The Supreme Court yesterday upheld the death sentence for one person but acquitted the other four on death row in the sensational case over rape and murder of Shazneen Tasnim Rahman at her Gulshan house around two decades ago.
Death penalty has been confirmed only for Shahidul Islam alias Shahid, who was a domestic help at Shazneen's house.
The acquitted are Syed Sajjad Mainuddin Hasan, a contractor for renovation at Shazneen's house, his assistant Badal, and two maids Estema Khatun Minu and Parvin.
A five-member bench of the Appellate Division of the SC, headed by Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha, delivered the verdict following appeals by the convicts.
After the verdict, Shazneen's father Latifur Rahman said that while respecting the verdict of the honourable court, he was deeply disappointed and saddened.
"As a father, I have had to live with unfathomable sorrow and heart-wrenching memory of my daughter being most brutally murdered and then wait endlessly, patiently and expectantly for justice for all these 18 agonising years," said Latifur Rahman, leading businessman and chairman of Transcom Group.
“After receiving the full judgment, we will review and consider our next course of action,” he said.
Nozrul Islam Chowdhury, senior counsel for the plaintiffs, said, “Once we receive and go through the certified copy of the judgment, we will consider whether we should proceed further.”
In its verdict on September 2, 2003, a special tribunal sentenced six of the seven accused to death in the case filed following rape and murder of Shazneen in 1998. One of the accused died in police custody during the probe in the case.
"The killing went beyond the realm of fiction. It appears reality has surpassed imagination. It was like snatching of a child from her loving mother," observed Special Tribunal Judge Kazi Rahamat Ullah in the judgment.
Hasan was found guilty by the special court under section 6 (2) (rape with murder) of the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act, 1995, and the five others were found guilty under sections 6(2) and 14 (rape with murder and instigation) of the same law.
The convicts challenged the tribunal's verdict before the High Court.
On July 10, 2006, the HC confirmed the death sentence for the five and acquitted one, Shaniram Mandal, as it found that the mason was not involved in the conspiracy or rape or murder of Shazneen.
The five later filed appeals with the SC, challenging the HC verdict.
And the apex court came up with its verdict yesterday, around seven years after the filing of the appeals.
The grounds, on which the SC acquitted four of the five yesterday, could not be known as its full text was yet to be released.
The top court also cancelled the proceedings of another case filed in 1998 under section 302 of the Penal Code in connection with Shazneen's murder.
Khandker Mahbub Hossain, the principal defence lawyer, said, “We are very happy that the Appellate Division, with firm determination, has done justice in this sensational and much-talked-about case.”
According to the case documents, Shazneen, a class-IX student of Scholastica, was raped and murdered at her Gulshan house on April 23, 1998.
The following day, her father Latifur Rahman filed a murder case with Gulshan Police Station under section 302 of the Penal Code. On September 4 the same year, the CID filed a case under Women and Children Repression [Prevention] Act for rape and murder.
After investigation, police submitted a charge sheet in the first case to the Additional Metropolitan Sessions Judge's Court-1 in Dhaka and another charge sheet in the second case to the Special Tribunal for Prevention of Women and Children Repression.
The courts later framed charges in the cases.
The accused challenged the indictment orders in both the cases before the High Court.
On July 6, 1999, the HC bench of Justice Mohammad Abdul Karim and Justice ABM Khairul Haque (who later became chief justice) ruled that the murder case against the accused pending with the Additional Metropolitan Sessions Judge's Court would be stayed because the Special Tribunal for Prevention of Women and Children Repression had already indicted the accused for murder.
The bench also gave the go-ahead to continue the case at the tribunal for murder and rape.
In its verdict, the HC bench said rape and murder were two distinct and separate offences. It also mentioned that the autopsy report on Shazneen clearly stated she was raped before murder.
According to the report, there were 25 injury marks on Shazneen's body, and the injuries were not caused by a single weapon. As per the seizure list, two weapons were seized.
The accused challenged the HC verdict before the SC.
On November 11, 1999, a four-member Appellate Division bench, comprising the then Chief Justice Mustafa Kamal, Justice Latifur Rahman (who later became CJ), Justice AM Mahmudur Rahman and Justice Mahmudul Amin Chowdhury (who later became CJ), rejected their appeal.
In its verdict, the bench said the HC rightly stayed all further proceedings of the case at the sessions judge's court and gave the go-ahead to proceed with the case at the tribunal.
It is such a case where murder was committed not during rape. “It is a clear case of rape and then murder. These are two distinct and separate offences. So the question of double jeopardy does not arise," observed the apex court.
After getting the SC's approval, the tribunal went on with proceedings in the case and delivered the verdict in 2003.
APPEALS WITH SC
Four of the five accused -- Hasan, Badal, Minu and Parvin -- filed separate leave-to-appeal petitions, seeking permission for filing regular appeals against the HC verdict.
On April 26, 2009, around 11 years after Shazneen's murder, the Appellate Division of the SC accepted their leave-to-appeal prayers.
Later, the four lodged appeals with the SC. Shahid also filed an appeal with the apex court through the jail authorities.
A three-member bench of the Appellate Division of the SC, headed by the chief justice, started hearing the appeals of the five convicts together on March 29 this year. Two other members of the bench were Justice Hasan Foez Siddique and Justice Mirza Hussain Haider.
On April 5, the chief justice reconstituted the bench and turned it into a five member one by including Justice Nazmun Ara Sultana and Justice Md Imman Ali in it.
On May 11, the five-member bench kept the appeals waiting for verdict.
Nearly three months later, it delivered the judgment yesterday.
During the hearing, Nozrul Islam Chowdhury, AM Aminuddin, ASM Abdul Momin and Sarwar Ahmed stood for the plaintiffs, while Attorney General Mahbubey Alam and Deputy Attorney General Khandaker Diliruzzaman represented the government.