The verdict will have a balming effect on all those who not only lost their families but also on those who felt betrayed by the subsequent turn of events in Bangladesh.
It is not very often that an entire nation waits for a Supreme Court Judgement to be delivered. November 19, 2009 was one such day. More than 34 years after Bangladesh lost its father of the nation Mujib to a shower of bullets in his own house the perpetrators were finally going to be brought to the book. Thus last Thursday the verdict in the trial of the accused for the murder of Bangabandhu and his family members on the night of 15 August in 1975 was finally delivered. The Supreme Court upheld the verdict of death penalty of the 12 accused given by the High Court in April 2001.
Despite the enormity of the gruesome incident, the trial did not commence for more than a decade after the massacre. It was only initiated with the filing of a case by Mujib’s personal assistant Muhitul Islam as late as October 1996 after Awami League formed the government that year. The initial case was filed against 24 persons involved in the killings, which spared only his two daughters, Sheikh Hasina and Rehana, who were in Germany at that time. The charge sheet was submitted against 20 of the involved personnel from the armed forces.
With the events of August 1975 the nature of Bangladesh polity changed overnight. Indeed Khondker Moshtaque Ahmed who became president upon Mujib’s assassination had ensured that the Indemnity Bill allowed the perpetrators to roam the streets free and closed the possibility of a trial. For years subsequently Bangladesh was ruled by military leaders who neither had any interest in ensuring that the Bangabandhu’s family received justice nor were keen on seeing their own brethren from the armed forces being punished. After the introduction of parliamentary democracy in 1991, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party formed the government. Given its political moorings there was expectedly no effort to resume the Mujib killing trials.
Indeed many of those accused soon after Mujib’s death had taken on diplomatic assignments and never returned to Bangladesh. Thus during the initial trials only three of the accused – Syed Faruque Rahman, Sultan Shariar Rashid Khan, and Mahiuddin Ahmed – were behind bars after being arrested in August 1996. Indeed Faruque Rahman, returning to Bangladesh after a decade, along with Bazlul Huda and Khandaker Abdur Rashid had during Ershad’s regime floated the Freedom Party and contested the presidential election in l986. Soon after Sheikh Hasina took over as prime minister in 1996, Rashid Khan and Bazlul Huda fled Bangladesh, only to be brought back after the lower courts gave the verdict against the accused. Moreover, it was only after 1996 that the Awami League government revoked the indemnity ordinance meant to safeguard the killers thus finally clearing the way for the trial.
Within a span of two years in November 8, 1998, the Dhaka session court had awarded death sentences to 15 of the 20 accused and acquitted four. Khondker Moshtaque Ahmed had passed away in the meantime. With four of those in custody and given capital punishment – Bazlul Huda, Syed Faruk Rahman, Sultan Shahriar Rashid Khan and Mohiuddin Ahmed – appealing against the lower court’s judgement, the case went to the High Court. Subsequently on December 14, 2000, the High Court gave a split verdict in the case with one Judge upholding the death sentences of 10 of the accused and the other retaining the death sentences of all the 15. Within the next four months in April 30, 2001 a High Court bench upheld the death sentences of 12, acquitting the other three.
For the next several years with the Awami League in opposition there was no progress on this case. It was finally towards end of 2007 during the tenure of the caretaker government that the appeals of those five (including A. K. M. Mohiuddin Ahmed who was extradited from United Sates) given death penalty were admitted in court. The return to power of the Awami League under the premiership of Sheikh Hasina once again facilitated the court proceedings. After 29 days of hearing beginning October 5, 2009, the final judgement was passed. The five will be executed after completion of the legal process which is supposed to be within 28 days though not before 21 days after receipt of the court’s verdict. The other six accused are in different parts of the world – Libya, Pakistan, Canada, United States, and even an African country. With Aziz Pasha having died in 2002 in Zimbawe, the Awami government is hoping that Interpol would assist Bangladesh in bringing back the six convicts still on the run.
The euphoria about the verdict is evident on the streets of Bangladesh. One of Hasina’s electoral promise being fulfilled, the final verdict will have a balming effect on all those who not only lost their families but also on those who felt betrayed by the subsequent turn of events in Bangladesh. Bangladesh today has done a full circle and it is an opportunity to return Bangladesh to the sonar bangla (golden Bengal) that Bangladeshis had dreamt their motherland to be. The nation’s mood is upbeat; the completion of the trial has restored faith about the government’ sincerity. Bangladeshis are now looking forward to their premier fulfilling her other electoral promise of meting out justice to all those who had shed blood for the birth of Bangladesh.