<%-- Page Title--%> Special Feature <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 122 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

September 12, 2003

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Shazneen Murder Case

Is the Wait Finally Over?


On September 2, the courtroom at the Second Special Tribunal for Prevention of Women and Children Repression in old Dhaka was packed with people-- black gown-clad lawyers, well-wishers, friends, strangers and finally a grief-stricken family. They were waiting for the judgement on the Shazneen murder case, a tragedy that has shaken a nation, a crime so gruesome and brutal that the only acceptable justice is death to those who committed it. For the family it has been an excruciating wait of over five years during which each member had to relive the horror again and again through a long drawn out legal process. In addition they have had to face all kinds of nasty accusations and allusions cooked up by the lawyers of the accused. All they bore in the hope that justice would finally be served. That the killers would pay for their cold blooded acts, for taking away the life of a spirited, innocent child who had so much to live for.

Shazneen Tasnim Rahman

Fifteen-year-old Shazneen Tasneem Rahman, daughter of Latifur Rahman, chairman of Transcom Limited and Shahnaz Rahman, was raped and brutally murdered in her bedroom while her parents and dozens of people were in the house.

When everyone stood up as justice Kazi Rahmatullah arrived, the level of tension in the room shot up dramatically and there was total silence as the judge read out important parts of the 122 page court transcript which explained what had been established through the deliberations of the court. Finally he read out the verdict: under the 1995 Women and Children Repression Prevention Act 6 (2), Shahidul Islam alias Shahid, for raping and murdering the victim, was sentenced to death by hanging. The other five accused namely Syed Sajjad Moinuddin Hasan alias Hasan, who masterminded the crime, Badal, his assistant, Saniram Mondol, a carpenter, and the two maids Parveen and Minu were also handed the death sentence for their involvement in the murder. Finally the moment had come. After five years of agonising waiting, members of Shazneen's family broke down in tears when the verdict was read out.

The verdict had been reached after evaluating the circumstantial evidence of the case, as the very eyewitnesses of the crime were the perpetrators and abettors. It was also based on confessional statements of the accused and statements of the 22 prosecution witnesses which included immediate family members of Shazneen, close relatives, household staff and friends of the family who had been present on the night of the murder. Shahid committed the actual rape and stabbed the victim but it was obvious from the nature of the wounds that he did not kill her alone and that he was helped by more than one person. When her body was found there was a big hole on the left side of her neck which could not have been done with a kitchen knife that had later been discovered with Shahid's finger prints. This mortal wound was more likely caused by a long, rod-like object. Later another murder weapon, a carpenter's chisel was found on the roof of the servants' bathroom. The other mortal wound was on her back. Shazneen's body had 25 marks of injury including bruises in the private parts which, according to the autopsy report, proved that she had been raped before being killed.

Badal, Hasan, Shaniram and Shahid being taken away after the verdict.

On April 1 Syed Sajjad Moinuddin Hasan alias Hasan was in Latifur Rahman's house as it had been a common occurrence for the last two years. Hasan, a contractor with a diploma in engineering, had been in charge of renovating the Rahmans' residence. He had managed to win the trust of the Rahmans thus his presence was very normal for the family members. On April 1, Hasan came into Shazneen's room saying that he had come to change a defective mirror in her bathroom and asked Shazneen to show it to him. Shazneen, in all innocence went make her pay. The next day Shazneen went with her sisters and their families to the family tea estate Marina for a short holiday. It was here that she told her sisters and her brothers-in- law, whom she was very close to, about the April 1 incident. Shazneen's parents had gone to Shillong on April 3 and so it was decided that they would expose Hasan as soon as they came back. On April 5, Hasan showed Badal, his assistant, Shahid and Shaniram Mondol, where Shazneen's bedroom was located. The same day Hasan and Badal paid Shahid, Humayan Kabir (now dead) and maids Parvin and Minu to commit the crime. Shazneen's parents came back from Shillong on April 18. But soon after her mother became ill and her father was preoccupied with business matters. Shazneen and her sisters and brothers-in-law decided they would tell the parents on Friday April 24, a holiday when the family would get together as was customary.

After the incident, the number of times Shazneen saw Hasan she would insult him in her anger. Even on that fateful day April 23 Shazneen who was with her sister Shezi, at around 5p.m. encountered Hasan on one of the balconies of the house and became agitated telling him that he would be exposed the next day. Hasan knew that soon he would certainly lose his contract, his reputation and even be arrested for attempting to molest a minor girl. Hasan had already laid out a fool proof plan to murder her. He had already appointed Shahid, the cook's helper, to rape and kill Shazneen with the help of the security guard Humayan who later died in jail, Shaniram, the carpenter and two maids Parveen and Minu (who had come to the house about two months ago) who had direct access to Shazneen's room. The 23 rd was chosen as Hasan knew as far back as in March, that the Rahman's were having a dinner for some close friends and so would be busy with the guests. The time chosen was between 8p.m. and 10:15p.m. when dinner was in full swing and when the main household staff and the hosts would be upstairs in the dining room. Shazneen would be alone in her room downstairs.

The wing where Shazneen and her parents lived was out of bounds for male servants so Shahid had to take the help of the maids to unlock the entrance to that wing and help him get inside. In the middle of the corridor outside Shazneen's room was a small exit to the garden. It was this exit through which the murderers escaped.

In the evening on April 23, the house contractor's supervisor, Badal, had been sent by Hasan apparently to check if all the security lights were working. Mysteriously, the sodium lights were not working and Badal announced that there was water in the lines. The next day, the lights worked perfectly and an electrician and engineer were certain that there had been no water in the lines. The lights had been switched off on April 23.
Initially after the murder, Parvin, the maid said that she first saw Shahid fleeing Shazneen's room with a knife in hand. In other statements, Parvin has said she saw a man sitting on the victim's body, in another that Shahid had been sitting on the body and in yet another, that she had seen nothing at all.

Minu and Parvin, who helped in the murder.

Shahid too has given conflicting statements. When Shahid was caught by the Chittagong police, he confessed to the murder although he denied having raped the victim but later admitted that he had.

When the body was discovered family members started searching the house in the hope of finding the murderers. Shaniram, the chief carpenter appointed by Hasan, was found apparently sleeping in the tin shed near the downstairs corridor in spite of such a lot of commotion in the house. Humayan was found in the bathroom long after his shift had ended. Hasan himself did not turn up at the house even though Latifur Rahman's cousin Atiqur Rahman Masum had called his house and informed his wife what had happened. His wife had said Hasan was sleeping. Strangely Hasan did not even attend Shazneen's Namaaze Janaza in spite of being so close to the family before the incident.

Sufia a maid employed by Shazneen's eldest sister who often took her employer's sons to the house, told police that Minu and Parveen had told her that on the 23 rd Hasan would take revenge on Shazneen, with the help of Badal, Shahid, Shaniram and Humayan, for insulting him. Later Sufia saw Hasan talking to Parveen and Minu, at the time pregnant, in the ironing room. Hasan threatened Sufia that she would face dire consequences if she breathed a word of the April 23 plan to anyone. Sufia also mentioned that she had asked Parvin how they would get away with such a crime without getting caught by the police. Parvin at that time remarked that women are never caught. Minu had come to the house only about two months ago and it was during the Rahmans' absence that Parvin had been brought to the house by Minu as instructed by Hasan.

It was Humayan, the security guard who actually revealed the details of the crime. About a month after the murder in May, Humayan was brought to the house by the police and he helped to find the second murder weapon, a carpenter's sharp chisel, on the roof of the servants' bathroom. He was then taken to Shazneen's room where he gave details on how she had been raped and killed by the accused. He said that some of them ran out of the door in the veranda. On April 25 police recovered the kitchen knife used by Shahid during the murder, near the wall where the carpenters had left pieces of glass and other things.

On April 28, Shahid was brought to the Rahman household and this is where he gave details on how he and Humayan, Parveen, Minu and Shaniram helped him to rape and murder Shazneen. In September 1998, Shahid was again brought to the murder scene where he described the murder again and also added that when he had attacked Shazneen she had kicked him off. This was when Parveen grabbed her hair and held her hands while Humayan stabbed her with a chisel. The three then pulled Shazneen

into the bathroom and it was here that Hasan grabbed her with ill intentions. Shazneen pushed him back and warned him that she would tell her father and that he would punish him for this. He quickly left the room although he was determined to down from the bed. Shahid then raped her, later running out through the verandah exit, hiding the knife on the roof of a tin shed where Shaniram used to stay, and escaping by climbing over a wall and going through the Australian High Commission compound. Hasan was waiting in a microbus and asked Shahid whether the job had been completed. Shahid replied that everything had been done according to plan.

The September 2 verdict has provided some solace not only to the family members but to the general public as well. The crime was cold blooded, calculated and unbelievably viciously executed. The people involved knew Shazneen. They had all been benefited by her parents' generosity. Shazneen was a shy, affectionate child who did not have enemies. Her only fault was to have protested against sexual assault.

There are still however, many unanswered questions. Under the law of the land an accused person who cannot afford to hire a lawyer will be entitled to a government appointed attorney to represent him or her, free of cost. Except for Hasan, all the accused are poor but they all refused state-appointed lawyers and hired their own lawyers. So who is paying for their lawyers? It is also mysterious why the lawyer representing Hasan is also representing Badal, Shaniram, Parveen and Minu? Are they not independent defendants who claim to be not guilty?

The ordeal has not ended. The accused will most likely appeal to the higher courts. Shazneen's family prays that the September 2 verdict will hold when it goes to the High Court and Supreme Court. For her loved ones the shock and horror will never really go away and the pain of her absence is permanent. Many of those who did not know her will mourn the senseless killing that snatched a beautiful girl from her family and friends. But at least the exemplary punishment to those who mercilessly ended her life will give some consolation and hope to a society lacerated by the loss of too many innocents to brutal, cold-blooded crimes. In a comment to a television reporter, Shazneen's father said that if this judgement helps to deter such crimes for even 10 days and save the lives of a few children, it will be a huge accomplishment.


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