Vol. 5 Num 765 Sat. July 22, 2006  
Front Page

Declare trial, execution of Taher a wrongful act
US journalist Lifschultz says

Eminent US journalist Lawrence Lifschultz asked the state and judicial authorities yesterday to publicly declare that the trial and execution of Colonel Abu Taher was a wrongful act.

"The verdict of July 17, 1976 should be vacated and a public acknowledgement should be made that Taher's civil and legal rights were grossly violated by the government which put him on trial. He was not allowed access to a lawyer until the day the case against him opened," the visiting US journalist said at a discussion meeting in the city.

Lifschultz hoped that someday a "national truth commission" will be formed in Bangladesh, as in Argentina and South Africa, to unveil many cases of deaths in prison in 1975, 1976, 1977 and 1981.

The discussion was arranged in observance of the 30th death anniversary of Col Taher organised by Colonel Taher Sangsad at the TSC auditorium of Dhaka University.

Lifschultz is the author of "Bangladesh: The Unfinished Revolution" and the lone foreign journalist who tried to cover the incident of Col Taher's prosecution in 1976.

In his speech, Lifschultz called upon Prime Minister Khaleda Zia to ask her conscience and publicly acknowledge that the trial of Col Taher and the way it was conducted were simply wrong, even illegal.

"What is remarkable is that Khaleda Zia once regarded Abu Taher as a family friend," said Lifschultz, adding, "Taher used to visit her home and when Zia feared for his life on the morning of November 7, 1975, it was Taher he called."

"It is very difficult to truly correct a crime that has happened in the past. What can be done is very minimal: an acknowledgement by the authorities that tragic and wrongful act was committed," he said.

Lifschultz criticised the role of the then president Abu Sayem regarding the case. Once as a judge, Sayem had written during the case of Purna Chandra Mandal that no man under law could be sentenced to death were he not given the right of adequate defence. Later as the president, however, Sayem reaffirmed the death sentence on Taher within 24 hours of the verdict, Lifschultz said.

Describing Sayem's action as a "phenomenon of a judge acting as a criminal", Lifschultz said it was more than a simple example of human hypocrisy.

He also criticised the role of the then chief prosecutor former justice ATM Afzal saying the chief prosecutor was to be rewarded after the trial with an appointment to the position of a judge at the Dhaka High Court and would become chief justice of the Supreme Court. But a worried man in 1976, Afzal anxiously claimed to his colleagues that he was stunned more than anyone at the sentence of death, Lifschultz said.

"But did Afzal publicly protest the verdict or express regret for the role he played in this tragic charade?" Lifschultz said, adding, "Did he ever consider walking out and say he would not be a party to a secret trial held within the boundary of the central jail?"

On the role of local media during Taher's prosecution, he said not a single item on the case or his deportation by the then government for attempting to report on the trial had appeared in the Bangladesh press throughout the month of the trial. Every editor and many journalists, however, knew precisely what was going on inside the walls of the central jail, he said.

Kamal Lohani, president of the Colonel Taher Sangsad, chaired the discussion programme. Dr Kamal Hossain, president of Gono Forum, Rashed Khan Menon, president of Workers' Party of Bangladesh, Sharif Nurul Ambia, vice-president of Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal, Prof Anwar Hossain, younger brother of Col Taher, and Ruhul Kuddus Babu, general secretary of Taher Sangsad, also spoke at the meeting.