Six members of Ansar Al Islam, including Major (sacked) Syed Ziaul Huq, were sentenced to death on Tuesday for killing LGBT activist Xulhaz Mannan and his associate Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy.
Judge Mojibur Rahman of the Anti-Terrorism Special Tribunal in Dhaka handed down the verdict amid tight security.
The court awarded the death penalty to the six accused under Section 6 (2) of the Anti-terrorism Act-2009. It also gave six-month more imprisonment to each of the convicts under section 8 of the same act.
The tribunal, however, acquitted two accused -- Sabbirul Haq Chowdhury and Mawlana Junayed Ahmed -- of the charge as the allegations against the duo could not be proved beyond doubt.
Major Zia, Akram, Sabbirul and Junaid remained fugitive while four others were present in the dock when the court pronounced the verdict.
Additional law enforcers were deployed in the court area following the pronouncement of the judgement in the sensational double murder case.
Earlier in the morning, the four arrested accused were produced before the court from Kashimpur High Security Prison during delivery of the verdict in the case.
They killed Xulhaz Mannan and Khandaker Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy for refraining them from freedom of expression and their independent activities, it said.
“The accused had the same intention as there is no chance to see the role of any of them as small or big. As members of Ansar Al Islam, all of them played a key role in the murder of Xulhaj and Tonoy. That is why they deserved similar punishment.”
The court said, “If the accused survive, members of Ansar al-Islam who are out of court will be motivated to commit the similar crime. Therefore, the accused cannot get any sympathy.”
The judge also observed that the punishment ensure justice. The relatives of the victims will feel peace while anyone will be afraid and discouraged to commit such heinous crimes in future.
Sacked Army Major Zia, Akram, Mozammel and Sheikh Abdullah were also sentenced to death in another case filed over the murder of publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan in 2015.
Expressing satisfaction over the verdict, Public Prosecutor Golam Sarwar Khan Zakir said, “The justice ensured through the landmark verdict.”
Earlier, the tribunal on August 23 fixed the date for the delivery of the verdict as both the prosecution and the defence concluded their arguments in the case on that day.
A total of 24 prosecution witnesses testified before the tribunal in the case.
On July 28, 2019, the Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime unit of Dhaka Metropolitan Police submitted a charge sheet, accusing the eight militants in the case.
According to the case, on April 25, 2016, Xulhaz was hacked to death inside his apartment at Kalabagan along with Tonoy. The attack was one of a series of militant-linked assassinations of secular activists and religious minorities. Investigation found Islamist militants responsible for the killings of Xulhaz and Tonoy.
Xulhaz’s brother Minhaz Mannan filed the case against unidentified people with the local police station.
Xulhaz, 35, joined the US embassy in 2007 before taking up what would turn out to be his last assignment at the USAID. He also edited Roopbaan, Bangladesh’s first LGBT magazine.
Tonoy, 26, was involved with the Lok Natyadal theatre group. He taught drama to children at an organisation called the Peoples Theatre.