In the history of Bangladesh’s democracy, August 21 bears the testimony of utmost cruelty that the cohorts of then state machinery in 2004 inflicted on the Awami League at a rally by hurling a series of grenades.
The very grenade attack on the Awami League rally on Bangabandhu Avenue left at least 24 people dead and 500 others critically injured, a heinous act of crime of such magnitude to obliterate an opposition party can nowhere be seen in any democratic world.In its landmark verdict, the court on October 10 last year awarded capital punishment to 19 people, including former state minister Lutfozzaman Babar and former deputy minister Abdus Salam Pintu in two cases filed over the deadly grenade attack. The court also awarded life term imprisonment to 19 people, including BNP acting chairman Tarique Rahman, Khaleda Zia’s former political secretary Harris Chowdhury and former BNP lawmaker Qazi Shah Mofazzal Hossain Kaikobad while 11 others were awarded jail terms of various terms.
While delivering the verdict, the court observed that in a democratic state, whichever party comes to power, it has to try its best to establish democracy by applying a liberal policy towards the opposition.
But a ruling party’s attempt to reap political benefits by killing opposition leaders cannot be a manifestation of democratic thoughts.
Judge Shahed Nuruddin of Dhaka Speedy Trial Tribunal-1 came up with the observation while delivering verdicts in two cases filed over the grisly grenade attack on an Awami League rally on August 21, 2004 that killed 24 people.
The court in his verdict stated that rivalry between the ruling and the opposition parties is inevitable in politics, but it is utterly unacceptable that attempts will be made to make the opposition leaderless.
“General people don’t want such politics,” said the judge.“In politics, inevitably there will be a myriad of disputes between the ruling party and the opposition, but trying to eliminate leaders of the opposition is not acceptable,” he said.
The court observed that in a democratic nation, the party in state power must make the utmost efforts to consolidate democracy by adopting a liberal policy towards the opposition.
“For the party in power to try to gain political advantage by killing opposition leaders is not indicative of democratic thought,” the judge said.
“The public does not want this. They want to understand a party’s policy, ideology and plans by participating in their rally and processions. The public will turn away from politics if throwing Arges grenades to kill political leaders and common people becomes a trend.”
In its verdict, the court talked about the country’s political atmosphere since the 1971 Liberation War, saying that the defeated forces of 1971 attempted to diminish the spirit of the war and halt development of the newly independent country by killing Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family members.
Following Bangabandhu’s assassination on August 15, 1975, four national leaders were murdered inside a prison through a conspiracy. But the conspiracy did not stop. It continued, the court, said, adding that later, an evil attempt was made on August 21, 2004 to make the AL leaderless.
The court said with a code “Sheikh Hasina will be served a light breakfast”, some home-grown militants with the help of international militant groups launched the attack.
It observed that the grenade attack was meant to eliminate top Awami League leaders from politics, and home-grown militants actively participated in the evil effort.
With the assistance of international militants and state machinery, the perpetrators directed Arges grenades — normally used in warfare — in broad daylight, on a political rally in the heart of the country’s capital.
The judge put forward some questions – “Why was such lethal weapon used?”
“Does politics mean carrying out a heinous attack on an opposition party? Not just a mere attack, it was an attempt to make a party leaderless.”
The judge said: “People want to have a clear idea about a political party’s planning, policy and ideology by attending its rallies. But if this trend of attacking and killing political leaders and common people continues, people will lose interest in politics.
Judge Shahed Nuruddin said the court did not want to see any repeat of the 2004 grenade attack on an Awami League rally, or other brutal attacks of the recent past, such as those at the Shahjalal shrine, against the former finance minister Shah AMS Kibria, or at Ramna.
It also mentioned painful experiences that the prosecution witnesses, victims and their family members had narrated before the tribunal during trial proceedings in the cases.
The court talked about Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who still suffers from a hearing impairment because of the attack, and said only “exemplary punishment” can prevent the recurrence of such heinous and shameful incidents.
About the grenade attack, the court said a series of meetings were held at Abdus Salam Pintu’s Dhanmondi residence before the August 21 attack and Pintu gave assurances that he would provide security and administrative assistance to Mufti Hannan and the other attackers.
On August 20, a day before the attack, Mufti Moin, alias Abu Jindal and Ahsan Ullah Kajal took 15 grenades and Tk 20,000 from Pintu’s residence.
Mufti Hannan and others carried out the attack afterwards. The court also said on August 18, 2004, Mufti Hannan and two others went to Pintu’s Dhanmondi residence where Pintu’s brother Tajuddin, Arif Commissioner and the owner of Hanif Paribahan Md Hanif were present. They also assured Hannan and his cohorts of providing all kinds of assistance.