The Supreme Court yesterday declared the military rule of HM Ershad illegal in a verdict that also said the actions taken by his regime will remain effective until their fate is decided by parliament.
A six-member SC bench, headed by Chief Justice ABM Khairul Haque, upheld a High Court judgment knocking off the 7th amendment to the constitution that validated Ershad's illegal military regime.
Ershad, an army chief-turned-president, seized power in a military coup on March 24, 1982 ousting the elected government of President Justice Abdus Sattar.
His martial law regime continued until November 10, 1986 when a parliament loyal to him legitimised his takeover of power. He became president in a controversial election and continued to be so until 1990 when a mass upsurge ousted him.
“All proclamations, Martial Law Regulations, Martial Law Orders, made/promulgated during the period between 24th March, 1982 and the date of commencement of the Constitution (Seventh Amendment) Act, 1986 (Act 1 of 1986) are hereby declared illegal and void….,” the SC said in its brief verdict.
The apex court, however, provisionally condoned all acts, things, deeds and transactions and proceedings during the military rule of Ershad between March 24, 1982, and November 10, 1986.
Legal experts said this means the acts, deeds, actions, transactions and proceedings during the period will remain in force until parliament takes decisions on these.
The SC condoned forever the international treaties, which were made during that period.
The controversial 7th amendment was first challenged by Siddique Ahmed, a 64-year-old ordinary man from Chittagong , who was sentenced to life imprisonment by a martial law court in 1986 in a murder case.
The SC voided the trial and conviction of Siddique and ordered his release on bail from jail in Chittagong.
The apex court, however, said trial of the case against Siddique will continue in the Sessions Judge's Court.
The SC rejected a petition filed by Siddique for quashing the proceedings against him..
It came up with the verdict after Siddique filed the appeal against the HC verdict, which declared the seventh amendment to the constitution illegal, but neither acquitted him [Siddique] of the murder charge nor ordered a retrial of the case.
The HC passed the verdict on August 26 last year following a writ petition filed by Siddique challenging the legality of the seventh amendment.
Siddique surrendered to a Chittagong court on April 7 in connection with the murder case, as per the HC order.
Counsels for the petitioners and the attorney general said the legacy of military rule has been removed from the constitution.
Barrister Syed Amirul Islam, principal counsel for Siddique, told journalists that the Paragraph 19 of the Fourth Schedule of the Constitution which ratified the martial law regulations and orders by Ershad is no more a part of the constitution following the SC verdict.
Barrister Hassan MS Azim, another counsel for Siddique, said in its short order the SC did not pass any ruling about punishment of HM Ershad, while the HC in its verdict left the matter to the government.
Attorney General Mahbubey Alam said he cannot make any comment on in this regard without examining the full text of the SC verdict.
The apex court had invited four senior lawyers to give their opinions on the 7th amendment.
Earlier, the SC declared illegal the 5th amendment to the constitution that legitimised the regimes that ruled the country after the August 15, 1975 assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman until April 9, 1979.