Friday, August 15, 2008

Bangabandhu trial lingers on and on

Dhaka, Aug 14 ( – The Supreme Court is not sitting anytime soon to hear the appeal against the death verdict in the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman murder case trial as it is hamstrung by a lack of judges.

It has been a year since the highest court of the country accepted petitions by the five death convicts for a review of the High Court verdict.

The trial court handed down ruling in the case in 1998 and the High Court gave its verdict in 2001.

The trial hit snags as three of the five judges who sit on the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court are unable to hear the appeals for varied reasons, which means another judge is needed to start the hearing.

The appeals hearing can start only with the appointment of a new judge, either on a permanent or ad-hoc basis.

Independence leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was killed with much of his family by some disgruntled military officers on August 15, 1975 and the case was filed 21 years after the assassination that shook the nation to the core and changed the political landscape forever.

Proceedings in the trial court were tediously protracted because of different reasons including sickness of judges and the trial being challenged in the High Court. And then the hearing of appeals in the High Court was delayed as several judges felt embarrassed in the High Court.

Six judges of the High Court Division and the Appellate Division felt embarrassed to hear the case.

A three-strong bench was formed on August 2 last year to hear the petition by the convicts to file an appeal against the High Court verdict. The bench made of Justice Tafazzal Islam, Justice Zainal Abedin and Justice Md Hasan Amin started hearing on Aug 7 last year.

After hearing for 25 workdays the Appellate Division on September 23 last year agreed to hear a regular appeal by the five death convicts. It ordered the defence to prepare a paper book by October 30 that year and submit it, which they did. Since then a good year has gone by without the hearing resuming.

The trial of Bangabandhu murder case will not come full circle until the court disposes of the appeal,

Special counsel of the prosecution in the case, advocate Anisul Haq, explained the delay to a day before the state officially mourns after a six-year break.

There had been a lot of progress in the appeals hearing since 2007. Unfortunately, he said, there are not sufficient judges now in the Appellate Division to hear the appeal.

There are five judges in the Appellate Division and at least three judges are required for hearing the appeal. But the incumbent chief justice, MM Ruhul Amin, and Justice MA Matin had felt embarrassed to hear the case during their stint as High Court judges.

The other judge, Mohammad Fazlul Karim, had given the verdict in the case as the third High Court judge. It means these three judges have to be counted out from the appeals hearing .

Only Justice Tafazzal Islam and Justice Zainal Abedin can hear the appeal given the current composition of the highest appeals court, Haq added.

"We hope the two vacant posts in the Appellate Division will be filled out soon. Once the Appellate Division gets the necessary number of judges we'll appeal to it to hear the appeal."

Convict Sultan Shahriar Rashid Khan's counsel Abdur Rezzak Khan told, "The hearing on the appeal of the case can be held by ad-hoc appointment of judges."

"Important legal questions are involved with this case. So a bigger bench with a greater number of judges should hear the appeal."

Convict major (retd) Bazlul Huda and major (retd) AKM Mohiuddin Ahmed's counsel barrister Abdullah Al Mamun said, "Bangabandhu murder case trial should end. The hearing on the appeal can start with the intervention of the chief justice."

After the murder of Sheikh Mujib, as he is generally called, no-one was allowed to file a case. The government of Khandker Mustaque Ahmed that was installed after the military putsch passed an ordinance in November that year indemnifying the perpetrators and closing the door on the possibility of a trial.

The Awami League government revoked the indemnity ordinance in 1996 and cleared the way for that trial.

After 21 years of the killing, the then president Sheikh Mujib's personal assistant Muhitul Islam on October 2, 1996 filed a case with Dhanmondi Police Station against 20 persons.

On November 8, 1998 Dhaka sessions judge Golam Rasul awarded death sentence to 15 of the 20 accused persons. Four jailed accused major (retd) Bazlul Huda, lt col (sacked) Syed Faruk Rahman, lt col (retd) Sultan Shahriar Rashid Khan and lt col (red) Mohiuddin Ahmed appealed in the High Court against the trial court verdict.

On December 14, 2000 the High Court gave a split verdict in the case: Justice Md Ruhul Amin upheld death sentence of 10 accused but Justice ABM Khairul Haque upheld death sentence of 15 accused.

On April 30, 2001 Justice Mohammad Fazlul Karim of the High Court's third bench upheld death sentence of 12 accused persons and acquitted three.

Of the 12 death convicts, four jailed accused submitted leave to appeal in the Appellate Division in the same year.

Another death convict, lancer AKM Mohiuddin, made an appeal from jail after he was deported from the United States on June 18 last year.

Of those having received death sentence, Rashid, lt col Shariful Haq Dalim, lt col Noor, Risalder Moslemuddin, lt col Rashed Chowdhury and col Majed are absconding.

Absconding accused Aziz Pasha died in Zimbabwe.

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