BANGLADESH experienced one of the gravest political tragedies in modern history this day, August 15, 45 years ago. The country’s founding president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was murdered, along with his family, barring two daughters who were abroad on the fateful night, in an extrajudicial military putsch. The Sheikh, the prime leader of Bangladesh’s political struggle for independence in the Pakistani era was, indeed, struggling to meet legitimate aspirations of people those days in 1975, primarily due to the difficulties involved in restoring a war-torn economy, invisible political and financial shenanigans by some local and foreign quarters and, worse still, some visible political and economic malpractice by a section of his party leaders and activists. Those who planned and executed the extrajudicial murder of the Sheikh definitely took the advantage of his and his party’s waning popularity and got away with it for the time being. It is true that the violent ouster of the Sheikh’s government apparently returned the country that it had lost under his regime — multiparty politics, media freedom and the price control of essential goods being the major ones. However, by the essence of democracy, the violent change of guards hardly brought about any qualitative changes in politics. Instead, as we have repeatedly argued in this column in the past, the one-party rule eventually turned into a one-man rule and that, too, of a military dictator. The worst that the regime, which followed the Sheikh’s violent downfall, did was to legitimise the murder of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family and his political colleagues by way of constitutionally indemnifying the acts of murder and, thus, close the legal path of seeking justice in court. No denying that extrajudicial murders of political opponents took place when the Sheikh was in power while the murder of left-wing Siraj Sikder in police custody on January 2, 1975 remains a high-profile example. The Sheikh’s regime did not bring the perpetrators of Shikder’s murderers to book, but it did not indemnify the killers either.
The legal sanction of extrajudicial murders and the political claim of the existence of the ‘rule of law’ cannot go together. When in opposition, particularly in the 1980s and early 1990s, Sheikh Hasina, the Sheikh’s daughter and the country’s prime minister, used to argue justifiably that a genuine ‘rule of law’ could not be restored without trying those who murdered the country’s founding president. Then, following a lot of struggle, political and otherwise, she took the Sheikh’s party to power again in 1996, had the indemnity act repealed and brought the killers to justice while almost all of whom found guilty of the Sheikh’s murder have already been punished and that, too, with active or passive support of every section of society.
Under the circumstances, it was a foremost moral responsibility of Sheikh Hasina’s government/s not to allow any state agencies to conduct any extrajudicial murder in the name of keeping law and order, for the ‘rule of law’ does not permit the taking of anyone’s life without due judicial sanction of a competent court of law or, in other words, the rule of law entitles even hardened criminals to legally defend themselves. But, unfortunately, more than 2,500 people have so far been victims of extrajudicial murder by the law enforcement agencies alone, including more than 300 deaths in state custody allegedly of torture, during the Awami League’s rule since 2009. This is time to stop such illegal killing by the state and bring to justice perpetrators of the murderers involved and, thus, show honour to the memory of the Sheikh who did not grant legal impunity to any murderer.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Editorial