• Friday, December 19, 2014

Freedom in the air

It was the weirdest of all cooked-up tales

Joj Mia story revealed how the state sponsored the grenade attack, derailed probe

Shakhawat Liton and Chaitanya Chandra Halder

Why police offered to give her money to meet her family needs was not clear to Jobeda Khatun, mother of Joj Mia. An unknown, petty criminal, Joj Mia was to appear as a much-talked-about character in 2005 in connection with the August 21, 2004 grenade blasts at an Awami League rally in the capital. 

"If the police catch anybody, the one who is caught has to pay them to get out of trouble. But why do the police want to give us money", Joj's hapless mother asked him at Kashimpur jail in 2005.

"Ma, I can't understand it either," replied Joj, who was nabbed by police on June 10, 2005 and put behind bars in line with the CID's orchestrated plan to implicate him in the case relating to the August 21, 2004 grisly grenade attack that left 24 people and more than 300 injured.

"I am now in [prison]. I need to save you. Take the money, if it is offered," Joj told his mother.

Jobeda had gone to Kashimpur jail around two months after her son's arrest from their Senbagh home in Noakhali.   

Her journey from Noakhali to Dhaka and tracing the whereabouts of her son were not an easy task for her. She was in monetary crisis. She had to sell two chickens to meet her travel expenses.

In Dhaka, she found shelter at a relative's residence in Mirpur. She then began a desperate search for Joj, finally tracing him in Kashimpur jail.

The jail officials at first did not allow her to meet Joj. They asked her to come up with a court order.  She somehow managed a court order and met Joj. 

During the conversation, Joj Mia tried to dampen his mother's anxiety about him. 

"Ma, do not worry. You meet Ruhul Amin and Abdur Rashid at the CID office. They will give you money. With that you meet family needs," suggested Joj.

He also told his mother that three senior CID officers--Ruhul, Rashid and Munshi Atikur Rahman--had told him that he would be made a state witness in the grenade attack case.

"There will be no problem if I am made a state witness. I will be sent abroad if other accused [in the case] do any harm to me. They will bear the expenditure of our family," Joj said on the basis of the assurances given him by the CID officials.

He asked his mother to meet Rashid and Ruhul who were investigating and supervising the probe respectively.

Accompanied by her daughter, Jobeda Khatun rushed to the CID office at Malibagh the same day.

Jobeda entered Ruhul's office. She was asked to take her seat on a sofa. Rashid came to Ruhul's office.

"Why were you so late in coming here," Ruhul asked Jobeda.

"I knew nothing. Joj Mia asked me to meet you. So, I came," replied Jobeda.

Ruhul brought food through his office staff for Jobeda and her daughter. They took lunch. He also gave Jobeda Tk 2,000 and assured her that they would arrange her daughter's marriage.

After that, Jobeda began visiting either Ruhul or Rashid every month. Either of the men gave her Tk 2000 to Tk 2500 every month. They also asked Jobeda not to talk to anyone about the money.

Then Divisional Inspector General of Police, Mohammad Shamsul Islam, who was in charge of the CID, however, objected to paying money to Joj Mia's mother.

"This is not lawful [paying money]," he told Ruhul when the latter spoke about providing financial assistance to Joj's mother.

In response, Ruhul said Joj Mia was a very poor man and his mother was in financial straits. "One needs to give some financial assistance to his mother."  

He also said maximum secrecy would be maintained. "State Minister for Home Lutfozzaman Babar has asked that this arrangement be made," he told Shamsul.

After Joj's arrest, Ruhul and Rashid maintained direct contact with Babar and kept him updated about the interrogation of Joj and progress in having recorded his statement confessing his involvement in carrying out the grenade attack.

Joj, who used to sell posters and cassettes in Gulistan cinema hall area and send some money to his mother every month, went to his village home early in August 2004 as he was ill.

Before beginning his work in Gulistan areas, Joj Mia along with his friend Feroz was arrested by police from a mess in Sutrapur with revolver and bombs. He was released on bail after two years in jail.

But this time around, Joj Mia initially knew nothing of the reason behind his arrest on the morning of June 10, 2005. He was first taken to Senbagh police station.

Flanked by some police personnel, Rashid arrived there in the noon. Rashid asked all to leave the room and began talking to Joj.

"You threw the grenade at the Awami League rally," CID officer Ruhul told Joj Mia.

A surprised Joj Mia told the officer he knew nothing about it. "I was at my Senbagh house on the day of the bomb explosions. I saw it on television at a tea stall," he said

Rashid then hit Joj on the head. Then Joj was put on a microbus, taken to the CID office, where he was kept in CID custody.

At midnight, Joj was taken from custody to Rashid's office. "You threw the bombs on August 21," Rashid accused Joj.

"I did not do it. I know nothing about it," a hapless Joj replied.

"You will face crossfire if you do not confess," Rashid threatened Joj.

Then Rashid took him to the office of his supervising officer, Ruhul.

"Did you talk to him?" Ruhul asked Rashid.

"Sir, it will be better if you talk to him," Rashid replied.

Ruhul then enquired about Joj's family.

"See, there are many cases filed against you in the city. There is an order from high-ups. You will be benefited if you work according to our instruction. We will also be saved," said Ruhul.

"What do I need to do?" Joj Mia asked at one stage.

"You imagine this is your class. You will memorise what we say and do what we teach you. Then you will tell us [from your memory]," Ruhul told Joj, who had studied only up to class II.

Joj was kept at the CID office for a week after June 10. He was then produced in court. He was placed on remand twice. While he was on remand under the CID, Ruhul, Rashid and Atiq interrogated him on several occasions. They asked him to memorise different stories on the grenade attack.

Rashid tortured Joj Mia several times and threatened to put him on crossfire and kill his mother and sister.

Under duress, Joj agreed to make a confessional statement. It was then that the CID officials instructed him every day on what to say before the magistrate. Joj tried to memorise what he was told, before repeating before them what he had memorised on their instructions.

If he made any mistake in the telling the story, they corrected him. This went on for around two weeks.

Then the day came. On June 26, 2005, Joj, a low-profile criminal, made a confessional statement before a magistrate alleging that the underworld gang -- Seven-Star Group -- led by one of the most wanted criminals, Subrata Bain Shuvro, had carried out the grenade attack.

 In line with the instructions he had earlier been given by the CID officials, Joj admitted that he had been one of the attackers.

He was made to tell the magistrate that all the 14 members of the group had met at Robin's house at Maghbazar several days before the attack.

"Shuvro, Masud and Joy instructed us about the attack and assigned specific duties to each of us for the attack," he narrated what he had memorised.

The group met again on Baitul Mukarram Mosque premises on the evening of August 20, a day before the attack, said Joj. Shuvro was not present at the meeting.

"Joy and Masud grouped us into four teams and gave us the last instructions for the attack. The two then gave us Tk 5,000 each in advance, which was half the contract money," said Joj.

Munshi Atiq and several other CID officials were present in the magistrate's room during the confession in violation of the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code.

Then Joj Mia was sent to Kashimpur jail.

The CID officials kept their promise for only around six months to pay Joj's mother every month.

But Joj's sister Khorsheda Khatun made "a blunder" a few months later.

She disclosed to a journalist from a private television channel that the CID officials handed out the money every month.

The story received wide coverage in the newspapers and private television channels, exposing the state machinery's sinister involvement in trying to bury the need of justice for the victims of the massacre.

After the exposure of the farce, the CID officials declined to make further monetary payments to Joj Mia's mother.

On instructions from Lutfozzaman Babar, then minister of state for home affairs, the CID officials engaged the state machinery and cooked up the Joj Mia story to derail the investigation into the grenade attack case.

 The situation changed only after the rule of the BNP came to an end.

Further investigations were a revelation in that the grisly attack was not a task of petty criminal Joj Mia and the Seven Star Group.

It was rather an outcome of collaboration between the militant outfit Huji, influential leaders of the then ruling BNP and the Jamaat-e-Islami, and a band of senior officials in the government machinery, including the home ministry, police, Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), National Security Intelligence (NSI) and Prime Minister's Office (PMO). 

[The report is prepared on the basis of the statements of Joj Mia, his mother and sister and other witnesses of the grenade attack case and the supplementary charge sheet on the case.]

Published: 12:02 am Friday, August 22, 2014

Last modified: 9:39 pm Friday, August 22, 2014

TAGS: Lutfozzaman Babar August 21 grenade attack grenade attack Joj Mia story Joj Mia

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