The independence of the current trial was seriously compromised when a key defense witness disappeared on November 5. Shukho Ranjon Bali was originally a prosecution witness but had never appeared in court, having testified only in written statements -- a provision of the trial singled out for criticism by Human Rights Watch.
Bali's testimony was part of the trial of Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, an Islamic preacher and Jamaat stalwart accused of being involved in the killing of 50 people, rape, and arson. Bali was preparing to testify in court that much of his alleged prior testimony had actually been made up by the prosecution. "Witness Bali was a real threat to the prosecution," says Razzaq. "If he had been in the witness box he would have had a shattering effect."
Defense lawyers allege that Bali was picked up by the police as he was heading to court on November 5 to testify for their side. He has not been heard from since. Had he been able to testify in court as planned, this would have posed serious questions about much of the evidence brought before the tribunal.
A U.S. State Department cable from February 2010 published by WikiLeaks bolsters the critics' concerns, noting that "there is little doubt that hard-line elements within the ruling party [AL] believe that the time is right to crush Jamaat and other Islamic parties."
Perhaps as a result, in November 2011 the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that "holding individuals in pre-trial detention in the absence of any reasoned and adequate explanation is unnecessary and disproportional to the aim sought."
Defense lawyer Razzaq asserts that the international community has spoken "with one voice" in condemnation of the trial process. Many Bangladeshis have objected to the extent of international censure directed at the trial. Some contend that the criticism is of a piece with the Nixon administration's support of Pakistan at the time of the conflict, and the United States' subsequent alleged support for more conservative forces in local politics.
"The Americans have long favored BNP and Jamaat over the Awami League since they identified the AL as pro-Soviet socialists and the BNP as pro-free market," says Zafar Sobhan, a columnist and editor of the Dhaka Tribune newspaper. "They still have a preference for moderate Muslim parties over liberal democrats in the developing world."