* Treat Col Taher, other accused in the case as patriots, not traitors
* Consider providing compensation to victims
* Prosecute military tribunal judge Abdul Ali for Taher's execution
* Probe Zia's 'involvement' in killing Bangabandhu, freedom fighters
The trial and execution of freedom fighter Col Abu Taher in 1976 was masterminded by the then chief martial law administrator, Gen Ziaur Rahman, the High Court said yesterday declaring the military tribunal and the trial illegal and unconstitutional.
"The so-called trial and execution of Colonel Abu Taher was a cold blooded assassination which was masterminded by a person no other than Ziaur Rahman," the court said after weeks of hearing on pleas by Taher's family and others to call the entire trial illegal.
Col Taher was a sector com mander during the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh. His supporters say he had a role in the soldiers' uprising on Nov 7, 1975 that saw Ziaur Rahman's release from confinement in Dhaka Cantonment.
Taher was later arrested and put to trial by a military tribunal that sentenced him to death on charges of mutiny and treason. He was executed on July 21, 1976.
Sixteen others including politicians Sirajul Alam Khan, ASM Abdur Rab, Maj (retd) Zia Uddin, Hasanul Huq Inu, Sharif Nurul Ambia, and Mahmudur Rahman Manna were also tried on the same charges and sentenced to various jail terms.
Delivering a judgment on four separate writ petitions, the HC bench of Justice AHM Shamsuddin Chowdhury Manik and Justice Sheikh Md Zakir Hossain yesterday said, "Ziaur Rahman is not available now to face the murder charge as he is already dead, Abdul Ali will be prosecuted for killing Taher under the order of Ziaur Rahman." Abdul Ali is the only living judge of the military tribunal.
Senior judge of the bench Justice Shamsuddin Chowdhury Manik announced the verdict saying, "The so-called pretentious trial of Colonel Abu Taher, Hasanul Huq Inu, Mahmudur Rahman Manna, Major (retired) Zia Uddin and others was a hoax, a sham, and a fiction."
"The sentence passed by the fake tribunal is hereby set aside and quashed, as if it is set that such fictitious and farcical trial never took place."
The court ruled that Col Taher will be treated as a martyr and a patriot instead of a traitor, and the others tried and convicted on false sedition charges will be treated as patriots as well. The court directed the authorities to amend relevant records to that effect.
Family members of Taher and Hasanul Huq Inu were present in the courtroom during the delivery of the verdict. US journalist and writer Lawrence Lifschultz, who had covered the trial of Taher in 1976, was also present.
They termed the judgment historic, and expressed satisfaction.
Justice Manik said the military tribunal and the so-called trial was not in accordance with any recognised law of the country.
The camera trial, which was held inside a prison, was in total violation of all norms of justice, he went on.
The court said there was no process of charge framing against the so-called accused, no first information report or charge sheet, and the accused were not told about the charges they were about to face.
The accused were neither allowed to have access to lawyers, nor to cross examine the prosecution witness, they were barred from appealing against the verdict and from seeking a review, the bench said. They were not even allowed to submit mercy petitions, it noted.
The so-called tribunal had no document before it for holding the trial, and it did not allow the accused to defend themselves either, the HC observed.
"In short it was not even a show-trial as Lawrence Lifschultz stated before us. The purported trial was arranged only to justify Zia's decision to kill Taher with a view to establishing autocracy," Justice Manik said.
The HC asked the government to seriously consider the question of compensating the victims of the military tribunal including the family members of Taher for the wrongs done to them by Ziaur Rahman.
The court said apart from Lawrence Lifschultz, Hasanul Huq Inu, and Mahmudur Rahman Manna, Zia's close associates Gen (retd) Nurul Islam Shishu and Moudud Ahmed also confirmed that Zia alone had decided to kill Taher even before formation of the so-called tribunal.
The bench castigated those who had said that Lawrence Lifschultz had come to Bangladesh as a government-hired agent.
Although the remark is tantamount to contempt of court, the bench is not bringing any charge, said the court adding that the persons who made the comment must refrain from making such remarks on sub-judice matters.
The bench also directed the government to constitute a high profile committee to investigate the allegation that Ziaur Rahman was "directly involved in the killing of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman" on August 15, 1975, and after 1975 in the killing of several thousand military personnel who had been freedom fighters.
The committee will be comprised of retired judges of the Supreme Court, lawyers, journalists, human rights activists, civil society members, retired senior military and police officials, and civil servants, the bench said.
Justice Manik gave a list of actions by Ziaur Rahman that "prove his anti-liberation stand".
The justice said Zia erased the slogan Joy Bangla; changed the basic principles of the liberation war including secularism; appointed Shah Azizur Rahman, one of the worst collaborators of the Pakistani occupying army, as the prime minister; and appointed other collaborators Mustafizur Rahman and Abdul Alim as ministers after usurping the state power.
Ziaur Rahman introduced the politics of religious fundamentalism in the country, accommodated all war criminals and collaborators of the occupying army, "immunised" the killers of Bangabandhu Shekih Mujibur Rahman, and gave them respectable jobs, Justice Manik said.
He also said Ziaur Rahman converted Suhrawardi Uddyan -- the relic of Bangabandhu's historical March 7 speech, and the place where Pakistani armed forces surrendered -- into Shishu Park only to wipe out the memory of the liberation war.
Ziaur Rahman also made the government-controlled media stop terming the then Pakistani forces as occupation forces, he added.
Taher's widow Lutfa Taher; his brother M Anwar Hossain; and Fatema Yusuf, wife of Yusuf Ali Khan, who was given life sentence by the military court; jointly filed a writ petition on August 22 last year challenging the legality of the military tribunal and the trial.
On August 23 last year, the HC issued a rule asking the government to explain why the martial law regulation under which Taher was tried and executed should not be declared illegal and unconstitutional.
Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal President Hasanul Huq Inu and its Vice-president Rabiul Alam, Maj (retd) Zia Uddin, and Abdul Majid, who were also tried and punished by the same military tribunal, filed three other writ petitions with the HC on similar grounds in January this year.
The HC on different days in January issued separate rules on the government.
During hearings on the rules, a number of senior lawyers placed submissions before the court as amici curiae (friends of the court), saying that the trial of Taher and others was illegal and unconstitutional.
Lawrence Lifschultz also placed separate statements before the HC bench.
Dr Kamal Hossain, Barrister M Amir-Ul Islam, Dr M Zahir, Barrister MI Farooqui, Advocate Yusuf Hossain Humayun, Dr Akther Imam, among others, placed submissions on the matter as well.
Barrister Rokanuddin Mahmud and Dr Shahdeen Malik argued for the petitioners, while Attorney General Mahbubey Alam, Additional Attorney General MK Rahman, and Deputy Attorney General ABM Altaf Hossain appeared for the government.
* Treat Col Taher, other accused in the case as patriots, not traitors