Vol. 5 Num 149 Thu. October 21, 2004  
Front Page

3 to die, 12 awarded life in Jail Killing Case
Obaid, Shah Moazzem, Nurul Islam, Taheruddin Thakur, Khairuzzaman acquitted

A Dhaka court yesterday sentenced three to death, awarded life imprisonment to 12 and acquitted five in the long-awaited verdict of historic Jail Killing Case.

Ruling BNP lawmaker KM Obaidur Rahman, Shah Moazzem Hossain, Nurul Islam Manzoor, Taheruddin Thakur and Additional Secretary to foreign ministry Khairuzzaman, who were freed on bail soon after the ruling coalition came to power, were relieved of the charges.

All the convicts are former army personnel. Of the total 21 charge-sheeted accused, three are in custody, five on bail, 12 have been evading arrest, and one died.

While delivering the verdict in a jam-packed courtroom amid beefed up security, Judge Mohammad Motiur Rahman came down heavily on the investigation officer (IO), saying all the killers could not be punished due to the "farcical investigation."

The verdict came about 29 years after the brutal assassination of four national leaders, who led the government in exile of Bangladesh during the Liberation War.

The infamous Indemnity Ordinance blocked the investigation and trial of the killings for about 21 years until the law was scrapped during 1996-2001 Awami League regime. The trial was delayed for repeated interventions by governments and judicial tangles.

The verdict was deferred twice last month.

Syed Nazrul Islam, acting president of Bangladesh government in exile, Tajuddin Ahmed, prime minister, M Mansur Ali, finance minister, and AHM Qamaruzzaman, minister of home affairs, relief and rehabilitation, were killed inside Dhaka Central Jail on November 3, 1975.

The killing seen as a desperate bid of power usurpers came 79 days after the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and most of his family on August 15, 1975.

Three of the 12 awarded life term in jail -- Lt Col (dismissed) Syed Farook Rahman, Lt Col (retd) Sultan Shahriar Rashid Khan and Maj (retd) Bazlul Huda -- were sentenced to death in Bangabandhu Murder Case. They are in Dhaka Central Jail now.

Relatives, friends and supporters of the five acquitted chanted slogans outside the court building to welcome the judgement while those of the punished burst into protest and said they would challenge the verdict.

Shahriar and his family members shouted inside the courtroom in an instant outburst of protest after pronouncement of the verdict, terming it an injustice while Faruk said, "It is nothing to do with law and justice, it's merely a political issue."

The prosecution, however, was silent about the judgement. Public Prosecutor Abdullah Mahmood Hassan was prompt to blame the IO, Abdul Kahar Akand, and said the verdict might have been tougher had he (IO) done his work properly.

The court convicted and ordered to hang Resalder (retd) Muslemuddin, Dafadar (dismissed) Marfat Ali Shah and Dafadar (dismissed) Abul Hashem Mridha, all on the run, until death as the charge against them "was proved beyond doubt."

They were also awarded life imprisonment and fined Tk 10,000 each. In default, they will have to serve another six-month rigorous imprisonment.

The three can appeal against the verdict in seven days.

Those who were awarded life imprisonment for abetting the murderers are Lt Col (dismissed) Syed Farook Rahman, Lt Col (retd) Sultan Shahriar Rashid Khan, Maj (retd) Bazlul Huda, Lt Col (dismissed) Khondaker Abdur Rashid, Lt Col (relieved) Shariful Haq Dalim, Lt Col (retd) SHMB Noor Chowdhury, Maj (Retd) AKM Mohiuddin Ahmed, Lt Col (retd) AM Rashed Chowdhury, Major (relieved) Ahmed Sharful Hossain, Capt (retd) Abdul Mazed, Captain (relieved) Kismat Hashem, and Captain (relieved) Nazmul Hossain Ansar.

As Farook Rahman, Shahriar Rashid and Bazlul Huda are in jail, their imprisonment in this case will be counted from the day they have been serving in jail.

The jail term of 12 absconding convicts will begin from the day of their arrest or surrender.

Taheruddin, Shah Moazzem, KM Obaid and Manzoor, state ministers of the government of Khandakar Mushtaque Ahmed during the jail killing, and Khairuzzaman were acquitted as their involvement in the conspiracy of the assassinations could not be proved. Khairuzzaman, who was an army major during the assassination, later joined foreign ministry.

Ten of the convicts in this case were earlier awarded death penalty in the Bangabandhu Murder Case.

Over 2,500 undercover and uniformed members of the police, Armed Police Battalion (APBn) and paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) guarded the court building, high-rises in the court area, Chawkbazar, Bakshibazar and Chankharpool crossings and roads in and out of Dhaka Central Jail where the Metropolitan Sessions Judge's Court was set up.

The security men allowed the vehicles of only the accused and their relatives, law enforcers and journalists and let other people go into the court area after metal detector checks. They also closed all shops close to the court. An archway metal detector was set up at the main entrance of the court.

Whistles filled the area and security personnel lined up from the main entrance of Dhaka Central Jail to the court entrance as a police prison-van carrying Farook, Shahriar and Huda came out of jail gate at 9:25am.

They had chats inside the courtroom with their relatives and had foods.

Taheruddin Thakur along with his wife appeared in a CNG-run three-wheeler at 9:41am, followed by ailing Shah Moazzem in a land cruiser jeep. Nurul Islam Manzoor came at 10:04am in a black jeep and Khairuzzaman five minutes later in a white microbus.

Obaidur Rahman did not appear until 10:30am when the verdict was scheduled to begin. In the meantime the judge had come and the defence and prosecution sides, journalists, accused and their relatives were waiting for delivery of the judgement.

Accompanied by his daughter, KM Obaid arrived at 10:38am, 20 minutes after the judge had sat in his chamber.

As the accused arrived with their relatives, the security men rushed to escort them to the courtroom.

Former president Khondakar Mushtaque Ahmed who is accused of masterminding the assassinations and former secretary Mahbubul Alam Chashi were dropped from the charge-sheet, as they died during the investigation. Charge-sheeted accused Major (retd) Aziz Pasha died last year.

Judge Motiur Rahman who took seat in the courtroom at 10:50am read out the FIR (first information report) prior to beginning the delivery of judgement.

At the beginning, he pointed out the faults of the IO in investigating the case saying, "He (IO) blackened the image of the police administration."

The IO did not investigate many important aspects, failed to prove many things including the conspiracy behind the assassinations and presented faulty documents, said the judge.

He (IO) violated the Code of Criminal Procedure during deposition of some witnesses, did not submit the original copy of the FIR and any map of Bangabhaban where the conspiracy was alleged to have taken place.

"The IO did not mention the place where Shah Moazzem, KM Obaid and Manzoor had allegedly been engaged in a conspiracy for the killings and he also suppressed the information of the three leaders' participation in the Liberation War," the judge said.

The judge said it could not be proved that Moazzem, KM Obaid, Manzoor and Taheruddin were involved in the conspiracy (of the assassinations).

Although Taheruddin made a confessional statement implicating Shah Moazzem, KM Obaid and Manzoor, there was no corroboration of witnesses in support of it, the judge observed.

The IO did not made it clear what crime Khairuzzaman had committed by performing his duty as in-charge of tanks at Bangabhaban during the jail killing, he said.

"He did not investigate into the activities of the accused at Bangabhaban."

"Although he was a government officer, the IO was a supporter of a political party," he said, adding the IO acted on his whims during the investigation.

The judge said it was proved that Farook, Rashid and Shahriar, who were in Bangabhaban during the incident, kept contact with Dhaka Central Jail over phone and assisted the main killers.

"The jail guards did not try to prevent the killers, rather assisted them," the judge said, adding the IO did not produce them to trial and kept them away for a mysterious reason.

Some witnesses did not give any clear statement against any of the accused, he said. The witness no 11 gave false statement against KM Obaid, Shah Moazzem and Manzoor.

"The prosecution has failed to prove beyond doubt the conspiracy in Bangabhaban that had led to the gruesome killings in jail," said the judge.

In the first information report (FIR) filed with Lalbagh Police Station on November 4, 1975, Kazi Abdul Awal, deputy inspector general (prisons), accused Captain Moslemuddin and four army officers of the November 3 killings.

The Indemnity Ordinance blocked the investigation and trial for about 21 years until officers of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) opened a probe on August 18, 1996 following scrapping of the black law during the Awami League regime.

Investigation Officer Abdul Kahar Akand, assistant superintendent of CID, arrested Syed Farook Rahman, Sultan Shahriar Rashid and Khairuzzaman on September 9, 1996.

The IO also arrested Shah Moazzem, KM Obaid and Manzoor on September 29, 1996. Taheruddin, shown as an arrestee in the case on November 3, 1996, gave a confessional statement.

The court framed charges against KM Obaid and 20 others on October 12, 2000 and began its trial on April 12, 2001.

The trial was complete in 282 workdays with the deposition of the complainant Kazi Abdul Awal. Sixty four of 75 witnesses gave their statement in the court.

Six judges who sat the case are Golam Rasul, Sheikh Rezwan Ali, AK Roy, Ahmed Jamil Mostafa, Molla Mostafa Kamal and Motiur Rahman.

Scheduled to be pronounced on September 7, the verdict was deferred due to illness of the judge until September 21. But it was deferred again as the court held hearing of two fresh petitions submitted for Taheruddin Thakur and granted one that asked for deposition of key witness and second investigation officer Saifuddin Ahmed eight days later.

But 84-year-old Saifuddin could not appear in the court on September 29 due to severe illness. A three-member commission formed to check whether he is fit for deposition submitted its report on October 9, saying Saifuddin is unfit for deposition. Accepting the report, the court dropped Saifuddin's name and set a fresh date for judgement.

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