The High Court yesterday upheld the death penalty of 15, including three ex-Rab officials and expelled Awami League leader Nur Hossain, for their involvement in conspiracy, abduction and killing of seven Narayanganj men in 2014.
The court, however, commuted the capital punishment of 11 others to life imprisonment. It fined them Tk 20,000 each, in default of which they have to spend two more years in prison.
The HC bench of Justice Bhabani Prasad Singha and Justice Mustafa Zaman Islam also upheld the jail terms of nine others for various terms ranging from seven to 17 years.
Earlier in January, a Narayanganj Court sentenced 26 persons to death and nine others to imprisonment in the sensational murder case.
The HC verdict comes more than three years after the horrific murders, which shook the nation to its core and gave the elite crime buster Rab a bad name for the involvement of its members in such a grievous offence.
Except for Nur Hossain, sacked vice-president of Siddhirganj AL and also Narayanganj City Corporation (NCC) councillor, all 14 other condemned persons are former Rab members.
They include the then commanding officer of Rab-11 in Narayanganj Lt Col Tareque Sayeed Mohammad and the then company commanders Maj Arif Hossain and Lt Commander Masud Rana of the battalion.
Seven people, including NCC panel mayor Nazrul Islam and senior lawyer Chandan Sarker, were abducted from the Dhaka-Narayanganj link road on April 27, 2014.
Later, their bodies were found floating in the Shitalakkhya river.
Following the killings, Tareque, Arif and Masud were withdrawn from Rab and forced into retirement from the defence services. Tareque is son-in-law of Disaster Management and Relief Minister Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury Maya.
In its judgment, the HC said it was a pre-planned killing and an outcome of a conspiracy financed by Nur Hossain. And the killing was carried out under the leadership of Tareque, Arif and Masud.
Talking to The Daily Star, Assistant Attorney General Bashir Ahmed said Nur Hossain was awarded death penalty for “masterminding” the abduction and killing, while 14 others got the capital punishment for their direct involvement in the offences.
The court commuted the death penalty of 11 convicted persons, considering the scale of their offences, Bashir said citing the verdict.
Of the 35 convicted persons, 30 are in jail and the rest are absconding, he said.
On January 16, Narayanganj District and Sessions Judge's Court found 35 people, including Nur Hossain and 25 ex-Rab officials, guilty of abduction and murder of the seven people and also destroying evidence.
Later, the convicted persons filed appeals with the HC, which fixed August 13 for delivering judgment upon completion of hearing. But the court deferred it to August 22 as the verdict was not ready.
Yesterday, the court stared delivering the judgment around 10:30am and completed it around 4:30pm with one-hour break.
As journalists were about to enter the courtroom, a court employee and police personnel barred them. Later, the court intervened and allowed them in.
The victims' family members, including Nazrul's wife Selina Islam and father-in-law Shahidul Islam, were sitting on the last bench. Abul Khayer, father of another victim Tajul Islam Russel, was also there.
As the court pronounced the sentences, Khayer asked one of our correspondents: "Can you tell me the death penalty of how many of them has been upheld?"
Shahidul asked a lawyer whether the court mentioned that Nur Hossain orchestrated the killings. His face turned pale as the lawyer said he couldn't hear it clearly.
Moments later, Shahidul looked relieved when the lawyer told him that death sentences of Nur and the three ex-Rab officials were upheld.
"I am very happy with the verdict," Nazrul's wife Selina Islam, one of the plaintiffs of the sensational case, told this newspaper while leaving the courtroom.
Prasanta Kumar Bonik, senior jail superintendent of Kashimpur Central Jail-2, told this correspondent that three of the condemned persons -- Nur Hossain, Tareque and Belal Hossain -- heard about the HC verdict on the radio at the prison.
“We informed them about the verdict around 5:30pm. They looked depressed.”
The nation stood aghast at the extent of brutality carried out by the perpetrators.
Following the killings, the family members and relatives of the victims mobilised public support and waged a movement demanding justice. The HC intervened to ensure that an impartial probe is conducted into the killings and the perpetrators are brought to book.
After appearing before a Narayanganj court in a criminal case on April 27, 2014, Nazrul along with Moniruzzaman Swapan, Tajul Islam, Liton and his driver Jahangir Alam were coming to the capital by a microbus.
As they reached Khan Shaheb Osman Ali Stadium in Fatullah, another microbus intercepted them. And they were abducted.
Chandan, senior lawyer at Narayanganj District Judge's Court, and his driver Ibrahim were killed as they happened to witness the abduction of Nazrul and his associates.
The murderers cut open the victims' bellies and tied the bodies to sacks full of bricks before throwing them into water. They were blindfolded, and their hands and legs were tied, police said.
According to the charge sheet, Nur Hossain had enmity with Nazrul. As part of his well-orchestrated plan, he used the Rab officials in exchange of money to abduct Nazrul and his associates.
Being a commander of the force, Tareque ordered his subordinates to abduct, kill and hide the bodies with an intention to gain financial benefits by breaching the discipline of the force.
Arif and Masud directly took part in the crime, and the other members of the force participated in the offence at different stages, said the charge sheet.