Finality to the unfinished business in Bangladesh after 34 long years!
A.H. Jaffor Ullah
The nation of Bangladesh with its teeming 160 million people will be anxiously waiting to hear the final verdict of Sheikh Mujib killing case after 34 long years of waiting! The old axiom “Justice delayed is justice denied” uttered by one-time British MP William Gladstone is very much applicable in this case. A brigand of junior officers who were goaded by some senior military officers and a coterie of powerful civilians who did not accept the dismemberment of Jinnah’s united Pakistan conspired in the confine of Kurmitola cantonment. In the wee hours of August 15, 1975, these rogue military officers brought tanks out of the cantonment and headed towards Dhanmandi to annihilate the entire family of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. They not only assassinated the democratically elected head of the government but also killed the entire family members barring the ones who were out of the country. They also killed Sheikh Mujib’s nephew and other family members. Such were the viciousness of their crime.
The rogue junior military officers were not alone in their misadventure. They must have had tacit approval from the senior military officers and some disgruntled Awami League leaders or else this task would not have been completed so facilely. However, every attempt to uncover the conspiracy and bring finality to this heinous crime had failed miserably because the military ruler who was waiting in the wing to grab the power in the most opportune time had played a diabolic role in the post-killing period. The military ruler, General Ziaur Rahman, had aided the killer to leave Bangladesh and settle in far off places. To add insult to injury, the same military dictator also helped to pass an infamous indemnity bill to give a legal protection to the killers of Sheikh Mujib and his family members. If this is not a blatant display of arrogance and acknowledgement of the guilt by the military ruler, then I have to opine that the ruler was not a thinker-type of politician.
General Ziaur Rahman and his cohort from civilian side must have had heaved a big sigh of relive knowing that the killers who did the dirty job for them indeed have a legal cover to roam freely in and out of the country. They wrongly thought that the nation will always be ruled by the military from who they will receive both protection and impunity. But how wrong they were!
General Ziaur Rahman had met his fate in May 1981 when his colleagues from military conspired to finish him off when he visited Chittagong. The army dictator who followed in the footsteps of General Ziaur Rahman was least interested to apprehend those criminals and conduct a case with the intention to send them to gallows. And the same goes for Khaleda Zia whose party came victorious in 1991. Her administration was least interested to bring those criminals to docket. To add insult to the intelligence of 100 million Bangalees, she started celebrating August 15 as her birthday! The killers of the founding father of the nation roamed freely in Bangladesh, some of them were appointed as diplomat, some even tried to become lawmakers in Bangladesh. Such were the insolence of these rogue killers. Well, all of these were made possible because a major political party that ruled two terms once from 1991 through 1996 and another term from 2001 through 2006 showed no interest whatsoever to bring a closure to the extra-judicial killing of August 1975. To show her arrogance, Mrs. Zia even appointed one of the killers in an embassy abroad.
The Awami League finally came to power in 1996 through an adult suffrage. Sheikh Mujib’s eldest daughter, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, who escaped the August 1975 killing spree because she was on a goodwill tour with her sister Sheikh Rehana, became the prime minister in the aftermath of election victory in 1996. In the first year or so, Sheikh Hasina and her deputies were able to enact law to outlaw the infamous indemnity bill, which was the handiwork of Khaleda Zia’s husband, the founder of Bangladesh nationalist Party (BNP). Later, the case was heard by the judge(s) in the High Court. The court came out with the verdict but the sentencing was never done. In 2001 parliamentary election, the BNP came out victorious while they ruled the country for the next 5 years. During this time, for whatever reasons the judges of the High Court refused to sentence the convicted killers. Undoubtedly, the judiciary was pressurized not to give the sentencing. The lame excuses the judges offer were both deplorable and ridiculous. Life went on as usual and the justice was delayed indefinitely. The convicted killers some of them who were already in jail in Bangladesh probably thought that the sentencing will never take place while the killers who are in overseas thought they are untouchable and no harm will ever come to them. However, one convicted killer, who was living in America, had to face the ignominy in 2007 when he was expelled from America and handed over to the Bangladesh authorities in Dhaka. The wheel of justice kept moving in the right direction. The military-backed caretaker government had other pressing job before them; consequently, the Sheikh Mujib murder case was put in the back burner.
In late 2008, the much anticipated parliamentary election took place in which the Awami League headed by Sheikh Hasina came out victorious by a landslide vote. The main opposition party, BNP, was only able to garner enough votes to beg only 30 parliamentary seats. This happened because during the caretaker government’s rule for nearly 2 years, the floodgate of corruption-related stories was unearthed. Khaleda Zia was able to convince the caretaker government to send her two incorrigible sons to abroad on the plea of restoring theirs poor health. It is doubtful however if any of her sons would ever return to Bangladesh anytime soon.
As soon as Sheikh Hasina came to power, she made it very clear that she would try to bring finality to Sheikh Mujib murder case. The case finally went to the Supreme Court’s Appellate Division this year. The Appellate Division of Supreme Court (SC) comprising Justice Md Tafazzul Islam, Justice Md Abdul Aziz, Justice BK Das, Justice Md Muzammel Hossain, and Justice SK Sinha will deliver the verdict of this high profile murder case on November 19, 2009.
The momentous day is almost there and the government is taking all the steps to make sure that the sympathizers of the killers will not be able to disrupt the court proceeding on that day. Some intelligence officers in Bangladesh had opined that the supporters of the killers may try to foment trouble in the wake of the Supreme Court verdict. And the law and order department is taking adequate precaution to avert any such incidents. The PM has requested the citizens to remain calm but alert. My feeling is that no untoward incident will happen in Bangladesh because the political power that had aided the killers is now in disarray. Also, the prevailing mood in the country is in favor of the finality in this long overdue case. Furthermore, when supporters of the killers tried to assassinate one lawmaker, Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh, whose father Sheikh Moni was assassinated by the same military bunch in August 1975, not too long ago, Bangladesh’s citizens were awed by the criminality of the coward bunch who wanted to foil the due process. This botched assassinated attempt on Mr. F.N. Taposh shook the entire nation. There is an overwhelming sympathy for the families that lost their loved one in the dark days of August 1975.
Bangladesh’s people should be contended now knowing that the finality will come to this national tragedy. The killers who are now in the central lock up should face the verdict firsthand. Also, the killers who are on the loose in Pakistan and elsewhere should be ashamed to know that they are condemned by their countrymen. As soon as the verdict is given, the court should move in full gear to try the case of November jailhouse killing of Awami League’s four leaders. That is also an unfinished business.
For too long, the killers of Sheikh Mujib and Awami leaders were scot-free moving about with chutzpah. Those days are about to be over. These criminals and their godfathers thought all these years that the killers would receive impunity for the crime they committed over three decades ago. Now, they better believe that nobody is above the law. Instead of getting rewards for their criminality from General Ziaur Rahman three long decades ago, now they will face the ignominy and censure from the teeming masses. Too bad the army general, who aided this criminal bunch with a sardonic smile, won’t be here to witness the verdict given by the Supreme Court. His opprobrious conduct in this matter will become a lore in Bangladesh.
A.H. Jaffor Ullah, a researcher and columnist, writes from New Orleans, USA