Xulhaz-Tonoy Murder: Killers’ goal was to gag free speech
"The accused do not deserve any sympathy. The role of any of the accused cannot be taken lightly."
The common goal of the Ansar al Islam militants who killed LGBT rights activist Xulhaz Mannan and his friend Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy was to clamp down on people's freedom of expression and independent activities by creating terror in the country.
Judge Md Majibur Rahman of Anti-Terrorism Special Tribunal of Dhaka made the observation yesterday while handing down death sentence to six members of the banned militant outfit for killing Xulhaz, a former employee of USAID, and Tonoy on April 25, 2016.
"The accused do not deserve any sympathy. The role of any of the accused in the murder cannot be taken lightly," the judge said in his observation on the verdict, adding that justice will be served only if they are hanged.
The judge said the accused labelled the victims as associates of homosexuals and brutally murdered them as per a decision of the militant outfit.
Xulhaz and Tonoy had to pay with their lives as they worked to establish the homosexuals in the society, he said.
Those sentenced to death are: Syed Mohammad Ziaul Haque alias Maj (sacked) Zia, Akram Hossain, Mozammel Hossain Saimon, Arafat Rahman Siam, Sheikh Abdullah alias Jubair, and Asadullah alias Foyjul.
The charges against them were proven beyond doubt, the judgement said.
Mozammel, Abdullah, Arafat, Asadullah and Akram had recced the area, where Xulhaz lived, several times before the murder. Xulhaz and Tonoy were killed at Zia's directive, it said.
Zia and Akram are still on the run. The other convicts are behind bars. Mozammel, Sheikh Abdullah, Arafat and Asadullah had earlier confessed their involvement in the murder.
The court acquitted, however, two accused -- Sabbirul Haque Chowdhury and Junaid Ahmed alias Maulana Junaid -- as the charges against them could not be proven.
The verdict was pronounced around 12:10pm with four of the accused in the dock.
With their hands cuffed, the four were taken to the courtroom in helmets and bullet-proof vests around 30 minutes before noon amid tight security.
While getting off a prison van in front of the court building, Asadullah was all smiles. There was no sign of any remorse.
A large number of police personnel surrounded the four accused as they stood in the dock. An archway metal detector was set up at the entrance to the bloc that housed the tribunal.
The trial was completed in 13 working days after charges were framed against the accused, the judge said, adding that 24 prosecution witnesses testified during the trial proceedings.
On April 25, 2016, Xulhaz and Tonoy were hacked to death inside Xulhaz's Kalabagan home in the capital.
Xulhaz was also the editor of a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) magazine "Roopbaan", while Tonoy was an activist of theatre group Loknatya Dal.
Minhaz Mannan Emon, elder brother of Xulhaz, filed a murder case accusing some unidentified assailants with Kalabagan Police Station the same day.
On July 23, 2019, Inspector Muhammad Monirul Islam of Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit of police submitted the charge sheet in the case before the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate's Court of Dhaka naming eight Ansar Al Islam members, including Zia, as accused.
On November 19 last year, the Anti-Terrorism Special Tribunal framed charges against them.
On February 10 this year, Zia, Akram, Mozammel and Abdullah were sentenced to death for murdering Jagriti Prokashoni publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan inside Aziz Super Market in the capital's Shahbagh area.
On February 16, Zia, Akram, Mozammel and Arafat were also sentenced to death for killing writer-blogger Avijit Roy near the TSC of Dhaka University.
The four convicts seemed calm when the judge read out the verdict. None of them showed any sign of repentance. They talked among themselves and laughed occasionally.
After the judge delivered the verdict and left the room, Arafat and Asadullah hailed the verdict.
Around 20 minutes before the verdict was delivered, Arafat and Abdullah got engaged in a verbal altercation with on-duty policemen as the cops tried to cuff them.
Asked about his reaction on the verdict, Xulhaz's brother Minhaz Mannan Emon said he was not the right person to express satisfaction or dissatisfaction over the judgement.
"I don't know the killers. I could not even lodge the complaint against any specific person," he told The Daily Star over phone.
"Some unidentified assailants brutally killed my brother. I filed the case seeking justice. I wanted the killers to be identified and arrested. After a long time, the judgement has been pronounced.
"It will be better if you take the opinion of the state, which is engaged in the entire procedure and discharged its duties."
Dhaka Metropolitan Public Prosecutor Abdullah Abu expressed satisfaction over the verdict.
Defence lawyer MABM Khairul Islam said they were not satisfied. He said they would challenge the judgement with the higher court.