The trial of two cases for the August 21, 2004 grenade attack on an Awami League rally is in the final stage while the prosecution accuses defence counsel of delaying the trials and the defence counsel allege that ‘the plotters’ are yet to be identified.
Law minister Anisul Huq at a discussion in Dhaka said on Sunday said that the grenade attack trial was now in the final stage.
‘We will get a trial court verdict in September for the murders in August 21 grenade attack. After that, we will get another judgement,’ said the minister.
Dhaka Speedy Trial Tribunal-1 judge Shahed Nuruddin is now hearing defence argument for former BNP-led government home minister Lutfozzaman Babar.
The tribunal examined 225 of the 511 prosecution witnesses, mostly serving or retired government officials.
Babar’s counsel’s arguments may take three-four more days and that would conclude the defence arguments, prosecution lawyer Akram Uddin Shamol said, adding, ‘we may need more days for closing arguments and then the tribunal would set a date for the verdict.’
The tribunal is scheduled for August-27-29 for the hearing in the two cases.
Akram alleged that Babar’s defence counsel already took eight working days for arguments, causing further delay.
‘We have to examine each and every page of the testimonies of 12 prosecution witnesses who have named Babar and it takes time. We are not wasting time as the judge is there to decide whether the time is justified,’ said Babar’s counsel Nazmul Islam.
He argued that the testimony of 225th prosecution witness Abdul Kahar Akand, also the final investigation officer, was recorded in 450 pages and they required enough time to make defence arguments on the testimony.
Another defence counsel Parvez Hossain said that they needed time to counter the testimonies of the ‘trained’ prosecution witnesses.
He alleged that the state mechanism was harassing the accused and even their lawyers.
At least three Supreme Court lawyers defending accused in the cases already stopped attending the trial to avoid further troubles, defence lawyers alleged.
Parvez and another defence counsel Muhammad Ali languished in jail for 40 days in 2015, they alleged.
Twenty-four people, including late president Zillur Rahman’s wife Ivy Rahman, were killed and over 200
were injured in the grenade attack on a rally of the then main opposition Bangladesh Awami League in front of its central office at Bangabandhu Avenue on August 21, 2004.
Awami League president Sheikh Hasina, now the prime minister, among others, escaped the attack but the explosions caused her hearing damage.
Two cases – one for the murder and the other under the Explosive Substances Act – were filed for the grenade attack while a judicial inquiry was also conducted.
The one-member judicial inquiry commission of Justice Joynul Abedin, formed on August 22, 2004, submitted its report to the home ministry on October 2, 2004 with 14 short- and seven long-term recommendations.
‘The commission has not been able to identify the actual culprits,’ the report said, ‘but it has nevertheless been able to identify the masterminds behind the incident.’
The government had also sought help from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Interpol but their findings had never been made public.
The course for the investigation into, and the story about, the grenade attack had been changed time and again with the changes in the state power.
The Criminal Investigation Department had arrested 20 people and allegedly forced George Miah, Abul Hasem Rana and Shafiqul Islam to confess to the attack in 2005.
In the statement, George Miah, of Noakhali, reportedly said that a team of 14 took part in the attack being instructed by top crime suspects Tanvirul Islam Joy and Subrata Bain, reportedly hiding in India, and the 14, including George, was paid Tk 5,000 each for the attack.
The investigation into the cases took a new turn after the military-controlled interim regime took over the power on January 11, 2007 with Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami operations commander Mufti Abdul Hannan, arrested on October 1, 2005 in connection with the Ramna Batamul blast, making a statement before a court on November 1, 2007.
On June 9, 2008, CID pressed charges against former BNP deputy minister Abdus Salam Pintu, Mufti Abdul Hannan and 20 others in the cases.
After recording testimonies of 61 prosecution witnesses, the tribunal on August 3, 2009 ordered further investigation into the cases following petitions filed by the prosecution after the Awami League assumed power.
On July 3, 2011, CID submitted supplementary charge sheets against 30 more people including Bangladesh Nationalist Party chairperson Khaleda Zia’s eldest son Tarique Rahman, Babar, political secretary to prime minister during Khaleda Zia’s 2001-2006 tenure Abul Harris Chowdhury and the then Jamaat-e-Islami secretary general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed.
On March 18, 2012, the tribunal charged the 30, in addition to the 22 people indicted earlier, in the cases. Of the 52 accused, 23 are in jail and eight, including three former inspectors general of police, are on bail.
Mojaheed was dropped from the trial as he was hanged at Dhaka Central Jail on November 22, 2015 on charge of crimes against humanity committed during the 1971 War for Independence.
Abdul Hannan Munshi and Sharif Shahedul Alam Bipul were also dropped from the trial following their executions on April 12, 2017 on charge of killing three people and injuring former British high commissioner in Bangladesh and dozen others in Sylhet.
The rest 18 accused, including Tarique, are being tried in their absence.
CID special superintendent Abdul Kahar Akand, who was promoted to additional deputy inspector general, said that they sought Interpol assistance for bringing back four accused –Tarique, now in London, former BNP lawmaker Shah Mofazzal Hossain Kaikobad, believed to be in Bangkok, Maulana Taj Uddin, now in South Africa, and Harris Chowdhury, whose whereabouts was still unknown.
He said that they were trying to determine the whereabouts of the rest 14 accused, including Hanif Enterprise owner Mohammad Hanif, the then Directorate General of Forces Intelligence director ATM Amin, who was later promoted to major general, and the then DGFI general staff officer-1 Saiful Islam Joarder, now retired.
In October 2016, Bangladesh requested South Africa to expedite the process of extradition of Maulana Tajuddin.
In July, home minister Asaduzzaman Khan said that a process was on to bring the suspects from abroad. Awami League leaders, including Hasina, in political programmes continued alleging that their archrival Bangladesh Nationalist Party top leaders were behind the attack.
BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, however, termed August 21 massacre a barbaric act of violence and said that BNP never supported this barbaric attack.
The victims and victim families expressed their disappointment with the delay in the trial and said that the ‘actual plotters’ must be identified and brought to justice.
Dhaka district unit of Awami Swechchhasebak League vice-president Mahbuba Parvin said that she demand quick justice.
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