A Dhaka tribunal on Wednesday sentenced former state minister for home Lutfozzaman Babar, former deputy minister Abdus Salam Pintu and 17 others to death and acting BNP chairman Tarique Rahman and 18 others to life in August 21, 2004 grenade attack cases.
The Dhaka Speedy Trial Tribunal 1 also jailed the rest 11 accused in the two cases for varying terms.
Tribunal judge Shahed Nuruddin, amidst heightened security in and around the overcrowded makeshift courtroom near the old Dhaka Central Jail, pronounced the verdict in the cases filed for the grenade attack on an Awami League rally in Dhaka that left 22 AL leaders and activists killed and scores injured.
Video by Abdullah Apu
None was acquitted as the tribunal observed that the prosecution could prove the charges on the 12 counts, including murder, attack with grenades, storage of grenades and conspiracy to kill the then opposition leader Sheikh Hasina.
The prosecution and survivors of the attack said that they were not fully satisfied with the verdict as Tarique was not sentenced to death. The prosecution also said that it would appeal for Tarique’s death sentence.
Law minister Anisul Huq, expressing satisfaction with the verdict, said Tarique was the mastermind of the conspiracy and they expected capital punishment for him.
‘After getting the copy of the full judgement, we will look into it to see on what grounds Tarique has not been given the maximum punishment and decide on appealing to High Court for enhancing the sentence,’ the minister told reporters at the ministry.
Defence counsel said that
they were deprive of justice, would appeal against the verdict and Tarique would challenge the verdict returning home on time.
BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, flanked by the party’s senior leaders, rejected the verdict at a news briefing at the party’s central office terming it a ‘dictated’.
Fakhrul said BNP thought that this verdict was ‘politically’ motivated and ‘naked’ exposure of political vendetta of the incumbent government.
In reply to a question, he said they would face the verdict both legally and politically.
In the verdict pronounced in 50 minutes amid repeated power cuts, the tribunal issued warrants for the arrest of 18 convicts tried in their absence, including Bangladesh Nationalist Party chairperson Khaleda Zia’s son Tarique Rahman, now in London, former Directorate General of Forces Intelligence director general ATM Amin and his colleague Saiful Islam Joarder.
Their sentences would be executed on their arrest of surrender, the tribunal stated.
The tribunal handed down death sentenced to Babar, Abdus Salam Pintu, Hanif Enterprise owner Muhammad Hanif, former National Security Intelligence director general Razzaqul Haider Chowdhury, who was the director counter intelligence bureau of the DGFI during the attack, the then NSI director general retired brigadier general Abdur Rahim, Mawlana Md Taj Uddin, Mawlana Sheikh Abdus Salam, Indian national Md Abdul Mahed Bhat alias Md Yusuf Bhat, Abdul Maleq alias Golam Mohammad alias GM, Mawlana Shawkat Osman alias Sheikh Farid, Mohibullah alias Mafizur Rahman alias Ovi, Mawlana Abu Sayeed alias Doctor Zafar, Abul Kalam Azad alias Bulbul, Md Jahangir Alam, Hafez Mawlana Abu Taher, Hossain Ahmed Tamim, Moin Uddin Sheikh alias Mufti Moin alias Khaja alias Abu Jandal alias Masum Billah, Md Rafiqul Islam alias Sabuj alias Khalid Saifullah alias Shamim alias Rashed, Md Uzzal alias Ratan and fined Tk 1 lakh each on charge of murders through criminal conspiracy with common intention. They were also jailed for life term on charge of hurting and injuring through criminal conspiracy with common intention.
The same individuals were also sentenced to death and imprisonment for 20 years in the second case under the Explosive Substances Act.
The tribunal jailed Tarique, the then prime minister Khaleda Zia’s political secretary Abul Harris Chowdhury, former BNP lawmaker Shah Mofazzal Hossain Kaikobad, BNP-backed ward commissioner Arifur Rahman Arif, Shahadot Ullah alias Jewel, Moulana Abdur Rouf alias Abu Omor Abu Homaira alias Pir Shaheb, Mawlana Sabbir Ahmed alias Abdul Hannan Sabbir, Arif Hasan alias Sumon alias Abdur Razzak, Hafez Mawlana Yahia, Abu Bakar alias Hafez Selim Hawlader, Mohibul Muttakin alias Muttakin, Anisul Mursalin, Muhammad Khalil, Jahangir Alam Badar, Muhammad Iqbal, Liton alias Moulana Liton, Mufti Shafiqur Rahman, Mufti Abdul Hai and Ratul Ahmed Babu alias Ratul Babu for life term and fined Tk 50,000 each on charge of murder through criminal conspiracy with common intention.
Former inspectors general of police Ashraful Huda and Shahudul Haque were jailed for two years and fined Tk 50,000 each and twice on two counts of harbouring offenders and disobeying direction of law to save offenders. They would, however, need to serve two years in jail as the tribunal ordered concurrent execution of the sentences. Ashraful Huda hit his head and kept the head down hearing the sentence.
The tribunal gave same sentences to retired lieutenant commander Saiful Islam Duke, also Khaleda’s nephew, and his brother-in-law Saiful Islam Joarder, the then lieutenant colonel at DGFI, and his boss retired major general ATM Amin on similar counts.
Apparently frustrated Duke looked at window beside him as he was sentenced for ‘assisting’ one of the accused to escape Bangladesh with forged passport.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police’s the then deputy commission (south) Khan Sayeed Hassan and deputy commissioner (east) Obaidur Rahman Khan got same sentences on similar counts. They were also jailed for two years on charge of causing disappearance of evidence.
The then Criminal Investigation Department chief Khuda Baksh Chowdhury, who was later promoted to the rank of police chief, the cases’ first supervising officer special superintendent of police Ruhul Amin and investigators and assistant superintendents of police Abdur Rashid and Munshi Atikur Rahman were jailed for two years on charge of framing incorrect record to save offenders and for three year on charge of causing hurt to extort confession to divert the investigation and distort the case story.
Before the pronouncement of the verdict, chief prosecutor Syed Rezaur Rahman, flanked by over two dozens of pro-AL lawyers including lawmaker Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh, told the tribunal that 31 of the 49 accused were in the dock on the 1,754th working day of the cases, and the people were looking at the court for the verdict.
The 31 accused were seen standing and cordoned by cops while few of them were in iron fetters.
The makeshift courtroom and its balcony on first floor of an old-fashioned building near the old Dhaka Central Jail were packed by members of police, intelligence, lawyers and journalists, who had to drop their all electronic gadgets at the entrance.
The judge then started reading out the verdict, saying that the two cases were tried simultaneously and 225 prosecution witnesses were examined.
He read out 12 issues, including whether any meeting for a conspiracy was held at Merul Badda in Dhaka, whether Mufti Abdul Hannan Munshi, executed later in another case, conspired renting a house at Badda and was arrested by Rapid Action Battalion in 2005, and whether the accused stored grenades in another building.
The judge also examined whether the then deputy minister for education Abdus Salam Pintu along with Babar and four other suspects used his official residence on August 18, 2004 to plot to kill Hasina, now the prime minister, and whether Pintu’s brother Mawlana Taj Uddin on August 20, 2004 supplied two accused with 15 arges grenades and Tk 20,000.
The judge examined whether Hawa Bhaban was the centre point of the BNP-led government and whether Tarique had held any ‘conspiracy meeting’ with the extremists.
The tribunal came to conclusion saying that analysing different spots and events, it believed that convicting the accused was logical as the prosecution had proved the charges.
During the trial, 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 Hossain and 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 the 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 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 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 Muhammad Jamal alias George Miah, Abul Hasem Rana and Shafiqul Islam to confess to the attack in 2005.
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 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 Tarique, Babar, Harris and the then Jamaat-e-Islami secretary general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed.
Until CID special superintendent Abdul Kahar Akand submitted the third charge sheet, four other investigators had investigated the cases and two of them were made accused in the cases.
On March 18, 2012, the tribunal charged the 30, in addition to the 22 people indicted earlier, in the cases. Of the 52 accused, 31 are in jail.
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.
Mufti 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.
Tarique was represented by state defence lawyer AKM Akter Hossain, also central member of Bangladesh Awami Ainjibi Parishad while Chaitanya Chandra Halder, also staff correspondent of Daily Star, represented Mohammad Hanif.
During the trial, the defence counsel alleged that ‘the plotters’ were yet to be identified instead the opposition leaders were implicated ‘intentionally’.
The prosecution, however, denied the allegation claiming that the final investigation found the connections of Tarique and his fellows.
After the verdict, the case additional public prosecutor Mosharraf Hossain Kajol said that they would have been happier if Tarique was sentenced to death.
He said that they would go to the higher court to seek enhancement of Tarique’s sentence.
‘We will go through the full verdict and decide about it.’
Defence counsel Sanaullah Mia expressed his dissatisfaction over the verdict and said they were deprived of justice.
He said the BNP leaders who were made accused in the case were not involved in the attack.
It was said in the case that the grenade attack was planned in Abdus Salam Pintu’s residence but none from the house came to testify in the court.
‘Even there was no evidence of such a plan,’ he said.
He said that based on the statement of Mufti Hannan many were named in the case but he withdrew his statement given after his remand in police custody and had said that he had never met BNP leaders.
‘It was actually done to destroy Zia family and BNP,’ he said, adding, ‘Tarique Rahman would return home and challenge the verdict.’
Responding to reporters, he said, Tarique would return home ‘on time’.
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