The next few weeks may finally witness the execution of the killers of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder-president of People’s Republic of Bangladesh and also the Father of the Nation, who led the 1971 liberation war.
The Mukti Juddha resulted in a new Nation out of (East) Pakistan, but the leader who guided thousands of Mukti Bahini members (freedom fighter) to the victory, was not spared by the anti-national elements. Sheikh Mujib, who was popularly known as Bangabandhu (friend of Bengal) was killed with almost all his family (including one of his pregnant daughter in law) members within four years of the successful completion of the freedom movement.
The countdown has already started for the convicted as the court has signed the death warrants. Following the final verdict of the Supreme Court (of Bangladesh), the District and Sessions Judge of Dhaka Abdul Gafar signed the death warrants of five detained convicts on January 3 and already been served to them in Dhaka central jail, where they are being imprisoned. In the deadly assassination attempt by a group of army officers in his private residence at Dhanmondi in Dhaka on August 15, 1975, the killers did not spare Sheikh Mujib’s wife Fazilatunessa Mujib, sons Sheikh Kamal, Sheikh Jamal and Sheikh Russell, daughters-in-law Sultana Kamal and Rosy Jamal, and his brother Sheikh Naser.
The President’s military secretary Colonel Jamil, detective officer Nurul Islam Khan and Sepoy Shamsu also lost their lives in the during the pre-dawn operation. Only two daughters of Bangabandhu, Sheikh Hasina (the present Bangladesh PM) and Sheikh Rehana escaped as they were out of the country at that time. The apex court of the country had confirmed the death sentence to 12 convicts in the sensitive case.
Rejecting the appeals of five former army officers, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court (in its final judgment pronounced on November 19, 2009) upheld the High Court’s verdict sentencing all the 12 retired or dismissed army officers to death on the charge of murdering Sheikh Mujib.
A five-member bench of the court, comprising Justice Mohammed Tafazzal Islam, Justice Abdul Aziz, Justice Muzammel Hossain, Justice B K Das and Justice S K Sinha, observed in its verdict that ‘it was not a mutiny, but a conspiracy to kill Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’. The 412-page landmark judgment analyzed ‘having taken into consideration the facts and circumstances of the case and upon detailed analysis of the evidence and judgments of the courts’, there was ‘no illegality in the judgment and order passed by the High Court Division’ (to hang the killers of Mujib by the neck until death).
The five convicts who are behind the bar and waiting for gallows include Muhiuddin Ahmed, Syed Faruque Rahman, Sultan Shahriar Rashid Khan, Bazlul Huda (repatriated from Thailand) and AKM Mohiuddin (repatriated from the United States). Other convicts, who are hiding in different countries (arguably in Libya, Belgium, Pakistan, India, Hong Kong, Canada) include Khandaker Abdur Rashid, Shariful Haque Dalim, AM Rashed Chowdhury, Abdul Mazed, Risaldar Mosleuddin Khan, and Noor Chowdhury (to be deported from Canada).
One convict Abdul Aziz Pasha took political asylum in Zimbabwe and he died there in 2001. Quoting the Inspector General of Prisons Ashraful Islam Khan, the local media reported that the condemned five convicts had submitted the petitions for review of the Supreme Court verdict and also clemency from the Bangladesh President.
The apex court is understood to listen to the petitions filed by detained convicts in Bangabandhu murder case seeking review of its judgment in the next few days. But looking at the case, which is very much sensational in nature and involved with the emotion of millions of Bangladeshis, one can guess the convicts are unlikely to get pardon.
According to the Bangladesh rule of law, if the convicts would fail to get pardon finally from the President, they might be executed between 21 to 28 days of the issuance of death warrants. Bangladesh fought its glorious liberation movement under the leadership of Bangabandhu in 1971 and succeeded in achieving an independent Nation on December 16, 1971. The liberation war, supported by Indian armed forces, resulted in the killing of nearly 3 million Bangladeshi Mukti Joddha (freedom fighter) by the Pakistani forces.
The assassination of Bangabandhu had resulted many ups and down in the Bangladesh politics. Soon after the gory incident, the Mujib led Awami League government was dismissed and Khondker Mushtaque Ahmed took over as the President. Later he promulgated an Indemnity Ordinance on September 26, 1975 with an aim to stop of the trial of Mujib killing case. In fact, the next ten years witnessed very much slow progress in the investigation.
The subsequent regimes led by Ziaur Rahman, HM Ershad, Begum Khaleda Zia etc did not show interest to reopen the case. Rather many of the accused army officers were awarded with diplomatic assignments outside the country. Then the Awami League (this time led by Sheikh Hasina) once again came to power in Dhaka during June, 1996.
The AL government immediately scrapped the Indemnity Ordinance (later Act) and cleared the way to bring the killers to justice. In the meantime, the First Information Report on the murder was lodged at the Dhanmondi police station on October 2, 1996. The Criminal Investigation Department soon took up the case and started investigation promptly.
After the CID submitted its charge sheet against 20 accused on in January 1997, the trial of case (in the court of Dhaka District and Sessions Judge) started from March 12 in the same year. Later the case reached to the High Court and also the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, where the final verdict was pronounced in November last year.
The Bangladesh government has already launched a diplomatic campaign to bring those fugitives back to the country. Moreover the Interpol also issued red alert to nab them as early as possible. The Bangladesh home minister Sahara Khatun assured the people that Dhaka would adopt all possible measures to bring the killers back to justice. The final verdict of Supreme Court on the case, as expected, received overwhelm responses from various political parties, civil society groups, media and common people in general of Bangladesh. Most of the group and individuals publicly demanded an early execution of the verdict of the apex court.
The Bangladesh Supreme Court Bar Association termed the verdict as an epoch-making development in history to establish the rule of law in the country. The bar association urged the government to publish a white paper on those who were beneficiary of the killing of Bangabandhu. It also asked the government to bring the absconding convicts of the Bangabandhu murder case back to the country immediately and to execute their death sentences. ‘The Hindu’, an acclaimed Indian newspaper, commented in an editorial that ‘a large section of the people considered the coup and the assassination as part of a sinister and determined plot to turn the nation away from the path of socialism, democracy, nationalism, and secularism’. “If Bengali nationalism was the guiding spirit of the liberation struggle, a form of Bangladeshi nationalism, with stress on religious identity, was being sought to be established. The most significant outcome of the Supreme Court’s verdict should therefore be a reaffirmation of the dream of 1971,” it asserted.
A prominent English newspaper from Dhaka, ‘The Independent’ highlighted about the post- Bangabandhu assassination scenario in an editorial revealing that ‘there was nobody to protest the killings’. “Even the police refused to register a criminal case. The people who usurped state power rewarded the killers with prized diplomatic jobs.
Not only that they were also given legal protection under the notorious Indemnity Act,” added in the editorial. It concluded saying that ‘although we will never get back the great leader who had led us to independence and freedom but at least we will have the consolation of seeing justice done to the perpetrators of this horrendous crime’. The same annoyance was also reflected in the version of Sheikh Hasina, while she commented, “The killers forgot, a judge is there above all, who sees everything.” She did not hide her anger with the ‘misleading campaign to glorify the killings’ by a section in the society after the assassination of Bangabandhu. “They even officially declared-we killed Sheikh Mujib, dare you try us,”
Hasina disclosed. Otherwise, both she and her younger sister Sheikh Rehana expressed happiness that ‘the trial has finally ended after 34 years with justice established’. But there are still voices against the verdict, though very timid, who argues that it (August 15, 1975 murder) was a coup and not a murder. A pro-Pakistani political analyst based in Dhaka, who wanted anonymity, asserted that those armed force officials decided to rescue the nation ‘from the shackle of an one-party autocratic regime’ (with the theory of Ek Neta, Ek Desh (one-leader, one-country); Bangabandhu-Bangladesh under the guidance of Mujib).
Speaking to this writer from Dhaka, the middle aged political analyst, also pointed out, “Even when, the high officials from the defence, police and some political activists publicly admitted about their involvement in the issue, they are being ignored today by the law enforcing agencies.
After all, they (the killers) did not try to take over the country after the incidence.” Farhad Mazhar, a senior Bangladeshi rights activist, commented, “There are both political and criminal aspects of the events of 15th August, 75. In the post 75 politics of Bangladesh, criminal act of killing Sheikh Mujubur Rahman prevailed because of the changed political scenario of Bangladesh.
Accused person also accepted the trial under the existing laws of the country and did not refuse the trial defending their act as political act. Therefore existing constitution and laws will have to take course and the killers of Sheikh Mujib cannot go unpunished. However, in that case, major debates are about the judicial process. Is it transparent? Is it fair? To what extent it is politically motivated and imbued with vindictive intentions. These are the questions raised in many Bengali local media as well as by human rights activists. The issue of capital punishment is obviously a major concern not only in Bangladesh but also globally.”
Immediately after the verdict, the Amnesty International appealed Dhaka ‘not to execute the condemned convicts’ in Mujib killing. The UK-based human rights watchdog said in statement, “The killing of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family members were grave human rights abuses, and those who committed them should be brought to justice. However, bringing people to justice must not itself violate the human rights of the accused.”
Speaking to this writer from London, a senior official of Amnesty International argues that their organization (AI) ‘opposes the death penalty in all cases regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or the method used by the state to kill the prisoner’. He also added, “The death penalty violates the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment”. The AI has already called upon the Bangladesh President Zilur Rahman (and PM Sheikh Hasina) to use the constitutional power with an aim to stop the execution of the convicted army officials. But it seems unlikely to happen.