Justice so far away | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 20, 2015 / LAST MODIFIED: 10:46 AM, August 20, 2015

Justice so far away

Prosecution plans to cut long witness list, wishes to get verdict by end of this year

It took place in broad daylight of August 21, 2004 according to a meticulously designed plan hatched by some high ranking persons of the then BNP-led government.

They allegedly conspired to annihilate their political rivals and engaged Islamic militant mercenaries to carry it out. The militants killed 24 and injured 300 but they failed to get their prime target as Sheikh Hasina survived the attack narrowly because some of her party leaders protected her by forming a human shield around her.

As planned, the conspirators ensured a safe passage for the attackers to leave the scene. Later, they made all out efforts to derail investigations into the carnage.

Those involved are not in power for over eight years, yet the state is still struggling to bring justice for the victims of the gruesome August 21 grenade attack.

This has brought to question the state's ability to deliver justice and the efficiency of the criminal justice system.

Asked to comment, former chief justice ABM Khairul Haque said the state is fully responsible for delivering justice in each criminal case and justice means meaningful justice. 

He stressed the need for increasing the number of judges to improve the criminal justice system for this.    

Chief State counsel of the case, Syed Rezaur Rahman on the eve of 10th anniversary of the carnage last year had said the target was to have the trial completed by trial court before August 21 this year but the trial has not made much progress since then.

The court could record statements of 98 witnesses till August 2014. Since then 78 more witnesses have been recorded bringing the total to 176 since the beginning of the trial in 2008. The total number of witnesses in the case is 491.

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

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.

A lawyer said the huge number of accused, 52, is one of the major causes for the slow progress of the trial.

"Every accused has a lawyer to cross examine the witness. So, it takes a long time to complete recording statement of a witness," he added. 

Suranjit Sengupta, chief of the parliamentary standing committee of the law ministry, said his committee has been making follow ups about the trial at every meeting.

"Now the case is making progress. The law minister assured us that the trial will be completed by this year," he told The Daily Star on Tuesday.

He said the committee had asked the law ministry to arrange for the hearing of the case at least three days every week, instead of the present two days.

Suranjit however questioned the number of witnesses.

The chief prosecutor agreed with Suranjit on the number of witnesses.

"It is not necessary to record statements of all the witnesses," he told The Daily Star last week

He said statements of some senior Awami League leaders who were injured in the attack and made witnesses in the case will be recorded. Then the investigation officers of the case will be asked to give deposition, he added.

"We hope the trial court will come up with its verdict by the end of this year," he said.

A delivery of the verdict by the trial court however will start further legal processes.

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. After appeals are over, an accused may file review petition with the Appellate Division. It will require more time for disposal of the appeals.

This means there is still a long way to go to complete the trial conclusively in order to provide the victims' families with justice, according to legal experts. 

Till then, surviving victims and the families of the killed will be waiting in agony for justice.

BNP GOVT TRIED TO DERAIL INVESTIGATION

The grenade attack happened during the BNP in power and the attackers left the venue without any difficulty which raised many question and suspicion about the role of the police.

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

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

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

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 out to be fabrications by investigators.

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

Things took a different turn during the past caretaker government led by Fakhruddin Ahmed. A new CID official was given charge in July 2007 for fresh investigation into the carnage.

The CID submitted charge sheet on June 11, 2008 accusing 22, including Huji leader Mufti Hannan and former deputy minister of the BNP government Abdus Salam Pintu. The charge sheet hinted at the involvement of some government and security high ups in the plot.

After AL came to power the prosecution filed a petition on June 22, 2009 with the court for further investigation to identify the suppliers of Arges grenades and sources of financing. The court on August 3, 2009, ordered for further investigation. Then a new CID official was assigned to do the job. The CID submitted the supplementary charge sheet in July 2011.

According to the supplementary charge sheet the grisly attack was an outcome of collaboration between the militant outfit Huji, a section of influential leaders of the BNP and the Jamaat-e-Islami, and a section of senior officials of the home ministry, police, Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), National Security Intelligence (NSI) and Prime Minister's Office (PMO).

Lutfozzaman Babar, then state minister for home affairs, 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 masterminded the attack, according to the supplementary charge sheet. Involvement of Tarique Rahman was also alleged in the supplementary charge sheet.

According to the supplementary charge sheet of the case, Huji leader Tajuddin, supplier of the grenades, and brother of BNP government's deputy minister Abdus Salam Pintu, was allowed to leave the country for Pakistan on instructions from Lutfozzaman Babar. The then PM Khaleda Zia was aware of this, according to the 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, said the supplementary charge sheet in March 2011.

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