In a watershed judgment, the High Court yesterday ruled that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, not Ziaur Rahman, proclaimed the republic’s independence on March 26, 1971.
The proclamation was relayed by Kalurghat Betar Kendra (radio centre) in Chittagong the following day, it added.
Observers say the judgment will help end the long, bitter wrangle over a significant episode of the country’s independence history.
The unwanted debate over a settled issue began after the assassination of Ziaur Rahman in 1981 with his party BNP claiming he was the proclaimer of independence, not Bangabandhu.
The HC bench comprised of Justice ABM Khairul Haque and Justice Mamtazuddin Ahmed yesterday dismissed that claim, which had befuddled many over the Liberation War history.
It also ordered cancellation of second edition of the third instalment of 15-volume war documents that portray Zia as the declarer of independence.
The Liberation War affairs ministry brought out the publications during the BNP-Jamaat-led alliance government in June 2004.
The court said the government could take actions against those who sought to rewrite history.
In the judgment containing several rulings and observations, it directed the administration to confiscate the books presenting Zia as proclaimer of independence.
It also ordered the government to ensure that textbooks at all levels and for all mediums have the facts about the independence struggle.
The HC gave its verdict after reviewing all relevant documents, books, newspapers published at home and abroad in March 1971, and arguments of the lawyers.
It directed the Attorney General's Office and the petitioner to send a copy of the judgment to the education ministry.
The debate had the nation deeply split for nearly three decades, much to success of those relentlessly trying to warp the young minds.
The most damaging was inclusion of distorted history in the textbooks.
The judgment, first of its kind, came in response to a writ petition filed by freedom fighter MA Salam.
Salam filed the petition as public interest litigation (PIL) on April 19, seeking court directives to stop distortion of history.
Later, Wing Commander (retd) Hamidullah Khan, a freedom fighter and BNP leader, became party to the case, opposing the petition.
Former chief of army staff Lt Gen (retd) Harun-ar-Rashid endorsed the petition and became involved in the proceedings on behalf of the Sector Commanders Forum.
The court completed hearing last month.
ORDERS AND OBSERVATIONS
The High Court bench observed that the Proclamation of Independence published on April 10, 1971, states beyond doubt that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman made the declaration of independence.
The Proclamation is protected by article 150 of the constitution and thus cannot be changed at will, it added.
The court also declared illegal and unconstitutional the publications of the third volume of the books titled ‘Swadhinata Juddho: Dalilpatra' (The Liberation War of Bangladesh: Documents).
It directed the government to confiscate the books painting late president Ziaur Rahman as declarer of independence.
Besides, it wants the government to stop sale, distribution and reprint of the books at home and abroad.
The bench said the government might take initiative to bring to trial those involved in attempts to establish an untrue version of the Liberation War.
It observed that the persons responsible have in fact committed an offence against the nation and the constitution.
The committee formed by the BNP-led alliance government to write and print history of the Liberation War had recommended that Ziaur Rahman be declared as the independence proclaimer in place of Bangabandhu, without having any authentic documents at its disposal.
The court, however, said Zia had a valuable contribution to the independence war, and that he never claimed in his lifetime to be the proclaimer.
Additional Attorney General M Enayetur Rahim, petitioner's counsel Manzil Murshid, and Muntasir Mamun, a professor of history at Dhaka University, were present at the court during delivery of the judgment.
They hailed the judgment as an epoch-making event.
Talking to The Daily Star, they hope it would help restore the authenticated narrative of the Liberation War.
HOW THEY DISTORTED HISTORY
Originally, the information ministry compiled and published the documentary evidence of the Liberation War in 15 parts in 1982.
Edited by Hasan Hafizur Rahman, those were reprinted in 2003.
The Liberation War affairs ministry, set up during the BNP alliance regime, changed some of the facts in the second edition published in 2004.
It deleted the first document of the third part that contained Declaration of Independence made in the name of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and broadcast from Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra on March 26, 1971.
Instead, it included a document stating that Major Ziaur Rahman first declared independence from 'Biplobi Betar Kendra [Chittagong]' on March 27, wherein he claimed to be the 'provisional president and commander-in-chief of the liberation army'.
The second document of the third part stated that Zia made another declaration on March 28 from Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra, this time on behalf of Mujib.
In the first edition, the date was March 27.
As the second edition caused an outcry, officials told The Daily Star, the then secretary Dr Mahbubul Alam had asked to stop selling the volume published under a Tk 5-crore project.
Following his verbal orders, officials withdrew thousands of copies from the press.
According to the petition, the government on February 13, 1979, constituted an authentication committee for writing and printing history of the Liberation War.
Dr Mofizullah Kabir was the committee chairman and Hasan Hafizur Rahman member-secretary.
The books published by this committee in November 1982 were reprinted in December 2003.
Both editions said Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared independence on March 26, 1971.
Besides, the petitioner says, the fact was recognised in the Proclamation of Independence.
The Liberation War affairs ministry on approval of the then prime minister Khaleda Zia formed a committee to reprint the 15-volume books.
Rejaul Karim, Prof M Moniruzzaman Mia, Prof Emazuddin Ahmed, Barrister Moinul Hossain, Dr Kamal Uddin Siddiqui, Prof Sirajul Islam, Prof KM Mohsin, Prof Abul Kalam Monjur Morshed and Prof Jasim Uddin Ahmed were members of the committee.
In June 2004, the committee published the books giving an inaccurate report of the declaration of independence.
During hearing of the petition, the court assigned Barrister M Amir-Ul Islam, one of those involved in framing the Proclamation of Independence, as amicus curiae (friend of the court) on the issue.