India urged to protect Bangladesh War Crime trial witness

Washington:  A US-based human rights body has urged India to take all necessary steps to protect a Bangladeshi national currently lodged in an Indian jail, who is said to be a long-missing witness of the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) in Bangladesh.

In a statement, Human Rights Watch (HRW) alleged that Shukhoranjan Bali, a prime witness in the Bangladesh War Crime trials was abducted and forced to cross the Indian border.

He was later arrested in India for illegally entering the country and has been languishing in a Kolkata jail since, the HRW said.

"The apparent abduction of a witness in a trial at the ICT is a cause for serious concern about the conduct of the prosecution, judges and government.

Among many questions that arise, is who ordered the abduction, and how senior the officials involved were," Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said.

Bali was due to appear to give evidence as a defense witness before the ICT, a court expressly set up to try people suspected of war crimes during Bangladesh's 1971 war of Independence. He had previously been listed as a prosecution witness.

Bali, he said, was expected to counter prosecution allegations about the involvement of Delwar Hossain Sayedee in the 1971 murder of his brother.

Saydeee has since been sentenced to be hanged, in part for the murder of Bali's brother.

Human Rights Watch said Bali claims that he was abducted at the courthouse by police, held in government custody for several weeks, and then pushed across the border to India.

In April, Bali was sentenced by an Indian court to 110 days in jail for entering the country illegally.

He has already completed his term but is still in jail. In its statement, Human Rights Watch said that India should not return Bali to Bangladesh until he is interviewed by the Indian office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which can determine if he wishes to claim asylum and whether he is a refugee.

"If he does not wish to claim asylum, or his asylum claim is rejected, India should still not return him to Bangladesh when there is a real risk to his life or of his suffering ill-treatment if he returns there," the rights body said.

"There is a real risk to Bali if he is returned to Bangladesh, as he could expose those involved in his abduction.

Bali needs access to an independent lawyer and UNHCR so that he can make an informed decision about whether it is safe for him to return to Bangladesh," Adams said.

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