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Apex Court Upholds Death Penalties of Ex-Army Officers in Bangladesh Founder's Murder Trial
By Ataur Rahman
Bangladesh Correspondent
Bangladesh's founder Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman

Bangladesh — The apex court of Bangladesh on Nov. 19, 2009 upheld death penalties of five ex-army officers in Bangladesh's founder Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's murder trial, clearing ways for execution of all the 12 condemned convicts whose capital punishment were confirmed by the High Court earlier.

Senior judge of the five-member bench of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh M Tafazzal Islam delivered the verdict at the heavily guarded and crowded courtroom, rejecting the appeals of five of the convicts after a protracted trial process.

In line with the judgment, which took 10 minutes to be delivered, all the 12 ex-army officers who were earlier handed down the capital punishment would now have to walk to gallows for murdering Bangabandhu, father of incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, lawyers said.

Justice Tafazzal Islam said the Appellate Division upheld the judgment of the High Court that earlier confirmed the capital punishment of the 12 coup leaders as "we find no cogent ground to interfere with the impugned judgment and order of the High Court Division (verdict)".

"The appellants (five convicts) having failed to make out a case of extenuating circumstance to commute their sentence of death, we are not inclined to interfere with the sentence of death awarded to the appellants by the learned sessions judge (of the trial court) and maintained by the High Court Division," he said. Of the 12 convicts, the five who are now in jail filed the appeals while the final judgment came after 29 days of hearing on their prayers while the six others could not take the opportunity as they were on the run abroad and one died a natural death in Zimbabwe, meanwhile.

The judgment came amid an unprecedented security vigil at the country's important installations including the Supreme Court
complex with senior government leaders fearing subversive activities in the run up to the judgment.

The five convicts are sacked lieutenant colonels Syed Faruq
Rahman, Sultan Shariar Rashid Khan, Mohiuddin Ahmed (artillery) and AKM Mohiuddin and sacked major Bazlul Huda.

"We have got the justice," chief state lawyer in the case Anisul Haque said in an instant reaction after the verdict.

The verdict came following a protracted legal process of 13 years and 34 years after the assassination of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman along with most of his family members - his wife, three sons and two daughters in law.A total of 28 people, including domestic staff, were killed when a group of junior army officers stormed the Bangabandhu's private residence at Dhaka's Dhanmandi area in a pre-dawn swoop that also toppled his post- independence Awami League government while Sheikh Hasina and her younger sister Sheikh Rehana survived the putsch as they were abroad at that time.

But the delayed trial started only when the party under Sheikh Hasina's leadership returned to power in 1996 general elections after 21 years in political wilderness and scrapped an indemnity law which was enacted by the post-1975 government to protect the killers.

The subsequent governments also had rewarded them with diplomatic assignments abroad or allowed them to float political parties.

Later speaking at a crowded press briefing, Anisul Haque said the five got the opportunity to file the leave to appeal against their death sentences but the others were unlikely to get the chance and, therefore, directly would walk to gallows if they could be arrested.

He said according to the constitution the five convicts were entitled to an opportunity to seek a review of the verdict at the Appellate Division itself within 30 days, and if rejected they would have a last chance to seek Presidential clemency within the subsequent seven days.

According to the Jail Code, on exhaustion of these processes, the condemned convicts would be hanged in between 21 and 28 days on receipt of the copy of the verdict by the jail authorities.

Attorney general Mahbub-e-Alam later, however, said the apex court could give the fugitives a scope to file leave to appeal petitions if they surrendered or brought to justice after their arrest, if they could justify the delay in filing the appeals.

Dhaka District and Sessions' judge Kazi Golam Rasul originally awarded 15 accused, all former army officers, with capital punishment in 1998 while the trial started with the indictment of 20 accused. The case was then referred to a two-member High Court bench for mandatory death reference as well as appeal hearing where the senior judge confirmed the punishment of 10 of them and the companion judge upheld the conviction of all the 15.

The split judgment required the case to be referred to a third judge in a second bench of the High Court which confirmed the death penalties of 12 of the accused.

But the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court began the final appeal hearing on October 5, eight and half years after the High Court verdict and two years after it granted the leave to
appeal prayers by five of the convicts.

The case has long been pending for want of necessary number of "competent" judges as several of the incumbent apex court justices earlier were involved in the case during its High Court stage hearing while the past Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) regime of ex-prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia took no attempt for its disposal appointing extra judges. President Zillur Rahman appointed four judges at the apex
court in July removing the bar.

Of the convicts, three - sacked lieutenant colonels Syed Faruq Rahman, Sultan Shahriyar Rashid Khan, Mahiuddin Ahmed (artillery)— faced the trial in person at the lower court while two others-sacked major Bazlul Huda and sacked AKM Mohiuddin (lancer) were returned from Thailand and the United States at
different times afterwards and they are now in jail.

The six fugitives are sacked lieutenant colonels Abdur Rashid, Shariful Haq Dalim, Noor Chowdhury, Rashed Chowdhury, captain Mazed and risaldar Moslem Uddin while Dhaka has launched
a diplomatic campaign to bring them back home also engaging the

The foreign office earlier confirmed the death of ex- lieutenant colonel Aziz Pasha while he was hiding in Zimbabwe.

Following is the chronology of the protracted legal process of Bangabandhu Murder Trial since the August 15, 1975 assassination of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman along with most of his family members.

August 15, 1975 - Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is killed along with most of his family members in a predawn putsch, which also topples the post independence Awami League government.

September 26, 1975 - Infamous Indemnity Ordinance is promulgated by self- proclaimed president Khondker Mushtaque Ahmed to protect the killers from justice. (Subsequent BNP government later ratified it as Indemnity Act in 1979).

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Mr. Ataur Rahman serves as Bangladesh Correspondent for The Seoul Times. He earned his Master of Commerce degree from Dhaka University in 1985. Mr. Rahman has vast journalistic experience including his stints at "The Daily Janata" and "The Dainik Bangla."






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