Several heated arguments between the opposing lawyers marred witness testimony in the trial of Nobel laureate professor Muhammad Yunus and three of his fellows at Grameen Telecom Trust, on charges of violations of the country’s labour law on Tuesday.
The dispute arose from a mismatch in the signatures of the officials of the Department of Inspection Factories and Establishments, or DIFE, in the checklist following their inspection visit of Grameen Telecom in August 2021.
After the court’s attention was drawn to this by Dr Yunus’ lawyer Barrister Abdullah Al Mamun, the court asked him to file a written application in this regard, for which the counsel sought time.
This was granted, before Judge Sheikh Marina Sultana of Dhaka Labour Court-3 fixed 13 September as the next date of cross-examination in the case.
Earlier, inspector Tariqul Islam of the DIFE, the first witness in the trial, took the stand at 12:26 pm on Tuesday. Newspersons were asked to leave the court-room just as Barrister Mamun was about to start his cross-examination of the witness.
Visibly taken aback, Yunus’ lawyer questioned, “Is it a camera trial that journalists were asked to leave?”
The copy of the inspection list filed with the court, plaintiff’s Exhibit IV, has been tampered with. In addition to Arifuzzaman’s signature, four new signatures appear in this tampered inspection list, along with their seals. Arifuzzaman’s seal also appears, although it was not there in the copy given to us
He also said that even the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court allows journalists to be present and report on court proceedings.
In reply, the judge said: “We cannot complete the trial in the case keeping everyone in the courtroom.”
The judge later allowed newspersons to be present, but standing at the back of the courtroom. Advocate Khurshid Alam Khan and Chief Prosecutor of the International Crimes Tribunal, Syed Haider Ali, newly deputised to the case, were present on behalf of DIFE.
At one point of the hearing, Barrister Mamun asked the plaintiff, “When you go to visit somewhere, do you give the owner a seizure list or checklist?”
The inspector replied, “If they want, we give a copy.”
At that time, the advocate asked Tariqul whether they had given any seizure list or checklist to the owners of Grameen Telecom. The inspector said yes, they did.
That is the point at which Barrister Mamun drew the court’s attention and said the checklist given to Grameen Telecom and the checklist submitted in court did not match. He immediately urged the court to issue arrest warrants against those involved, including the plaintiff on the witness stand. In response, the court asked to apply in writing.
Syed Haider Ali rose to say a suo moto order cannot be given. Barrister Mamun then again said, “We will apply.”
Khurshid Alam Khan meanwhile asked Barrister Mamun to finish the cross-examination of the witness.
In response, Barrister Mamun said, “It will take three more days. Everything is getting caught, and the entire world is finding out.”
Lawyers then engaged in a rowdy exchange, speaking over each other as the court descended into chaos. The judge tried to impose order, but to no avail. At one point, Haider Ali said after the verdict, he would apply to take action “against the fraud”, though it was not clear what he was referring to.
The judge left the courtroom at around 2:30 pm as the screaming continued. The court then sat again at 3:30 pm. At that time, the court accepted the time petition on behalf of Dr Yunus and said that the order will be passed later.
The court then fixed 13 September as the next date for cross-examination of the witness.
Outside the courtroom, Abdullah Al Mamun explained his contention to newspersons, that concerned a visit on 16 August, 2021 by officials of DIFE to Grameen Telecom.
“They presented an inspection list at the end of the visit. On behalf of Grameen Telecom, it was signed by our managing director and two others, and by the late inspector Arifuzzaman, the original plaintiff, on behalf of DIFE. A photocopy of that list was given to us. There was only one signature on behalf of DIFE there, Arifuzzaman, without a seal. But the copy of the inspection list filed with the court, plaintiff’s Exhibit IV, has been tampered with. In addition to Arifuzzaman’s signature, four new signatures appear in this tampered inspection list, along with their seals. Arifuzzaman’s seal also appears, although it was not there in the copy given to us. Using this list, Dr Yunus has been charged,” the lawyer explained.
“The fact that a government department can engage in this kind of activity against a citizen is harrowing. I have asked that arrest warrants be issued against all the inspectors, including the Chief Inspector, who are involved in this tampering or forgery under Section 195 1 (d) of the CrPC,” the lawyer added.