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     Volume 6 Issue 21 | June 1, 2007 |

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Book Review

An Unsolved Murder-mystery

Harun Ur Rashid

Zia Hatyakanda: Neel Nakshar Bichar
By Julfikar Ali Manik
Shomoy Prokashon; Tk 75

Bangladesh has twice witnessed power takeover by the military and subsequent periods of martial law. And the country came to know about courts martial by those military governors in which a significant number of armed forces officers were handed capital punishment.

However, what the country and its people never came to learn is what actually happened in those "top secret" courts martial. One of these courts martial took place in July 1981 following the killing of the then president Ziaur Rahman. Convened by the then chief of army staff Lt Gen HM Ershad, the controversial 17-day trial hanged 12 army officers and gave 10 others imprisonment with different terms.

The trial was conducted amid extreme secrecy and the execution was completed by September 23, 1981. May 30 was Zia's death anniversary. The military president, who took power through a coup d'état, was brutally killed by some rebel army officers in the dead of night on May 30, 1981 at the Chittagong Circuit House.

Julfikar Ali Manik's book "Zia Hatyakanda: Neel Nakshar Bichar" (Zia Killing: The Blue Print Trial) focuses on the proceedings of this court martial, ultimately bringing out the "blue print" of the trial as Manik terms the trial and proves it too. The book is actually Manik's report for his then workplace Bangla daily "Bhorer Kagoj".

Manik has had his ground well prepared to term the court martial a farce. First of all, although the court martial was formed centring the killing of Ziaur Rahman, it tried 31 selected army officers for a charge of mutiny. The court was declared a "court in camera", which ensures its secret nature preventing any one not involved with the court proceedings to be present in the court. Ironically, the trial was stained with the presence of intelligence officials to ensure that the proceedings go according to the wish of the "authorities".

Manik's investigative work brings out many such irregularities that have blackened the whole trial. What comes as the most severe blow is that the court martial was another step forward towards eliminating freedom fighter army officers from the Bangladesh Army.

Manik interviews a very important person as his witness--Maj Gen (retd) Mohammad Ainuddin (a colonel at the time of the trial) who was one of the three defending officers of that court martial. Ainuddin, apparently Manik's major source of information, tells us that the trial was preplanned as the accused were very carefully chosen and their punishment had already been determined. He also says that Maj Gen (retd) Nazirul Aziz Chishti who was a brigadier at that time and a prosecutor of the trial told the defending officers that whatever they did they would not be able to save the accused.

The book is a lot informative in that it strives to unravel the mysteries of a period when the nation experienced chaos and military rule. Everyone Manik talked to for his report opined that there should be a judicial probe into the proceedings of the court martial and its verdict.

The book's language is that of a journalist, as can be understood. This does not hinder one's concentration. But the manuscript needed a little more editing to free the book of some repetitions that may seem annoying to careful readers.

Published in February 2006, the book contains pictures of most of the accused. It also has a rare photo of the then president Ziaur Rahman and the then army chief HM Ershad sitting together. The history has always been full of ironies!


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