Bangladesh upholds death sentence for Mujib’s killers

DHAKA: Bangladesh’s Supreme Court upheld the death sentence for five convicted killers of the nation’s founding president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, setting the stage for their execution.

The court dismissed the men’s final attempt to challenge their sentences for assassinating Mujib, as he was widely known, in 1975.

“The Supreme Court, headed by the country’s chief justice, has dismissed their final appeals,” Syed Anisul Haque, chief counsel for the state, told AFP.

The five former army officers could be hanged “at any moment”, he added.

Mujib led Bangladesh to independence in 1971 during a bloody war against Pakistan.

He was gunned down at his home, along with his wife and three sons, in a coup on August 15, 1975. His daughter, the current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, was abroad at the time.

A total of 20 people, including domestic staff, were killed when army officers stormed his house, but the murder charges that were brought only related to Mujib’s death.

“It is a landmark verdict and we think this will go a long way towards establishing the rule of law in the country,” Haque said.

The case was first heard in 1996 when Hasina became premier for the first time and removed a legal barrier enacted by the post-Mujib government to protect the accused officers.

At that time, 15 men were found guilty and sentenced to death.

Three were acquitted in 2001. Of the remaining 12, five appealed the verdict to the Supreme Court, six are in hiding and one is believed to have died in Zimbabwe.

“We will decide on the date for the execution as soon as we receive a copy of the Supreme Court order,” said additional inspector general of prisons Syed Iftekher Uddin.

The appeal argued that Mujib’s death was part of a mutiny and the defendants should therefore have been tried under martial law instead of through the civilian court system.

Author : Muhammad Faisal Jawaid Attari

The nationalist that was Mujib

#bangabandhu : Eminent scientist Professor Abdus Salam had been invited by the then Islamic Academy, Dhaka to give a lecture on religion and nationalism a couple of months before the presidential election in 1964. The Academy was housed in an old two-storey abandoned building. That house was demolished to construct Bailul Mokarram shopping complex in the late sixties. My friend Ahmed Safa, the late writer, and I attended the lecture.

After the seminar was over, the Director of the Islamic Academy, Abul Hashim, a politician and thinker, was chatting with Dr. Salam and some other distinguished persons including Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah and Dr. Qudrat-e-Khuda. All on a sudden, Awami League leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Dr. Mofazzar Ahmed Chowdhury, a reader in the political science department at the University of Dhaka, showed up on the veranda of the Islamic Academy. Seeing Prof. Salam and Abul Hashim in the auditorium, they joined them. It was a Sunday morning. Perhaps they had gone to Awami League office, opposite the Academy, for party work. We were listening to their conversation from a considerable distance.

Almost all major political parties in East Pakistan had been supporting “provincial autonomy.” Their idea of autonomy was some kind of “political autonomy.” But Maulana Bhasani and Sheikh Mujib’s concept of autonomy was different from that of other Bengali leaders. They demanded full provincial autonomy and an “autonomous economy” for East Bengal.

I still remember the gist of this informal conversation. Speaking on the provincial autonomy, Sheikh shaheb pointed out the disparity between the two wings of Pakistan. He quoted from Dr. Mahbubul Huq’s newly published Strategy of Economic Planning in Pakistan, and said that in order to redress the economic disparity between the two wings it was necessary to dismantle the central Planning Commission to create two powerful regional planning bodies. He emphatically said that the region should have the authority to tax, and the power to make fiscal and monetary policy on its own. So far as I can recollect, Dr. Salam endorsed the views of Sheikh Mujib. Bangabandhu further said that the provinces should have the power to form foreign policy and conduct foreign relations. It was two years before the announcement of his Six Points.

By the early 1960s, Sheikh Mujib was known to all as the standard-bearer of Bengali nationalism. It was the period of military dictatorship of Field Martial Ayub Khan. Sheikh Mujib was his greatest opponent. He fought relentlessly for the revival of democracy in Pakistan and provincial autonomy for East Pakistan. From the nationalist and from the conservative standpoint, his role in power politics was unparalleled.

In 1963, Sheikh Mujib went to London to consult with his ailing political guru, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, who was in self-exile. The two had detailed discussions on the political situation prevailing in Pakistan. Mujib didn’t like foreign involvement in achieving the rights of the people of East Pakistan.

Suhrawardy wrote in his unfinished memoirs: “Mujib has doubts that national unity and national integration will solve the problems of East Pakistan. He is not interested in the field of foreign politics as he does not believe that any foreign country should become deeply committed here; East Pakistan must work out its own destiny. Hence, there is no point seeking foreign political involvement.” [Memoirs of Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, P. 71]

After the death of Suhrawardy in December 1963, it became difficult to keep the party together. Ataur Rahman Khan was a gentleman politician. He had neither courage nor charisma. Neither he nor any other leader had any command over the younger leaders and workers. At that crucial time, Mujib took over the helm of the party. Sheikh Mujib not only led the Awami League, but also led the nation to independence in seven years.

After liberation, Bangabandhu had to tackle multifarious problems. He faced severe opposition from various quarters at home and abroad. Anti-liberation parties like Jamat-e-Islami, Muslim League and Nezam-e-Islam, which were banned by the government, and other reactionary forces, communal elements, and underground ultra-Left outfits went on with their conspiracy and anti-government propaganda. The political and social elite did not cooperate with the government. Because of economic hardship the ordinary people were frustrated. In the meantime, creation of Baksal — one-party rule — angered the Western capitalist bloc.

The Bangladesh liberation war got active support from the Soviet Union and its East European allies. Both the US and the Soviet Union were trying to gain influence in the impoverished nation. The influence of US was more than that of the USSR as the US was able to pour in more aid and assistance and its intelligence was more efficient and pro-active. Pakistani intelligence was also active and got support from the US. China and Muslim countries were against the Bangladesh freedom movement because of India’s total support to Bangladesh. In these circumstances, Bangabandhu had become a victim.

The people of Bangladesh had experienced the military coups of Ayub and Yahya Khan. Both were bloodless. But the August 15 coup was the worst possible military savagery.

Who killed Sheikh Mujib? Dalim-Faruk and others in the army were mercenaries. And Mushtaq? Brutus was better.

Samar Sen, an astute diplomat, was India’s high commissioner to Bangladesh in 1975. He saw the political developments in Bangladesh from close quarters. Twenty-three years after the coup, Sen told the Frontline journalist Sukumar Muralidharan in 1998: “We had been keeping in touch with all elements within Bangladesh. India’s intelligence services — whose operations few of us know much about — retained contact even with elements hostile to Sheikh Mujib. He felt that these contacts were uncalled for and asked us to stop them. We did so. As a result, until the time of the coup, we had no idea that things had deteriorated quite so badly. In retrospect, it is clear that the August coup, apart from being a rude awakening, was perhaps a logical outcome of the situation of chaos that prevailed.”

The August 15 military action was a coup with a difference. It changed, among other things, the secular and democratic character of Bangladesh.

I saw Bangabandhu for the first time in 1954 on the banks of the mighty Padma at Aricha ghat. The last I saw him was in the Bangabhaban Darbar Hall on July 31, 1975. To him, personal relationship was very important. He maintained excellent relations with his opponents and adversaries. Two weeks before the 1973 elections, National Awami Party chairman Maulana Bhasani was admitted to PG Hospital. Bangabandhu rushed to visit him. Hearing the voice of Bangabandhu, the Maulana sat up from the bed. Bhasani touched the hands of Mujib and wished him all success in the election. He stressed on “a stable government” under his premiership.

While in the IPGMR, the Maulana did not have the chance to eat any food supplied by the hospital. Admirers sent home-made food for him. Begum Fazilatunnesa Mujib herself went or sent somebody to the hospital almost everyday with big tiffin-carriers. She cooked small fish curries with hot green chilly and spices to the taste of the Maulana. This gesture of the Mujibs annoyed the leaders and candidates of NAP.

I would like to cite another anecdote. A couple of months before the August tragedy, poet Jasimuddin asked me: “Bhai, could you accompany me to Dhanmondi? I’ve an urgent talk with Bangabandhu.” I gladly agreed. So far as I can recollect, the rickshawalla demanded taka two. It was exorbitant. The poet got angry. He haggled with the rickshaw-puller over the fair and hired the rickshaw from Bangladesh Bank to Bangabandhu Bhavan for taka one and a-half.

On reaching Bangabandhu Bhavan, the poet paid and patted the rickshawalla and walked straight to the drawing room. I followed him. Bangabandhu came down from the first floor. The two great Bengalis exchanged warm greetings and sat down on a sofa.

The poet said: “You’re from Faridpur, I’m also from Faridpur (district). I’ve come to you for a tadbir (a favour). My son-in-law is your son-in-law. Isn’t it?” “Of course,” Bangabandhu laughed and quipped: “Your son-in-law (meyejamai) is my son-in-law. I do understand what you want to say. You and Bhabi should not worry for Maudud. He is alright in jail. He will be released as soon as possible. I’m giving the order.”

Then they chatted for some time. The poet was highly gratified by the gesture of the president and supreme leader of the nation. Bangabandhu knew very well that the palli-kavi shouldn’t be entertained with tea or coffee. So, he asked his servant to serve him with muri, gur (molasses) and coconut — favourites of the poet.

This was Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. As a politician and statesman, he was not above mistakes or follies. As a mortal human being, he had his weaknesses and limitations. History will absolve all his mistakes and weaknesses. As the independence hero and nationalist leader, he is second to none.

Author : Syed Abul Maksud is a noted writer, researcher and columnist.

Begum Mujib: A tribute

Begum Fazilatunnesa

It is said that behind every successful man, there is a virtuous woman. For our father of the nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the woman behind his success was his wife, Begum Fazilatunnesa Mujib. August 8 was the 80th birth anniversary of this great woman who had been with the father of the nation from an early age and had departed to the hereafter along with him.

Begum Mujib (also named as Renu) was born in Tungipara of GopalGanj district in 1930. Her early schooling was in a missionary school, followed by religious education at home. She lost her father and mother at the age of five and was groomed by her future mother-in-law. She was married to Sheikh Mujib at the age of eleven and had three sons and two daughters.

The new generation, which did not see the war of independence or encounter such hardships, will never understand how and in what magnitude Begum Mujib had contributed towards the freedom of this nation. Sheikh Mujib was a born politician and had spent most of his life in jail. This lady had not only looked after the family but had also lent her hand in keeping the Awami League organised.

During hard times, she never expressed her worries or dismay. Instead, she encouraged and frequently advised the leaders and party men on how to proceed in times of trouble.

During the Agartala Conspiracy case, Sheikh Mujib was in custody in the cantonment. There was an uprising of the people for withdrawal of this case and freedom of the captives. In order to tackle the situation, the then army dictator Ayub Khan proposed a round table discussion.

It was anticipated that Bangabandhu would go to Lahore for the round table conference on parole. There was also pressure from politicians like Ataur Rahman Khan, Abul Mansur Ahmed, Tofazzal Hossain, and others to sit in the meeting. But Mrs. Mujib, who was very much a housewife, vehemently opposed the Sheikh’s release on parole and taking part in the round table discussion.

She was so firm on her decision that Sheikh complied, and refused to attend the conference. History indicates that this incident paved the way for the release of all the captives and revival of one man one vote system. These were mainly attained by the stance taken by Fazilatunnesa Mujib

Mrs. Mujib was also known for her immense patience and her capability to recall any event of the past. Besides, she also had the ability to lead. The killers of Bangabandhu and his family propagated the lie that the Sheikh had a huge amount of money in local banks and immense wealth. However, even 21 years after Sheikh Mujib’s death, a local bank discovered only a single bank account of the late president and found that it had a balance of roughly five hundred taka.

His house had no luxurious fixtures and fittings. It was an ordinary man’s house. If Mrs. Mujib had desired, being the wife of a president, she could have anything she wanted, but she was not like that. It may be worth mentioning that Mrs. Fazilatunnesa Mujib sold her jewellery for collecting the money for the war of independence.

Understanding Sheikh Fazilatunnesa’s contribution to the nation is difficult for a person who was born in the post-independence period of Bangladesh. Looking at the chain of events that led to independence, this writer reached the conclusion that it would have been difficult for Bangabandhu to achieve freedom for the Bengali people if he did not have a lady like Fazilatunnesa Mujib with him.

After independence, Sheikh Fazilatunnesa’s role in building international relationships becomes apparent in her intimacy with Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the then prime minister of India. Moreover, she had always been besides Sheikh Mujib when different world leaders visited Bangladesh.

Sheikh Fazilatunnesa was an excellent homemaker. She groomed her children to be good citizens and worthy children of a great father. Not only that, she was also courageous, determined, painstaking, and a true and ideal daughter-in-law.

Thirty-five years have elapsed since the death of this great lady. The nation has shown respect to this lady only by erecting a dormitory in her name in Dhaka University. This would have not been possible if it had not been proposed by the then Senate member Professor Dr. Abdul Mannan Choudhury. We are fortunate to have a commemorative book on her.

However, we are longing to see that her contributions are recognised and to see the next generation pick her as their idol for she was a true friend of the nation, a philosopher, and a guide and mentor to the father of the nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Author : Dr. Musfiq M. Choudhury is Assistant Professor, University of Dhaka.

The men who killed Sheikh Mujib?

Greatest Bengali of all time

BACK in 2003, the History Channel in the United States aired a 9-part documentary titled The Men Who Killed Kennedy. When the documentary directly implicated former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson in its last episode, it stirred an outcry in the political circuit. The Channel apologised to its viewers and to Mrs. Johnson and her family for airing the show. The moral of the story is that conspiracy theories are like a minefield. Even the most cautious step can land on a pressure plate, exploding in outrage.

Although no such explosion has happened yet, a former general is being prodded for his role as the army chief when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was killed thirty-four years ago. Fingers are being pointed at him for his mysterious inaction even after he knew that the life of his commander-in-chief was under mortal threat. What the general has said in his defense so far failed to clear the smoke.

That, however, doesn’t mean the general is guilty as accused. Some people lie through their teeth; others can’t tell truth with a straight face. A retired army heavyweight recently defended the general when he claimed that the failure wasn’t the general’s alone; all of us were to blame for it. It resonates the title of Arundhati Roy’s article published in 2005 in Outlook Magazine: “Who Pulled The Trigger…Didn’t We All?”

In that case, the conspiracy to kill Sheikh Mujib was organised in a theater-style setting. Those who fired the guns sat at the front. Behind them were those who approved of it and collaborated. How could Shafayat Jamil stay in bed when the tanks rolled behind his house in Dhaka Cantonment! Colonel Faruq, who commandeered those tanks, was a nephew of Brigadier Khaled Musharraf!

Now we hear that others sat in the rear stall. They neither had a hand in the killing, nor did they do anything to stop it. Then comes the balcony where sat the people. They were the quiet observers, who didn’t feel empowered to do anything.

Between committing, collaborating, compromising and condoning, the motif of the killing comes in four different varieties: retribution, ambition, convenience and indifference. Some of the killers wanted revenge. There were masterminds who harboured ambition. All others condoned and stayed indifferent.

The general, of course, falls under collaboration and convenience. He proved it again and again through his concern for safety and penchant for comfort. The contrast is Colonel Jamil, military secretary to the president, who was pulled by his semper fidelis, which means “always faithful.” When the president told him on the phone that his house was under attack, he went alone and died in the line of duty.

What did our man the general do when he got the news? Late Lieutenant Colonel M.A. Hamid, who was the station commander in Dhaka Cantonment, gives an account of that crucial moment in his memoirs published in 1993. DGDFI Brigadier Rauf briefed the general on the situation between 2:00 and 3:00am. The general’s first reflex was to rush with his family and take cover under a mango tree behind his residence.

Hamid vouches he never had reason to believe that the general played any role in the plot to kill Mujib. But he was confused as to why the general didn’t take action when he knew hours in advance that his president was in danger. Shafayat Jamil’s 46 Brigade was located only 500 yards from the general’s residence. Hamid wonders why the general didn’t bother to go there and mobilise troops.

By now it’s a foregone conclusion. On August 15, 1975, the general wasn’t a hero. He worried more about his own safety than anything else. Then he left the country and worked under the killers because, as he said in an interview, he had no choice. Choices don’t make a hero. A hero makes his own choice.

A piece of advice to the general. He should stop digging when he is already in a hole. The more he tries to defend his position, the more poignant becomes his failure. He may not have conspired to kill his boss, but he didn’t fight to save him either. Yes, that could be considered a dereliction of duty. Not an honourable thing at all.

Khaled Musharraf lay dead in front of the CMH morgue and soldiers spit on his body. Khondoker Mushtaq died in bed, but his remains a hated name. Ziaur Rahman was killed in a coup, his memory racked by controversy. Lucky for the general, he still lives to tell the tale.

And, he must tell exactly what he should have told in his defense if Mujib were to survive that day. Time has changed, but Mujib still lives in the hearts of millions. For the general’s information, if leader is convinced, it will convince them.

Author : Mohammad Badrul Ahsan is a columnist for The Daily Star. / Email:

Who do I Mistrust?!


Coming as it is from missionary secondary and higher secondary back ground of schooling I neither had the opportunity nor the inclination to indulge in student politics. Yet after joining the Dhaka University I was convinced by a very senior leftist leader of those days that when I am hungry and aren’t able to satiate my hunger would naturally give desperate cry for food. And that is politics. This impressed me and some of us were inducted in to the left leaning student politics of the Dhaka University. I distinctly recall our induction was through a book called ‘Ten Days that Shook the World’. These ten days referred to the Russian revolution of November 1917 that founded the Soviet Government under the leadership of Vladimir Ilych Ulyanov Lenin. We were so overwhelmed by all these that we took to communism as duck takes to water. There was another stream that was flowing along side the left and was to the farthest right. That stream was an admix of a few rounded off youth living on the crumbs from the prosperity’s table and were forever dreaming for the distant shore of the newly emerging affluence of the west. Those of us who were pursuing the left leaning student politics obviously were very critical of this right wing student group. At that time there was another group that pursued left of the centre politics and avoided direct confrontation with the leftists. However, rightists were despised by both. There were more reasons than one for this. Firstly, the rightists were supporting the anti Bengali regime of Ayub Khan. And, secondly, they were the local lackeys of the imperialist west that supported the war in Vietnam after being beaten hands down in Korea. In retrospect I see one problem with us, the left leaning students. To the best of my knowledge they did not take into account what the common people of Bangladesh really wanted. They were very well read and their knowledge dictated that in a certain situation people acted or should act in a given manner. That this knowledge could be vastly different from the ground realities of the society they were working in is what they were not taught to contemplate upon. What was even more devoid of reality is the fact that anybody who differed with their opinion was considered a decadent bourgeois opposed to the right of the ‘downtrodden’. To the leftists Sheikh Mujib was a representative of the bourgeois class interest. Sheikh Mujib, later to be known as Bangabondhu knew exactly what his people needed and more importantly, wanted. Therefore, we see that by the time the leftists were trying to figure out their course of action in an anti-Bengali scenario and the rightists were thinking of how to contain the rising tide of Bengali nationalism, Bangabondhu in his natural flare and dexterity took over the leadership. His undisputed leadership could not be questioned by anybody, not even the staunchest communist. He had the acumen of seeing and choosing the right issue at the right time. The six-point programme he had proclaimed in 1966 literally charted out the plan of eventual independence of Bangladesh. At the same time, it was impossible to call him a secessionist at that point. Each one of his six points spoke of redressing the discrepancies meted out to the then East Pakistan within the confines of Pakistan. The Pakistanis could not withstand such audacity and came down with a heavy hand. This conclusively proved that Sheikh Mujib’s assertion that the six-point programme on autonomy for us was indeed a very practical step. When the general elections of 1970 approached, everybody living within Bangladesh came forward to unanimously vote Awami League to power. Though the election was held within the confines of Pakistani constitution for the Pakistani parliament, we had already started getting the taste of freedom. We had seen how the people of Bangladesh acted as he dictated when the Pakistani authorities were trying to delay the process of transfer of power to the elected representatives. How he dealt with ease the insolence of the Pakistani military junta. How he, with the assistance from his able compatriots, was refusing to compromise on any issues affecting the interests of the Bangalis with the Pakistanis. I was then a young man, just out of the university, trying to build a career and had hardly any chance of knowing this illustrious Bangali. My admiration for him grew over a period of, at least, ten years. Within this time he emerged from almost a non-entity to become the undisputed leader of a nation that was languishing under the colonial dictates of Pakistan. Sheikh Mujib knew exactly how to strike a common chord with the people of our nation, the common man. I remember that when the political situation in ’71 was heating up and al means of distant communication were giving in, we went to Rangpur to bring back Sanjida Khatoon (exponent of Rabindra Sangeet) from the Carmichael College hostel where she used to teach and was stranded. On our way we stopped by in a road side tea shop. There was this very old man wearing thick glasses with stick in his hand merrily relishing his cup of tea. By and by I asked him if he had voted in the recently held election. He enthusiastically said of course he did. We asked him which party he voted for. He said Sheikh Mujib, who else? I asked him why he voted for Sheikh Mujib. What he said was quite unexpected. He said that Sheikh Mujib during his election campaign was driving in a motorcade. Thousands of people were lining up on either side of the road to have a glimpse of him. The old man was also there. When his car came near the old man the motorcade stopped. Sheikh Mujib came down from his car. Held the old man’s had and said, “Baba, please be with me”. The old man was so moved that he organized a whole host of people to consolidate the position for Sheikh Mujib. This demonstrates Bangabondhu’s far site in terms of zeroing in on people who could lead.

After his land slide victory in the election I was dying to see this most sought after legendary Bangali. I had senior friend who was quite close to Bangabondhu. He took me to the Awami League office at Purana Paltan. My friend was overtly complimentary about me. Introducing me as a promising writer and all that he put me to such a shame and I was so embarrassed that I wished I had never gone to meet this great man. Surprisingly, Bangabondhu believed it all. He told me that if he could come to power he’d introduce a dedicated department to locate all old public libraries in the country, where ever they were and restore them to their old glory. He asked me if I would be willing to join such an undertaking. I was so overwhelmed that I did not naturally have an answer. I could never imagine the would be Prime Minister of a country could treat a young brat with such importance.

Subsequently, I have had the privilege of witnessing him in a number of situations where he dealt with every situation with equal deftness. Once a friend of ours who was a junior bureaucrat had to seek permission from Bangabondhu to go abroad to pursue higher studies. A staunch believer in ultra-left politics, he thought that Bangabondhu would never put his sign of approval on his file. He left our evening adda with considerable cynicism only to return with a smiling face and predictable embarrassment. Later he told us that Bangabondhu knew all about his politics and told him that whatever his politics he must come back home and serve the country after completing his higher studies. If he did not, he would be sorted out. There are innumerable other occasions when Bangabondhu treated people well not because of their political beliefs but because of their competence. This included his strongest critics. His level of confidence in his people was astounding. He believed that his people would never let him down. Once, barely a week before he was brutally murdered together with many of his family members, a fellow cultural activist went to pay his respects to him and seeing the lax security arrangements in his house at road number 32 in Dhanmondi, cautioned him about the lack of security of the President. Bangabondhu told him, “Who would kill me, you? Do you think that to avoid my possible death I should stop you from coming to see me? If I did how can I trust any of my people?

Author : Aly Zaker