• Sunday, December 21, 2014

Freedom in the air

Justice so far away

98 of 491 witnesses testify till now

Shakhawat Liton and Chaitanya Chandra Halder
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, then leader of the opposition, and late president Zillur Rahman in tears. Zillur lost his wife Awami League leader Ivy Rahman in the grenade attack of August 21, 2004, and Hasina narrowly escaped with injuries. The photo was taken at Paltan Maidan when the two were on stage in October 2004. Photo: File
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, then leader of the opposition, and late president Zillur Rahman in tears. Zillur lost his wife Awami League leader Ivy Rahman in the grenade attack of August 21, 2004, and Hasina narrowly escaped with injuries. The photo was taken at Paltan Maidan when the two were on stage in October 2004. Photo: File

Late president Zillur Rahman had sought justice, not mere sympathy, for the gruesome murder of his wife Ivy Rahman.

In an emotion-choked voice, he made this appeal at the qulkhwani held three days after her death.

Ivy, a veteran politician and women affairs secretary of the Awami League, was critically injured in the August 21 grisly grenade attack on an AL rally in the capital. She succumbed to her injuries three days after the explosions.

Around four and a half years after Ivy's death, the AL rode to power in January 2009. The following month, the veteran AL leader, Zillur Rahman, was elected to the nation's presidency.

The changeover of power could not, however, end his agonising wait for justice. President Zillur Rahman breathed his last in March last year, his appeal for justice yet to be fulfilled.

Thus it is that justice for the families of the victims of the grisly grenade attack remains a distant cry even a decade after the gruesome killings.

This is because of the dirty politics pursued by the then BNP-led government and, later, the snail's pace in the conduct of the trial of such a high profile case.

Since the beginning of the trial in 2008 and till yesterday, the court had recorded the statements of only 98 of 491 witnesses.

If statements of the remaining witnesses need to be recorded, one may easily foresee how much more time will be required for the job to be done.

Moreover, a delivery of the verdict by the trial court will put the case into a new stage.

The accused, on conviction, will have the opportunity to challenge the verdict in the High Court and the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in phases. It will require more time for a disposal of the appeals. This means there is still a long way to go to complete the trial conclusively in order to provide victims' families with justice, according to legal experts.

Like Zillur Rahman, Amena Begum, mother of Abdul Quddus Patwari, who was killed on August 21 on the spot, waited for justice for more than nine years.

She passed away in February this year, without relief from anguish caused by her son's murder.          

"Now, we have no other demand, but for justice. My brother sacrificed his life to save Sheikh Hasina. So, we want justice during the tenure of her present government," Humayun Kabir, elder brother of Quddus, told our Chandpur correspondent. 

Quddus was a leader of Swechchhasebak League, a front organisation of the AL, in Haimchar upazila of Chandpur and used to live in the capital.

The slow pace of the trial has generated anger among many AL leaders. They have blamed a lack of proper supervision for the delay in the completion of the trial. 

"There was no necessity to make so many people witnesses. One hundred witnesses are enough to prove the case," said Abdul Matin Khasru, AL MP and former law minister, adding that the investigation officer made the mistake by making so many people witnesses.

He also blamed the inefficiency of the state prosecution for the delay and making the case complicated.

"The trial must be completed soon. Justice delayed is justice buried," said Khasru, who is legal affairs secretary of the AL.

Law Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Anisul Haque has, however, said he has recently directed the prosecution to appeal to the court to expedite the proceedings by holding more hearings every week.

He said he had also asked the prosecution to apply to the court for recording the statements of only important witnesses.

"We are trying to ensure justice as early as possible," assured Anisul.  

The court held hearings once a week for around two years since the beginning of the trial. The speedy trial tribunal, however, started holding hearings twice a week since January 2013, said a counsel of the case. 

Chief state counsel of the case, Syed Rezaur Rahman, however said the target was to have the trial completed by trial court before August 21 next year.

"It is not necessary to record statements of all the witnesses of the case. We will ensure recording statements of as many as witnesses as possible to prove the charges against the accused," he told The Daily Star on Tuesday.

This case has become a glaring example of how the state machinery was meticulously involved in a heinous political crime and also made desperate efforts to bury the need for justice by derailing the investigation into the crime.

The perpetrators carried out the grenade attack when the BNP was in power. And the then government made all efforts to protect the masterminds behind the attack, which was aimed at assassinating Sheikh Hasina, who was then opposition leader in parliament.

 

A day after the grenade attack, Sheikh Hasina apparently reeling from the trauma at her Dhanmondi home. Photo: File
A day after the grenade attack, Sheikh Hasina apparently reeling from the trauma at her Dhanmondi home. Photo: File

Hasina was able to narrowly escape the attack, but 24 AL leaders and workers were killed and 300 others were injured in the blasts.

The reasons behind the BNP government's desperate move to bury justice were exposed by further investigation and submission of a supplementary charge sheet in March 2012, one year after the beginning of the trial on the basis of the earlier probe. Yet it took three years after the AL had assumed power.

The further investigation revealed the grisly attack was an outcome of collaboration between the militant outfit Huji, influential leaders of the BNP and the Jamaat-e-Islami, and a band of senior officials of the home ministry, police, Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), National Security Intelligence (NSI) and Prime Minister's Office (PMO). They were indicted in the case and are now facing trial.

Huji leaders, according to the supplementary charge sheet, met Tarique Rahman, elder son of former premier Khaleda and BNP senior vice chairman, a few days before the August 21 grenade attack and got the go-ahead to carry out the blasts.

Lutfozzaman Babar, then state minister for home, Harris Chowdhury, political secretary to then prime minister Khaleda Zia, Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed, secretary general of Jamaat-e-Islami and the then social welfare minister, NSI director general Brig Gen Abdur Rahim and DGFI director Brig Gen Rezzaqul Haider Chowdhury were present at that meeting at Hawa Bhaban, popularly known as an alternative centre of power during  BNP rule, in the capital's Banani.

According to the supplementary charge sheet, leaders of the banned militant group Harkatul Jihad al Islami (Huji) held two meetings with Tarique, who ran Hawa Bhaban and had huge influence over the then BNP government. Both the meetings were held at Hawa Bhaban.

Huji leaders at both the meetings sought support in executing their plans to assassinate Hasina and the top AL leaders. Tarique assured the Huji men of all-out support, said the charge sheet.

After the hail of grenades on an Awami League rally on Bangabandhu Avenue a few rush to help as the injured regain consciousness surrounded by bodies on this day 10 years ago. Photo: File
After the hail of grenades on an Awami League rally on Bangabandhu Avenue a few rush to help as the injured regain consciousness surrounded by bodies on this day 10 years ago. Photo: File

Due to their involvement in the heinous crime, the BNP-led administration did not even bother to pay attention to the international community's pressure for a fair investigation into the carnage.

Following pressure and grave concerns expressed by world leaders, the then BNP government allowed agents of Federal Bureau of Investigation of the US and Interpol to visit Dhaka to assist the probe.

But all efforts were waiting to go in vain.

Huji leader Tajuddin, supplier of the grenades, and brother of BNP government's deputy minister Abdus Salam Pintu, left the country for Pakistan on instructions from Lutfozzaman Babar. Khaleda was aware of this, according to the supplementary charge sheet.

Tajuddin was provided with a fake passport with the name “Badal”. Khaleda's nephew and private secretary Saiful Islam Duke, his brother-in-law and DGFI official Lt Col Saiful Islam Joarder, and another DGFI high-up Maj Gen ATM Amin helped Tajuddin flee the country on October 10, 2006, at the fag end of the BNP's rule.

After the attack, the BNP even launched a campaign blaming the AL for carrying out the attack on its own rally.

Through several investigations, the BNP-led alliance government relentlessly tried to establish that the AL had killed its own activists to tarnish the government's image and to topple it.

Through a judicial commission-led by a Supreme Court judge, it even tried to prove that "foreign enemies" had instigated the carnage, and some listed criminals holed up in India had taken part in the attack.

After the hail of grenades on an Awami League rally on Bangabandhu Avenue a few rush to help as the injured regain consciousness surrounded by bodies on this day 10 years ago. Photo: File
After the hail of grenades on an Awami League rally on Bangabandhu Avenue a few rush to help as the injured regain consciousness surrounded by bodies on this day 10 years ago. Photo: File

As a part of the plan to put the blame on the AL, the investigators made up a story involving Mokhlesur Rahman, an AL leader and former ward commissioner of Moghbazar, in the city.

On the instructions of the government high-ups, they also attempted to feed the public with another story woven around Joj Mia, a petty criminal. They forced Joj Mia to make a confessional statement naming Mokhlesur as one of the plotters. The whole story turned into a farce.

Things started taking a different shape only after an end to BNP rule. 

Published: 12:03 am Thursday, August 21, 2014

Last modified: 6:48 pm Thursday, August 21, 2014

TAGS: August 21 grenade attack grenade attack

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