Bangladesh: Justice delayed and denied

By William Gomes

I woke up on Jan. 28 and was shocked to read the news of the execution of five former army officers - Syed Farooq-ur Rahman, Sultan Shahriar Rashid Khan, Mohiuddin Ahmed, A.K.M. Mohiuddin Ahmed and Bazlul Huda, convicted for killing Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding leader of the People's Republic of Bangladesh and the country's first president.

Most of Rahman's family members were also killed including his 10-year-old son.

The five were executed in Dhaka Central Jail, nearly 35 years after they assassinated Rahman in an army coup. As much as I was shocked to read the gruesome killing of the Rahman family, I was equally pained, as an anti death-penalty activist to note the execution of the five persons.

Rahman's murder was interconnected by many political norms of the nation, which delayed justice for years. These forces set up a platform and even enforced a change in the country's constitution.

More than 21 years after the assassination, a case was filed in October 1996, four months after the Awami League party led by Sheikh Hasina, one of Mujibur Rahman's two surviving daughters, assumed office.

After 17 months of hearings, on Nov. 8, 1998, Kazi Gulam Rasul, a district and sessions court judge in Dhaka sentenced 15 former army officers to death by firing squad in public for the brutal murder of Rahman and 26 others including his wife, three sons, two daughters-in-law, a brother, and other close relatives, political associates and security men in a pre-dawn attack on Aug. 15, 1975.

The accused were Syed Farooq-ur Rahman, Sultan Shahriar Rashid Khan, Muhiuddin Ahmed, A.K.M. Mahiuddin Ahmed, Bazlul Huda, Khandaker Abdur Rashid, Shariful Haque Dalim, Ahmed Shariful Hossain, A.M. Rashed Chowdhury, S.H.M.B. Noor Chowdhury, Md. Abdul Aziz Pasha, Md. Kismat Hashem, Nazmul Hossain Ansar, Abdul Mazed, and Moslemuddin.

On Dec. 14, 2000, when the case went for an appeal hearing, the High Court delivered a split verdict. One judge upheld the death sentence for 10 of the accused and acquitted the other five while another judge upheld the death sentences on all 15 defendants.

Another high court judge then took up the case and a final verdict was delivered on April. 30, 2001, upholding the death sentences of 12 defendants while three - Md. Kismat Hashem, Ahmed Shariful Hossain and Nazmul Hossain Ansar were acquitted. The five - Syed Farooq-ur Rahman, Sultan Shahriar Rashid Khan, Mohiuddin Ahmed, A.K.M. Mohiuddin Ahmed, and Bazlul Huda were convicted and detained in the Dhaka Central Jail, but later appealed to the Supreme Court against their death sentences.

The Supreme Court upheld their sentences on Nov. 19, 2009 and a final review of the case was scheduled on Jan. 24, 2010, as the last judicial remedy to the five men.

However, the entire trial has been questioned for its fairness and the political bias of judges, especially with the Awami League in power.

But this is a normal procedure in Bangladesh.
If prisoners are sentenced to death, they can appeal to the High Court against their conviction. If the High Court upholds the sentence, they can appeal to the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court upholds the sentence, the prisoners have one more judicial remedy and that is a final review of the case by the same bench of the Supreme Court. If the death sentence is still upheld, the only remedy open to the prisoners is a mercy petition requesting clemency from the president.

Five former army officers were executed in Bangladesh on Jan. 28 for assassinating Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding leader of Bangladesh, in 1975. While the death penalty could not be overturned, the local media reported on Jan. 19 that the president had considered and rejected the mercy petition of three of the accused - Mohiuddin Ahmed, A.K.M. Mohiuddin Ahmed, and Bazlul Huda.

It is a tradition that mercy petitions are normally considered after all the judicial processes and options are over.

Sheikh Hasina, one of Mujibur Rahman's two surviving daughters and the present prime minister of Bangladesh publicly vowed to find six other killers of her father, hiding as fugitives, and execute them at any cost. "Wherever the killers are, they will be brought back and executed. The world is small, where will they escape to?" she said at Gano Bhaban.

Followers of the Awami League party reportedly harassed some family members of the executed men including during the burial of one of the men. The families now fear of persecution and more harassment.

The media mostly played a politically bias role. The notable Daily Ittefaq had labeled the sentenced men as saviors of the nation in 1975, but titled them national enemies after their execution.

In addition, the media did not respect the privacy and security of family members of the executed men, nor did they report their views and comments. The role of Rahman and some of his family members was questionable during a time of conflict that had many political problems. This is widely known in political circles.

The question is whether the trial was free and fair and the answer is, it was not. When the United Nations general assembly adopted resolution 62/149 on Dec.18, 2007, calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions, the resolution was adopted by an overwhelming majority of 104 member states. Fifty-four countries voted against it and 29 abstained.

Bangladesh along with its prime minister and the political regime is practicing the inhuman “death penalty” and wrongly influencing free and fair trials.

For Sheikh Hasina, I leave a note, "To take a life when a life has been lost is revenge, not justice," Desmond Tutu said.

And for the reader, I pose the question by Victor Hugo. "What says the law? You will not kill. How does it say it? By killing."

It is time to take a decision and change the “killing law” and make the world more human.

William Nicholas Gomes is a human rights activist and freelance journalist. He can be reached at E-mail:[email protected]