopular verdicts violated the country’s commitments to protect the rights of defendants.

“Convictions of those responsible for the 1971 atrocities is important for the country, but not at the expense of the principles that make Bangladesh a democracy,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

AP

 

Voices from Bangladesh- Youth Power #Sundayreading


 

 Shayantani,

In Bangladesh political parties are mired in corruption. Amongst ordinary people, there is little hope of achieving positive change through party politics. The brutal stabbing of Bishwajit in December 2012 in front of hundreds of people reveals this to be a country deeply divided by communal tensions. The destruction of Ramu in late 2012 show that this is a countr­­y where religious fundamentalists dare to burn down an entire Buddhist village. This is a country where the murder of a journalist couple in February 2012remains uninvestigated and the killers remain unpunished. This is a country where war criminals and perpetrators of genocide have the privilege of being members of parliament.
We, the youth, had almost forgotten that we are the strength of this country. For so long we forgot that Bangladesh was born as a secular, democratic country. We forgot that we have the power to change our future. We forgot how to stand up for justice. We, the people did not know how to raise our voice.
On the 5th of February 2013, the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) delivered a verdict on Abdul Quader Mulla. Widely known as ‘koshai Quader’ (butcher Quader), he is a leading member of the political party Jamat Islaami and was prosecuted at the ICT for killing 344 people during the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971. Abdul Quader Mulla was sentenced to life imprisonment. It was a day that has taken on special significance for my generation and for the history of Bangladesh. The first verdict passed by the ICT was against Mawlana Abul Kalam. Known as ‘Bachchu razakar,’ he was sentenced to death for killing one family during 1971. The question arose: if Bachchu gets life sentence for killing one family, why did Quader Mulla only receive lifetime imprisonment for killing hundreds of people and raping an eleven year old child? It smells of corruption.
Rumors began to circulate that the justice of the tribunal delivered such a verdict under the influence of a bribe or a threat. The people of Bangladesh were devastated. Would there never be justice for the heinous crimes committed in 1971? They lost all hope and they were angry. The crimes committed at the very birth of the nation need to be addressed if we are to change the corrupted system. If we cannot bring justice for the crime that has been committed 42 years ago, how will we demand justice for all other crimes in recent times? If we cannot bring those to justice who were against the birth of the nation and still working against the nation’s welfare, will there be any moral ground for fighting corruption and injustice?
Around 4 pm on 5th February, through social network sites and receiving phone calls from friends, we received news that a group of bloggers had gathered near Shahbag, the heart of Dhaka. Hearing that many passersby had stopped to support them I immediately felt like perhaps there was some hope for justice. I rushed to Shahbag to stand with them. There were about 50 people sitting on the street. I sat with them. Some of the bloggers instructed us to guard the periphery and by the evening, there were several hundreds of people gathered. The surprising part was that all these people were young. These were Bangladeshis who never saw war of liberation. They never saw the rape of women and children in 1971. But all of them were united for one purpose: the highest possible punishment under Bangladesh law for war criminals.
By the second day, thousands of people had gathered at Shahbag. With the help of press coverage and electronic media, across the nation people came to know about the protest at Shahbag and began to gather in their respective districts. Within 3 days, the number of people at Shahbag exceeded half a million and the number kept increasing.
So far, this has been the biggest social movement that I have seen in my life. It is the largest non violent movement since the birth of Bangladesh and globally it is one of the biggest uprisings against religious fundamentalism in recent history. The youth identified politics driven by Islamic fundamentalism as the root of the problem. Their anger focused in on the terror unleashed on Bangladesh by Jamaat-e-Islami and their student arm, Islami Chhatra Shibir. Members of these parties slaughter innocent people in the name of Islam. The youth identified ‘Jamaat-Shibir’ driven business, health, education and media organizations and vowed to boycott them. The youth demand the elimination of political parties based on religion. We demand that we proceed towards a secular Bangladesh.
Against all odds, Bangladesh won the war in 1971, which gave us independence. The youth of 1971 were fearless and patriotic. They fought till their last breath. They fought for justice. And now history is repeating itself. We are fighting a war now in 2013. Our weapons are candles, paint brushes, colors, music and our voices.
We have found our voice and we know now how to raise it. We stand up for justice and what’s right. At Shahbag we are building a platform from which we can stand up against crime and corruption. We are the strength of Bangladesh. In fact, we are the strength of the world.
visit her blog at -http://shayantani-twisha.blogspot.in/

 

Protests erupt in Bangladesh after war-crimes verdict


By Farid Ahmed for CNN
February 7, 2013 — U

Dhaka, Bangladesh (CNN) — Outraged by a court verdict they considered too lenient, thousands of people took to the streets across Bangladesh on Wednesday demanding the death penalty for an Islamic party leader convicted of war crimes carried out more than four decades ago.

“We’ve taken additional measures across the country to heighten security,” State Minister for Home Affairs Shamsul Hoque told reporters.

From horror to hope: Boy’s miracle recovery from brutal attack

The demonstrations began Tuesday, when an International Crimes Tribunal sentenced Abdul Quader Mollah, assistant secretary general for the Jamaat-e-Islami party, to life in prison.

The Jamaat-e-Islami party had called for a two-day general strike across Bangladesh beginning Tuesday, and demonstrators clashed with police and demanded that ruling party officials scrap the trial process.

The government on Tuesday evening called in paramilitary troopers to maintain law and order in Dhaka and elsewhere as deadly protests erupted after the verdict.

Jamaat-e-Islami protested the verdict as demonstrators — including some from ruling party alliances — took to the streets demanding the death penalty for Mollah.

Read more: General strike disrupts life in Bangladesh

“We’ve deployed troopers from the Border Guards of Bangladesh to maintain law and order,” Hoque said.

Hundreds of Dhaka University students took to the streets in the capital’s Shahbagh Square, where they were joined by other city residents in protests that began Tuesday.

Home Ministry officials said security forces were patrolling in Dhaka and other major cities, including in the large southeastern port city of Chittagong, where at least four people were killed Tuesday during clashes between police and supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami.

Police opened fire and shot tear-gas shells to disperse the protesters, who torched and otherwise damaged more than 100 vehicles in major cities.

Jamaat-e-Islami said its members would continue to protest; many of its leaders are behind bars facing charges of murder, arson, looting and rape stemming from the war of independence in 1971.

Read more: Clinton leaves drama in China for turmoil in Bangladesh

They said the war-crimes trials, which began after more than 40 years of independence, was done with “ill political motive.”

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina showed no sign of backing down, saying the trials would be completed at any cost.

The government, which promised in its election pledges in 2008 to complete the war-crimes trials, set up the tribunals in 2010.

Amid tight security, a three-member panel of judges of the International Crimes Tribunal-2 delivered the judgment against Mollah in a crowded courtroom on Tuesday.

Mollah, 64, was found guilty of five of six charges, including murder.

They included crimes against humanity, tribunal Chairman Justice Obaidul Hassan said.

After the verdict was read, Mollah stood from the chair on which he had been seated and cried, “Allahu Akbar!” (God is Great!)

He declared he was innocent and began to curse the judges and the government.

He then pulled a copy of the Quran from his pocket and held it in front of him, saying that the judges would one day find themselves on trial in accordance with the holy book’s law.

Lawmakers of the ruling party alliance criticized the verdict in parliament and asked the prosecution to appeal for the death penalty.

Mollah, who was the chief of the students’ wing of Jamaat-e-Islami in 1971, is the first Jamaat-e-Islami leader convicted in a war-crimes case by the tribunal.

On January 21, the same tribunal sentenced to death the first war crimes convict, Abul Kalam Azad, alias Bachchu Razakar.

Bangladesh had been the eastern portion of Pakistan until it gained independence in 1971 in a war that killed 3 million people.

 

#RIP -Dipankar Chakraborty (1941-2013)


January 29, 2013, Sanhati

55.jpg

Dipankar Chakraborty, leftist author and activist, and editor of the Bengali political magazine ‘Aneek’, passed away at 10.05 PM on 27th January, at his Teghoria residence in Kolkata following a cardiac arrest. He was one of the founder members of APDR (Association for Protection of Democratic Rights). At the time of death he was one of the Vice Presidents of APDR. Aneek was launched in 1964 and has been published uninterruptedly since; except for the 19 months when Chakraborty was in jail during the Emergency. He had been a dedicated supporter of and participant in peoples’ movements in West Bengal, while not holding back from criticizing what he felt were failings of these movements. His loss would be sorely felt in the movemental and intellectual space in Bengal.

Press Release from Aneek

Mahasveta Devi, Sankhaya Ghosh and others condoled the death of Dipankar Chakroborty, the editor of Left journal ‘ANEEK’.

Dipankar Chakroborty (71), the founder-editor of the independent Left journal, ANEEK, passed away on Sunday night. A cardiac patient, he had suffered respiratory problem last evening and died on the way to hospital. He is survived by his wife, son and daughter and grandchildren.

He was born in Dhaka in 1941 and grew up in Murshidabad after the partition. Educated in Baharampur and Kolkata, Chakroborty taught economics at Krishnanath college at Baharampur. he later settled in Kolkata.

A veteran of the Left movement since the sixties, he began publishing and editing ANEEK since 1964 when ruptures in the CPI on ideo-political issues led to first split and birth of the CPI(M).

In the wake of the Naxalbari uprising three years later that had triggered the second split and birth of the CPI(ML), Chakroborty did not join the new party. But he made ANEEK an independent forum for debates on contemporary communist movement, both national and international.

Under his stewardship, ANEEK has become one of the leading left periodical in Bengal and among the few ‘little magazines’ which have survived five decades against all odds. He himself was an accomplished political commentator and had several books to his credit. Chakroborty was jailed by the S.S Roy government during the Emergency. A life-long defender of human rights, he was also one of the founders of Association for Protection of Democratic Rights and its vice-president.

He was always active in the campaigns of release of political prisoners irrespective of the creed of the ruling parties and governments since the seventies. He stood by peoples’ movements and joined protests in their support despite his failng health– from Maruti to Nonadanga.

He was also one of the founders of Peoples’ Books Society, a major publication house and a enthusiast of Little Magazine movement in Bengal.

Noted novelist and activist Mahasveta Devi who knew Chakroborty closely expressed her ‘profound shock’. ” I am deeply grieved. It’s an irreplaceable loss for the human rights movement as well as for me,” the octogenarian writer said. Poet Sankhaya Ghosh, also mourned Chakroborty’s death. ” I feel like losing a near and dear one,” he said.

Deadly savings US corporations risk foreign workers’ lives — then evade blame


 

By Priyanka Borpujari

|  GLOBE CORRESPONDENT  JANUARY 02, 2013

A Bangladeshi Army soldier walked through rows of burnt sewing machines after a November factory fire killed 112 workers.

AFP/GETTY IMAGES

A Bangladeshi Army soldier walked through rows of burnt sewing machines after a November factory fire killed 112 workers.

AT 4:45 p.m. on March 25, 2011, hundreds of bells rang across cities and towns in the United States to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire. The fire, which killed 146 garment workers — 129 of them women — managed to get the New York State Legislature to create the Factory Investigative Commission, which eventually made way for better labor laws.

It has been a century since that fire that woke up the United States to labor and worker safety reforms. But nothing has changed in another part of the world — where many US companies are currently manufacturing their products. On Nov. 24, 2012, 112 garment workers were killed in a blaze at the Tazreen Fashions factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Just two months earlier, on Sept. 5, 25 workers at a fireworks factory in Sivakasi, India, were killed under similar circumstances; a week later, a total of 283 workers died in two separate fires in Pakistan — 258 in a garment factory in Karachi, and 25 in a shoe factory in Lahore. Two years ago, 29 people were killed in a similar fire in Dhaka, Bangladesh, while manufacturing Gap products. In each of the cases, the fires were followed by a blame game over responsibility and liability. Interestingly, only the fire in Bangladesh has made international headlines because the factory was used by one of the suppliers of Walmart.

But will this well-deserved media attention bring about justice for the families of the victims? An incident like this surely does not go down well in the annual report of companies. For the American companies that worked through numerous intermediaries to get their products made cheaply, the immediate response has repeatedly been to disassociate from the incident, and thereby avoid taking any responsibility for any safety lapse or liability. Walmart has said that it has already fired its supplier, Success Apparel, which had outsourced work to a company called Tuba Group, which owns the Tazreen Fashions factory. Success Apparel has said that it did not know its clothes were being made at the Tazreen Fashions factory. In this maze of subcontracting, which is a norm in the race to minimize costs, the lives of the workers are in limbo, with nobody ready to take responsibility for their working conditions.

Only $470 million has been doled out by Union Carbide Corporation as compensation to the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy, one of the world’s worst industrial disasters. On Dec. 2, 1984, 27 tons of methyl isocyanate leaked into the city of Bhopal in central India, killing 25,000 people to date, with 120,000 still suffering from air and water pollution. Dow Chemical Company, which merged with Union Carbide in 2001, denies any liability for the incident. It continues to evade Indian courts and the demand for compensation. Almost three decade since the accident, Bhopalis await justice. A horrible disaster, a worse injustice thereafter.

Time and again, corporations have tried to save face by sponsoring sporting events and launching humanitarian foundations. Dow Chemical was the worldwide partner for the London Olympics in 2012. But wouldn’t taking up responsibility for accidents and cleaning up the mess be a better and more credible PR exercise to impress their audience?

But that audience surely does not include workers. At a 2011 meeting to find ways to improve safety at Bangladesh garment factories, according to Bloomberg News, Walmart and Gap officials told attendees that they were not willing to participate in paying for the electrical and fire safety of the 4,500 garment factories in the country. This, they said, was financially nonviable. But the Washington-based Worker Rights Consortium has found that such essential safety upgrades would cost just 10 cents per garment. Yet, for Walmart, which has been reported to outsource the making of garments worth more than $1 billion a year in Bangladesh, saving 10 cents per item appears to be more important than the safety of the workers.

Walmart rides high on its popularity in the United States. With economics and numbers fueling a company’s growth, might it be possible for Walmart’s customer base to demand their favorite store act more responsibly, even as they continue to enjoy its competitively low prices? Perhaps it is up to its customers to decide if 10 cents for a garment is more expensive than the safety of the person who makes it under pathetic conditions. A new wave of safety reforms is also needed, along with a corporate social responsibility that goes beyond events sponsorships and colorful brochures with photographs of smiling children.

Bangladesh freedom fighter says war crimes trial will set an example for world


Dhaka , Sun, 04 Nov 2012ANI

Dhaka, Nov.4 (ANI): Bangladeshi freedom fighter and chairman of the country’s University Grants Commission A. K. Azad Chowdhury has said that the successful holding of the war crimes trial in his country would set an example for the rest of world.

War crimes tribunal, which was set in 2010, requires wrapping up investigations of all those who were accused, as the government aims to finish their trials before Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s five-year term ends. She took charge of office in early 2009.

A former chief of Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh‘s biggest Islamic political party and the country’s top Islamist leader, Golan Azam, is on trial for helping the Pakistani army during Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence when the then East Pakistan broke away to form Bangladesh.

Jamaat -e-Islami and its close ally the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party allege that the tribunal hearing the case takes orders from the government.

While talking reporters in Dhaka, the former freedom fighter stressed that holding of trial in a proper manner will project Bangladesh with a positive image.

“Why not there should be a justified trial to strengthen and bolster the human values, and give a teaching and lesson to the world that nobody can get away doing this sort of genocide and criminal activity and war crimes? This is more needed for the civilisation to uphold this sort of trial. It is not only Bangladesh’s cause, definitely Bangladesh has sore point in its heart,” said Chowdhury.

Chowdhury also added that the implementation of justice in this case will deter other tyrants in the world and will put an end to such acts of crime against humanity in future.

“The world at large should and will appreciate in such a manner that no other evil force in the world wherever it is will venture to commit crimes against humanity, to commit war crime. We are living in a civilised society though there are hotspots in the world. But systematic genocide and killing and such incidents are few and far behind. If this trial is properly done that will work as a deterrent to any other people who are conspiring or will be conspiring to commit genocide,” he said.

Chowdhury said that if anybody would try to defend the alleged war criminals, it would put the entire genocide undercover.

“This sort of trial should not prolong that much. Some people are bringing about all those defence with the objective to delay the whole process. This is in another word denial of the war crime trial. I expect the process will be expedited for the sake of humanity, for the sake of Bengali nation, for the sake of mankind,” he said.

Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan, gained independence with India’s help in December 1971, following a nine-month war against Pakistan. Around 3 million people were killed.

The Islamist groups in Bangladesh want to scrap “secularism” as a state principle in the Muslim-majority country.

Jamaat-e-Islami opposed Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan and fought with the Pakistan army.

They were allegedly involved in war crimes and have thousands of militant followers, including in the Defence forces, analysts say.

Dozens of other Jamaat leaders including its chief Moulana Motiur Rahman Nizami and secretary-general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid are already in prison accused of war crimes.

A court in Bangladesh charged prominent opposition politician Moulana Delwar Hossain Sayedi with war crimes in the country’s 1971 war of independence.

Court officials said Sayedi was the first to be formally charged with war crimes, and others would be charged soon. (ANI)

Bachchu Razakar goes on trial
Sun, Nov 4th, 2012 7:18 pm BdST
Dhaka, Nov 4 (bdnews24.com)—The second war crimes tribunal of Bangladesh on Sunday ordered the start of the trial against Jamaat-e-Islami leader Abul Kalam Azad, better known as ‘Bachchu Razakar’, on eight charges of crimes against humanity committed during the Liberation Warin 1971.The three-judge International Crimes Tribunal–2 led by Justice ATM Fazle Kabir framed charges against Azad and set Nov 14 for witness deposition to start.

The court also threw away a plea by Azad’s counsels seeking his acquittal.

The prosecution on Sept 2 had submitted former charges linking him to crimes against humanity including genocide, murder, rape, arson, loot, abduction, deportation and persecution.

Prosecutor Shahidur Rahman had said the Pakistan Army entered Faridpur on Apr 21, 1971. On that day, Azad along with the Pakistan troops murdered eight people at Faridpur’s well-known Jagatbandhu Ashram and later killed Kolaron village Zamindar (landlord) Sudhanshu Mohon Roy and his son Monimoy Roy, he added.

‘Bachchu Razakar’ is said to have been an accomplice of Jamaat-e-Islami Secretary General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujaheed in Faridpur district during the war.

He was a member of Jamaat’s student wing Islami Chhatra Sangha when he was a student of Rajendra College in Faridpur in 1971.

After Mar 25, 1971, Azad formed a group of his own which committed crimes against humanity in different places in Faridpur during the war.

The ICT-2 on Sept 9 accepted charges and ordered his arrest and production by Sept 23.

The arrest warrant for him was issued in April, police failed to find him after raids on his office and residence. He is believed to have fled to Pakistan.

The tribunal on Oct 7 decided to continue trial in Azad’s absentia as he did not turn up even after public notice was issued for his appearance.

bdnews24.com/eh/shs/bd/1900h

 

Judge attacks forced marriage that put disabled woman ‘at risk’ #goodnews


 

A judge has said the forced marriage of a Muslim woman with learning difficulties should be annulled and condemned the “insulated” families who arrange them.

Daily Life: 3rd prize singles: Andrew Biraj, Bangladesh, Reuters. Overcrowded train approaches station, Dhaka, Bangladesh

An overcrowded train approaches station, Dhaka, Bangladesh Photo: Andrew Biraj, Bangladesh, Reuters
Martin Beckford

By , Home Affairs Editor, The Telegraph

5:00PM BST 16 Aug 2012

Mrs Justice Parker also criticised doctors and social workers for failing to raise the alarm when the woman was sent to Bangladesh to be married to a cousin, which allowed him to settle in England.

She said video of the wedding ceremony showed the bride was “almost comatose” and needed help to repeat vows she did not understand, while her relatives had made “false and misleading” statements about her condition.

And the judge brushed aside claims by the woman’s parents that having her marriage annulled would bring shame upon their family, in a case that was even considered at by the Government’s most senior lawyer, the Attorney General.

Mrs Justice Parker said that forcing marriage on someone who lacks mental capacity is a “gross interference” with their dignity and autonomy, particularly as it means having sex and possibly becoming pregnant without being able to consent.

Under the far-reaching powers of the Court of Protection, which can make life-or-death decisions on behalf of those deemed unable to understand them, the judge ruled that the woman’s foreign marriage should not be recognised as valid in England. She also declared it would be in the woman’s “best interests” for a nullity application to be issued.

“The communities where this is likely to happen also need to be told, loud and clear, that if a person, whether male or female, enters into a marriage when they do not have the capacity to understand what marriage is, its nature and duties, or its consequences, or to understand sexual relations, that that marriage may not be recognised, that sexual relations will constitute a criminal offence, and that the courts have the power to intervene.”

According to the recently published judgment, the woman – known only as DD to protect her identity – has a “very significant degree of learning disability” and needs help with almost all daily tasks.

In 2003 she married a cousin in Bangladesh and after two failed attempts he was granted a spousal visa in 2009, allowing him to move in with his wife at her family home in an English town.

“Eventually” the local authority found out about the situation and police obtained a Forced Marriage Protection order, leading to experts giving evidence on her capacity.

The judge said the council has “accepted its failures” while the woman’s GP had not raised concerns despite being asked on at least three occasions about “marriage and pregnancy”.

At a hearing in 2010 the judge ruled, “in the face of very strong resistance” from relatives, that DD lacked the capacity to marry or consent to sex and that it was unlawful for her husband to have intercourse with her.

Evidence was then considered as to whether or not the marriage should be annulled, leading to the latest ruling.

The judge said the woman lived in a “very traditional family” in a “close-knit community” that was not integrated with other Bengalis in the area.

“Her parents are very largely insulated from mainstream English society and are mistrustful of non-Bengalis. They do not communicate well in English: her mother understands and speaks almost none. They are devout Muslims.”

The judge said DD was a “loved and valued member of her family and that her parents are devoted to her”, and that in their culture it is seen as parents’ duty to arrange marriages and find spouses for disabled children.

Her mother, father and husband “begged” the judge not to quash the marriage as “there would be considerable stigma in Bangladesh for them”.

But Mrs Justice Parker insisted the bride “does not have even the most basic understanding of marriage” and she “rejected” her family’s account of how the wedding came about.

She said the union had “exposed her to great risk” and led to family tensions as well as conflict with social services who look after her.

 

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