The Dhaka Speedy Trial Tribunal 1 on Tuesday posted for October 10 the pronouncement of verdict in two cases for grenade attack on an Awami League rally in Dhaka on August 21, 2004.
Tribunal judge Shahed Nuruddin passed the order after concluding the hearing of final arguments of the prosecution and defence counsel for 49 accused, including acting Bangladesh Nationalist Party chairman Tarique Rahman, now in London, and his cousin retired navy officer Saiful Islam Duke.
In the packed makeshift courtroom near old Dhaka Central Jail, the tribunal cancelled bails of eight accused—jailed Bangladesh Nationalist Party chairperson Khaleda Zia’s nephew former lieutenant commander Saiful Islam Duke, for Dhaka city ward commissioner Ariful Islam Arif, former inspectors general of police Ashraful Huda, Shahidul Haque and Khoda Box Chowdhury, former special superintendent of police Ruhul Amin, and former assistant superintendents of police Abdur Rashid and Munshi Atikur Rahman.
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, 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.
In the concluding argument, chief prosecutor Syed Rezaur Rahman argued that the attack was meant to kill Hasina, the then leader of the opposition, and other top leaders of her party.
He said that police officials concerned avoided their duties and destroyed the evidence.
Saiful Islam Duke’s defence counsel Abdur Razzaque Khan argued that Saiful was charged with arranging a passport for fugitive accused Mawlana Tajuddin after the name of one Badal, but the passport was issued in 2001.
He argued that those who escorted Taj Uddin to the airport in Dhaka were not prosecuted.
Another defence counsel Khandaker Mahbub Hossain also argued that most of the accused were implicated in the cases in reference to the reported confession made by accused Mufti Abdul Hannan Munshi.
‘Now, the question is how voluntary it was,’ he said, adding, ‘Mufti Hannan’s brother, sister and brother-in-law were picked up for 12 months, and then Mufti Hannan made the statement.’
He also argued that Mufti Hannan made two reported confessions. Additional public prosecutor Musharraf Hossain Kajol objected it, saying that there was no second confession rather it was the continuation of the first one.
The Criminal Investigation Department had arrested 20 people and allegedly forced George Miah, Abul Hasem Rana and Shafiqul Islam in 2005 to confess to the attack.
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 the Ramna Batamul blast case, 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, a court 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 Tarique Rahman, former state minister for home Lutfozzaman Babar, then prime minister Khaleda Zia’s political secretary Abul Harris Chowdhury and the then Jamaat-e-Islami secretary general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed.
Khandaker Mahbub Hossain argued that Mufti Hannan first made his statement on November 1, 2007 and then came up with another statement on April 7, 2011 while languishing in jail and named others in the cases.
Based on that reported second confession of Hannan the case was reopened and the trial continued, said the defence counsel.
They disputed the delayed recording of prosecution witnesses and argued that instead of further investigation only reinvestigation was carried out in the cases and that too without any appeal from investigation officer or police officer-in-charge concerned.
The defence counsel also argued that none of the 61 prosecution witnesses of the first charge sheet testified against Lutfozzaman Babar.
Khandaker Mahbub Hossain also told the court that the perception among the public was that the cases were politicised. ‘Why would BNP kill Sheikh Hasina,’ he said, adding, ‘as the cases were politicised, actual perpetrators escaped trial.’
Syed Rezaur Rahman denied the allegation, saying that none was politically named in the case and alleged that the then BNP-led government tried to make the Awami League leaderless.
The tribunal examined 225 of the 511 prosecution witnesses, mostly serving or retired government officials from police and intelligence agencies.
One of the defence counsels Parvez Hossain alleged that the state machine was harassing the accused and even their lawyers.
At least three Supreme Court lawyers defending accused in the cases stopped attending the trial to avoid further troubles, defence lawyers alleged.
Defence counsel Parvez and Muhammad Ali languished in jail for 40 days in 2015, they alleged.
On March 18, 2012, the tribunal charged 30 people named in the supplementary charge sheets, 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, were on bail until Tuesday.
Ali Ahsan Muhammad 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.
The government has sought Interpol assistance for bringing back four accused—Tarique, former BNP lawmaker Shah Mofazzal Hossain Kaikobad, believed to be in Bangkok, Maulana Taj Uddin, reportedly in South Africa, and Harris Chowdhury, whose whereabouts was still unknown.
CID is still 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.
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