A Chattogram court yesterday sentenced five former policemen to death over opening fire on a procession led by Awami League President Sheikh Hasina that killed 24 people in 1988.
Chattogram District and Sessions Judge’s Court and also acting Special Judge Md Ismail Hossain delivered the verdict in a murder case.
Hasina was going to attend a rally of AL-led 15-party alliance in the port city’s Laldighi Maidan on January 24 that year, demanding resignation of military dictator HM Ershad.
The convicts are: former constables Pradip Barua, Mostafizur Rahman, Shah Md Abdullah, Mamtaj Uddin, and patrol inspector Gobindra Chandra Mandal alias GC Mondal of Kotwali area under Chattogram Metropolitan Police.
Of them, GC Mandal is absconding while the rest were present in the courtroom.
The key accused in the case, then CMP commissioner Mirza Rakibul Huda, and two other accused -- constables Abdus Salam and Basir Uddin -- were exempted as they died during trial.
The court also fined each of the five Tk 50,000.
Apart from that, it jailed the five for 10 years under section 326 of the Penal Code and fined each of them Tk 50,000 for injuring over 100 people in the incident.
In its observation, the court said, “It was a mass killing and the trial proceedings of the case were halted several times for different reasons.
“The court recorded statements of 53 witnesses in the case, and after analysing the statements, it has been found that police opened fire on the procession on the commissioner’s order.”
From witnesses’ statements, the court learnt that after landing at Chattogram Shah Amanat Airport, Hasina boarded a truck to attend the rally. There was a large number of people with her.
The accused had told the court that on January 23 night in 1988, a secret meeting was held by police to stop Hasina’s rally. As per the plan, police put up barricades near Bangladesh Bank, Kotwali intersection, and Laldighi Maidan the following day, the court said.
When the procession crossed the first barricade near Bangladesh Bank, GC Mandal notified Rakibul Huda through wireless of the procession’s position and the commissioner directed them to open fire, the court mentioned.
“Getting the directive, police fired and killed 24 people and wounded many others. After the incident, lawyers of Chattogram District Bar Association rushed to the spot and formed a human shield to save Sheikh Hasina and took her to lawyers’ office on Chattogram Court Building premises,” the court added.
The court said police recovered the victims’ bodies and took those to two cremation grounds at Balurdighi and burnt those there. Identities of 20 victims were confirmed. Of them, four were Muslims and one was Christian.
Public Prosecutor Mezbah Uddin Chowdhury of Special Judge Court said the prosecution completed its arguments on January 19 this year, and they appealed to the court, seeking the highest punishment of the accused.
Expressing satisfaction, Ashok Kumar Biswas, elder brother of deceased Swapan Kumar Biswas, told The Daily Star that his brother was shot dead when he joined the procession.
“He was around 19 years old at that time and had an 18-month-old baby girl, who is now a doctor, and we are happy with the verdict.”
Faridul Islam, who was shot in the leg and also the second witness in the case, said, “I am happy that the court delivered the verdict giving the accused capital punishment.”
“It was a well-organised plan to kill Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and it failed,” he added.
Iftekhar Saimul Chowdhury, a senior lawyer and also president of Chattogram District Bar Association, said they were pleased with the judgment and demanded immediate execution of the verdict.
Lawyer Ershad Hossain, son of late Shahidul Huda who filed the case, told this newspaper that his father lodged the case and he died in 2005 while the case was under trial. He often remembered the grisly attack on Hasina and always demanded the highest punishment of the attackers until his death.
“Following the verdict, his departed soul will now be in peace,” he said.
According to the case statement, when the procession reached near Laldighi Maidan, police started charging truncheons and firing.
The truck’s helper, Abdul Mannan, was shot dead on the spot, it added.
Lawyer Shahidul filed the case with a Chattogram court on March 5, 1992, after the fall of the Ershad regime.
But the trial proceedings did not start during the BNP-Jamaat government. The trial began after the AL government came to power in 1996, prosecution lawyers said.
Following a court order, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) investigated the case and submitted a charge sheet on January 12, 1997.
After further investigation, it submitted the second charge sheet on November 3, 1998, implicating the eight policemen.
On October 14, 1999, the CID submitted a supplementary charge sheet against eight accused -- Rakibul, GC Mondal and constables Mostafizur, Pradip, Mamtaj, Abdullah, Salam and Bashir.