Nineteen people, including former state minister Lutfozzaman Babar and former deputy minister Abdus Salam Pintu were on Wednesday sentenced to death in two cases filed over the deadly grenade attack on an Awami League rally on August 21, 2004.
The court also awarded life imprisonment to 19 people, including BNP acting chief Tarique Rahman, and 11 others to different terms of jail in the two sensational cases.Judge Shahed Nuruddin of Dhaka Speedy Trial Tribunal-1 set up at a building near Old Dhaka Central jail on Nazimuddin Road pronounced the verdict in a jam-packed courtroom.
The judge started reading out the summary of judgement around 11:45am in the two attack cases—one filed for murder and another under the Explosives Substances Act.
With the verdict, the wait of the victims’ families for justice came to an end more than 14 years after the incident, one of the deadliest in the country’s history.
The 19 death row convicts are former state minister for home Lutfozzaman Babar, former deputy minister for education Abdus Salam Pintu, former NSI chief Brig Gen (retd) Rezzaqul Haider Chowdhury, former DGFI director Brig Gen (retd) Abdur Rahim, owner of Hanif Paribahan Mohammad Hanif, Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) leader Yusuf Butt alias Majid Butt, Kashmir-based LeT leader Abdul Malek alias Golam Mohammad, Harkatul Jihad (HuJi) founder Abdus Salam, and Huji leaders Maulana Tajuddin, Maulana Shawkat Osman, Maulana Abu Sayeed alias Dr Abu Zafar, Abul Kalam Azad alias Bulbul, Jahangir Alam, Maulana Abu Taher, Hossain Ahmed Tamim, Mufti Moinuddin Sheikh alias Abu Zandal alias Masum Billah, Rafiqul Islam Sabuj, Mohammad Ujjal alias Ratan and Mohibullah alias Mofizur Rahman alias Ovi.
They were awarded capital punishment under sections 302,120 (Kha) and 34 of penal code. All the convicts were also fined Tk one lakh each.
The court also sentenced them to life term imprisonment under section 307 of penal code and fined Tk 50,000 in default to suffer one year more in jail.The convicts also got death penalty and were fined Tk one lakh under section 3 and 6 of Explosive Substances Act. They were also given 20 years in jail under section 4 and 6 of the act and fined Tk 50, 000 each or in default to suffer one year more in jail. Their sentences will come into effect simultaneously.
Nineteen others who got life term in jail are BNP acting chairman Tarique Rahman, Khaleda’s former political secretary Harris Chowdhury, former BNP lawmaker Qazi Shah Mofazzal Hossain Kaikobad, BNP leader Ariful Islam Arif, Huji leaders Shahadatullah Jewel, Maulana Abdur Rouf, Maulana Sabbir Ahmed alias Abdul Hannan Sabbir, Arif Hasan Sumon, Hafez Maulana Yahya, Maulana Abu Bakar alias Selim Howlader, Mahibul Muttakin, Anisul Mursalin, Md Khalil, Jahangir Alam Badar, Md Iqbal, Liton alias Maulana Liton, Mufti Shafiqur Rahman, Mufti Abdul Hai and Ratul Babu.
The convicts were awarded life-term imprisonment under sections 302, 120 (Kha) and 34 of penal code and fined Tk 50,000 each or in default to suffer one year more in jail.
They were also sentenced to life term under sections 307,120 (kha) and 34 of penal code and fined Tk 50,000 each in default to suffer one year more in jail.
The court also sentenced them life term in jail under sections 3 and 6 of Explosive Substances Act and fined them Tk 50,000 each in default to suffer one year more in jail.
The convicts were also awarded 20 years’ jail under sections 4 and 6 of the act and fined Tk 50,000 each in default to suffer one more year in prison. All the sentences against them will come into effect simultaneously.
The court awarded four years’ imprisonment to two former inspectors general of police—-Ashraful Huda and Shahudul Haque, Lt Commander (retd) Saiful Islam Duke, nephew of Khaleda Zia, former DGFI official (sacked) Saiful Islam Joarder and Maj Gen (retd) ATM Amin under two sections.
Former deputy commissioner (South) of DMP Khan Sayeed Hassan and former DC (East) of DMP Obaidur Rahman Khan were also jailed for six years each under three sections.
The court also awarded five years’ jail to former IGP Khoda Baksh Chowdhury, former SP Ruhul Amin and former ASPs of CID Atiqur Rahman and Abdur Rashid.
Earlier three accused—- Jamaat secretary general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed, and Huji chief Mufti Abdul Hannan and his associate Sharif Shahedul Alam alias Bipul— were dropped from the cases as they had been executed after their conviction in other cases.
On September 18, the court fixed October 10 for delivery of its verdict in two grenade attack cases after the prosecution and the defence completed their arguments in 120 hearing days,
The court sat for a total of 1,454 days to conduct trial proceedings in the cases.
out of 49 convicts are on the run. They are Tarique Rahman, Tajuddin Ahmed, Ratul Babu, Kaikobad, Haris Chowdhury, ATM Amin, Saiful Islam Joarder, Mohibul Mustakin, Anisul Mursalin, Shafikur Rahman, Mufti Abdul Hai, Hanif, Iqbal, Khalilur Rahman, Jahangir Alam, Liton alias Zobair, Obaidur Rahman and Khan Syed Hasan while the rest 31 are in jail.
During delivery of the verdict, the court in its observation said whichever party is in power in a democratic country must work to consolidate democracy through a liberal policy towards the political opposition. Judge Shahed Nuruddin said gaining political mileage by killing opposition leaders can never be an expression of a democratic thought.
“There might be hundreds of differences between the ruling party and the opposition, but killing opposition leaders for political gain can never be democratic expression.”
“People do not want this kind of politics. They want to know the policy, ideology and plan of a political party through active participation in its rally, procession and the like.”
“However, if the trend of killing political leaders and mass people using Arges grenades continues, the people will turn away from politics,” the court said. The court does not want to see repetition of brutal incidents like Shahjalal shrine and Ramna Batamul attacks and the gruesome grenade attacks on the then opposition leader and incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the judge said in his observation While leaving courtroom, convict Lutfuzzaman Babar told reporters that “The grenade attack was a tragic incident but the AL government implicated me with a political motive.”
Soon after announcement of the verdict, special public prosecutor Mosharraf Hossain Kajal said they also sought death penalty for Tarique Rahman in the cases. “We’ll appeal against the verdict,” he said.
However, Advocate SM Shahjahan, one of the defence lawyers, said the defence counsels will appeal against the verdict. have failed to get justice from the court and we will appeal to the higher court against the judgement,” he said
Awami League general secretary Obaidul Quader said his party is not fully satisfied with the verdict as the mastermind of the attack Tarique Rahman was not awarded death penalty.
“We are not fully unhappy and also not fully satisfied with the verdict as the mastermind Tarique Rahman was not awarded capital punishment,” he said
Meanwhile, BNP rejected the verdict, saying the judgement has been delivered at the ‘behest of the government’ with a political motive. “BNP thinks that the verdict is a politically motivated one.”
“It’s a naked manifestation of satisfying government’s political vengeance,” said BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir while speaking at a press conference.
Expressing satisfaction over the verdict, AL leaders Advocate Yusuf Hossain Humayun and Barrister Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh on the court premise told newsmen that the verdict prove that the rule of law exists in the country.
Thirty-one accused, including Babar and Salam, were produced before the court before delivery of the verdict. They were brought to the court around 11:20am from Kashimpur Central Jail in Gazipur in three prison vans.
The verdict was announced amid tight security in the capital, including the trial court area.
Additional law enforcers were deployed at key points of the capital while members of Rapid Action Battalion, bomb disposal unit of Dhaka Metropolitan Police and Armed Police Battalion posted on Nazimuddin Road area.
Movement of pedestrians on Nazimuddin road and its adjacent areas in old Dhaka was restricted over delivery of the verdict.
According to the case statements, it was just 5:22pm on August 21 in 2004 when assailants carried out the attack on the AL’s anti-terrorism rally on Bangabandhu Avenue in the capital. All of a sudden, the venue turned into a place of bloodstains. Twenty-four people including Mohila Awami League president Ivy Rahman, wife of late President Zillur Rahman killed in the attack.
Awami League president and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, then opposition leader in parliament, narrowly escaped the attack but she suffered severe ear injuries.
The attack was allegedly masterminded by some BNP leaders. The attack was aimed at killing AL president Sheikh Hasina. Following the incident, the steps taken by the then government left a scar in the country’s politics.
BNP and Jamaat had tried to protect the masterminds by influencing the investigation into the grisly attack. They even tried to put the blame on the AL, said prosecution lawyers
The investigation revealed that the militant outfit HuJi, BNP-Jamaat influential leaders and officials of the home ministry, police, DGFI, NSI and Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) were involved in the attack.
As per the case documents, a few months after the incident, some senior CID officials cooked up farcical ‘Joj Mia’ story and detained Joj Mia along with 20 other petty criminals. Joj Mia and two others were forced to give confessional statements. The real identities of the detainees were later unmasked during further CID investigation in the two grenade attack cases. After a caretaker administration took over, the CID submitted two separate charge sheets against 22 persons, including militant leaders Mufti Hannan and Abdus Salam Pintu, in June 2007.
The trial began after charges were framed against them in October in 2008 and the court recorded testimonies of 61 prosecution witnesses in the cases. But the court in August, 2009 ordered further investigation into the incident following a petition of the prosecution.
In July 2011, CID submitted a supplementary charge sheet against 30 more individuals, including Tarique and Babar, raising the number of accused to 52.
In March 2012, re-trial in the two cases started simultaneously at the Dhaka court against the 52 accused.
The court on May 30, 2017 wrapped up recording of depositions. A total of 225 out of 511 prosecution witnesses testified to prove the charges while 20 witnesses were produced before the court by the defence.
After concluding hearing of arguments for 119 days, the court on September 18 this year completed the trial in the two cases.
During arguments, prosecution lawyers said the grenade attack on the AL rally was the outcome of a criminal conspiracy made at Hawa Bhaban, the BNP chief’s political office during 2001-06 period, and at the residence of then deputy minister Abdus Salam Pintu with Tarique Rahman giving the go-ahead.
They also said Tarique and his cohorts intended to kill Sheikh Hasina and other top AL leaders so that then BNP-led government could perpetuate power.
Besides, the purpose of Mufti Hannan, the chief of militant outfit Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh (HuJi) and also an accused, and his cohorts was to establish ‘fanatic Islam’ in the country, a prosecution lawyer said.
According to the supplementary charge sheet, the grenades were brought from Pakistan by Maulana Tajuddin, brother of Pintu. Before the attack, the assailants held meetings in at least 10 places in the capital, including Hawa Bhaban.