"Banned militant outfit Ansar al Islam, also known as Ansarullah Bangla Team, waged jihad against bloggers, writers, and publishers to muzzle public voice, violate people's right to freedom of expression and destroy the secular harmony of the nation."
Judge Md Majibur Rahman of the Anti-Terrorism Special Tribunal made the observation yesterday while handing capital punishment to eight ABT men for murdering publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan on October 31, 2015.
"Dipan, owner and publisher of Jagriti Prokashoni, was killed because he published a book by [slain] blogger Avijit Roy," the court said, adding, "Those who can kill people for publishing books are the enemy of the state and the society."
Forty-three-year-old Dipan was hacked to death at his office inside Aziz Super Market in the capital's Shahbagh area. The back of his neck and head was stabbed haphazardly by militants, who left him to bleed to death by locking his office from outside after the attack.
Avijit was murdered on the Dhaka University campus eight months earlier.
The convicts handed the capital punishment are Ansar al Islam's top commander Sayed Ziaul Haque alias Maj (sacked) Zia, "squad leader" Moinul Hasan Shamim alias Samir alias Imran, trainer Abdus Sabur alias Samad alias Sujon alias Raju, and top operatives Khairul Islam alias Fahim alias Jishan, Sheikh Abdullah, Abu Siddiq Sohel, Mozammel Hossain alias Saimon and Akram Hossein alias Hasib.
Of them, Zia and Akram are absconding, while the rest are behind bars.
In his observations, the judge outlined the role of each of the militants in the grisly murder that shook the nation.
Zia trained the other militants and financed the operation, Akram planned the murder, Moinul collected the weapons and led to the team of the killers, Mozammel took part in the killing and also stalked Dipan prior to his murder, Sohel and Khairul stood guard outside the murder spot to make sure that the operation went smoothly, and Abdullah moved money from one place to another to finance the operation.
The judge quoted Abdullah as saying in his confessional statement, "In 2015, money used to flow in to kill bloggers, publishers and homosexuals in the country. I used to deliver the money to Saimon and others at the instruction of Sagor Bhai [Zia]."
The militants took a week-long training at a house in Mohammadpur Nabodoy Housing before the killing mission, stated the judge.
"There is no scope to judge who played a bigger role in the murder. Since the accused organisationally orchestrated the killing, their punishment must be the same," said the judge.
In the judgment, the tribunal said the prosecution was able to prove the charges against all the accused and that the accused were handed capital punishment for their involvement in committing the heinous offence.
Ahead of the court proceedings yesterday, security was beefed up in and around the courtroom.
Most courtrooms in the precinct are a flurry of activity -- lawyers in black swoop in and out cradling folders under their arms, justice-seekers lounge in the long balconies straddling the courtrooms, and peanut-sellers conduct brisk business catering to people in line.
The courtroom yesterday, however, looked different, apparently as it was getting prepared for the sentencing of militants for the sensational murder.
The entire floor was blocked off by a wall of policemen, and every person going in was frisked rigorously. Before people were allowed in, the entire courtroom was combed for explosives. For once, the metal detector was plugged in.
One by one, six members of the banned militant group Ansar al Islam, accused of killing Dipan, were produced before the court.
Each of them wore helmets, bulletproof vests, and over starched white Panjabi and salwars. Their hands were cuffed tightly behind their back, and they were not allowed to wear shoes as a precautionary measure. Even as they stood locked in the docket, a wall of police encircled them.
Up until the verdict was delivered, the six ABT men were murmuring under their breaths, their mouths silently chanting words.
After the judge handed down the death sentence, the only one crying was Dipan's wife, Razia Rahman, who silently wept into her lap, shoulders hunched. She said nothing, but apparently the sentencing of her husband's killers opened a floodgate of emotions for her.
The convicts either listened to their death sentence being read out with a calm expression on their faces or let out bemused chuckles. While one can wonder what was going through their heads, perhaps it can be questioned if repentance was on the agenda.
As lawyers hailed the judgment as exemplary, a few of the convicts curiously stood on tip-toes apparently to observe who was saying what about them.
The trial was concluded in 36 working days since the framing of charges against the eight accused on October 13, 2019.
Earlier, the tribunal recorded statements of 23 prosecution witnesses, including the complainant of the case.
On November 2, 2015, Dipan's wife filed the case with Shahbagh Police Station accusing some unknown people.
On November 14, 2018, Assistant Commissioner Md Fazlur Rahman of Detective Branch of police pressed charges against the eight.
Yesterday, the convicts were also fined Tk 50,000 each.
"This is an expected verdict," Dipan's father, Dhaka University's former Prof Abul Quasem Fazlul Huq, told The Daily Star.
Meanwhile, the defendants' lawyer Nazrul Islam said they did not get their expected verdict and added that they would file an appeal with the High Court, challenging the verdict.
"The charges against the accused have not been proved and the investigators could not question the principal actors. There were also problems with the documents," he said.