The Trial


Here comes another August 15 and brings with it the shocking memory of the most gruesome murder in the history of Bangladesh. It was the 15th August of 1975. A group of disgruntled blood-thirsty mid-level army officers stormed into the two-storied building at road number 32 in Dhanmandi. When the killers came out of the house the greatest Bangali political hero who led the Bangalis to their greatest achievement- independence- Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was lying dead in a pool of his own blood in the staircase of his home. Along with him almost all his family members, 10 in all, met the same fate. Only his two daughters–Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana survived the massacre.

As the nation mourns the killing of its greatest political hero its sense of grief is deepened by the fact that justice has not yet been dispensed to the killers. Not even after 28 years. In fact it took 21 years to bring the murder case to the court. Khandakar Mustaque enacted an indemnity ordinance that would bar any legal action against those who were involved in the chilling murders of Bangabandhu, his family members as well as his relatives and senior Awami League leaders. Subsequently, during Ziaur Rahman’s time this was incorporated into the Constitution through the 5th amendment.

Thus the killers were secured from being tried for the next 21 years. In fact, early in the day they were awarded diplomatic assignments. Sixteen years of military rule, parts of it under civilian garb, was followed by 5 years rule of a democratic government led by Begum Khaleda Zia, but the indemnity act remained intact. It was only when Awami League came to power in 1996 that the murder case was finally taken up for trial.

On October 2, 1996, a FIR was lodged with the Dhanmondi Police station and thus the government initiated the trial under the ordinary law of the land through the arrest of the accused murderers. Eminent criminal lawyer Serajul Huq was appointed as the special Public Prosecutor by the government. He was assisted by Anisul Huq, Barrister Mosharraf Hossain Kajal, Sahara Khatun, Nurul Islam Sujan and Syed Rezaur Rahman. The chargesheet was submitted accusing 23 persons, 3 of them already dead, on January 15, 1997. The hearing took around 18 months to be completed and District and Sessions Judge Kazi Golam Rasul gave his verdict on November 8, 1998. Fifteen of the accused were given death sentence while five others were acquitted.

Bangabandhu with his family members: (from left) Sheikh Kamal, his oldest son, younger daughter Sheikh Rehana, youngest son Sheikh Russel on his lap, wife Fazilatunnesa, second son Sheikh Jamal and daughter Sheikh Hasina. All of them were brutally killed on the night of August 15, 1975, except Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana.

As required by law the case was then referred to a two-judge High Court Bench. After almost two years the High Court delivered its judgement on Dec 14, 2000. It was a split verdict — while Judge ABM Khairul Huq upheld the trial court verdict, Justice Ruhul Amin confirmed the death sentence against nine, gave life imprisonment to one and acquitted the remaining five of their charges. The case was then referred to a third Bench of the High Court. The hearing started on February 12, 2001 and Justice Md Fazlul Karim pronounced his judgement on April 30, 2001. He confirmed death sentence against 12 of the accused and acquitted three others. Those who are facing death sentence are Lt. Col. (Rtd) Khandaker Abdur Rashid, Lt. Col. (Rtd) Noor Chowdhury, Lt. Col. (Rtd) Shariful Huq Dalim, Lt. Col. (Rtd) Abdul Aziz Pasha, Lt. Col. (Rtd) Rashed Choudhury, Major (Rtd) AKM Mohiuddin Ahmed, Lt. Col. (Rtd) Syed Faruq Rahman, Lt. (Rtd) Sultan Shahriar Rashid Khan and Major (Rtd) Bazlul Huda, Lt. Col. (Rtd) Mohiuddin Ahmed, Capt. (Rtd) Abdul Majed, and Lance Dafadar Moslehuddin. He acquitted Capt. (Rtd) Kismet Hashem, Capt (Rtd) Najmul Hossain Ansar, Major (Rtd) Ahmed Shariful Hossain of their charges. However, only four of them are now in custody who are Lt. Col. (Rtd) Syed Faruq Rahman, Lt (Rtd) Sultan Shahriar Rashid Khan, Major (Rtd) Bazlul Huda and Lt Col (Rtd) Mohiuddin Ahmed while others are believed to be abroad.

The convicted persons then appealed to the Appellate Division (AD) of the Supreme Court against the verdict. The law requires a three-judge Bench to hear an appeal. The crisis began when 3 of the 7 judges of the AD felt ’embarrassed’; while the other 2 judges had already heard the case when they had been in the High Court, which disqualified them to hear it again. Thus a Bench of three judges could not be constituted till now.

Meanwhile, AL lost the general election in October 2001 and BNP came to the power. On October 28, 2002, Serajul Huq, the Special Public Prosecutor appointed by the AL government for this particular case passed away. Anisul Huq, his son and associate throughout this case, then wrote to Chief justice Mahmudul Amin Chowdhury regarding the appointment of ad-hoc judges so that the case can be resolved. Chowdhury passed on the request to the concerned authority, but in vain. Barrister Moudud Ahmed, Minister for Law, declined to comply saying that they had already raised the number of judges in the AD from 5 to 7. In an interview he also argued that the constitution doesn’t permit appointment judges on ad hoc basis.

Anisul Huq however differs with him. Article 98 of the constitution does have the provision of appointing an ad-hoc judge, he says emphatically. “The government is simply not sincere about seeing this case being completed smoothly,” he says. Huq’s allusions echo the more explicit accusations of the Awami League of the BNP’s attempts to delay the completion of this trial.

Apparently the present government’s sincerity regarding the completion of the Bangabandhu murder case is not beyond question. Its record concerning appointment of judges and absolute inaction regarding the extradition process of some killers living abroad gives some justification for the AL position.

The Bangabandhu Murder Case needs to be resolved not just for the consolation of the bereaved family or to satisfy a certain political party, but mainly for the sake of establishing the rule of law and justice.


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