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The Law Catches Up With Mujib Killers in Bangladesh

Anand Kumar is Associate Fellow at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. Click here for detailed profile
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  • February 01, 2010

    Shaikh Mujibur Rahman who had fought for the liberation of Bangladesh was brutally murdered on 15 August 1975 at his residence in Dhaka. Along with him 28 other people were killed, including most of his family members. Only two of his daughters survived the massacre because they were touring Europe at that time. Unfortunately, successive regimes in Bangladesh, instead of trying to prosecute those criminals, not only protected but also rewarded them. That historical wrong has now been corrected with the hanging of some of Shaikh Mujib’s killers. This hanging has also sent a message that the rule of law exists in Bangladesh.

    It has not been easy to prosecute and punish Mujib’s killers. After his murder Bangladesh saw a long spell of military rule. Following the overthrow of military rule in 1990, a Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led government came to power and was not keen on pursuing Mujib’s killers. It was difficult for the judges to conduct hearings. The rebellion against Mujib was led by young military officers. It is alleged that Zia-ur-Rahman was complicit in the murder of Mujib. Though the motive of the rebellion has not been established till date, Zia-ur-Rahman was the biggest beneficiary of the carnage. The intentions of Zia also became suspect as immunity was given to the killers of Mujib. To top it all, many of them were given diplomatic postings.

    This queer situation changed when Shaikh Hasina, the eldest daughter of Mujib came to power after the 1996 general elections in Bangladesh. The Hasina government repealed the immunity ordinance in November 1996, clearing the path for the prosecution of culprits. To begin, a police complaint was filed identifying the 20 accused. In 1998 a Dhaka judge handed down death sentences to 15 of the 20 accused, but only four were in custody. They appealed in the High Court against the verdict, the first of a series of appeals. Three convictions were eventually thrown out, but not of the four in custody. One more convict was extradited from the United States in June 2008 and was kept in jail.

    The convicts subsequently appealed against the verdict of High Court in Supreme Court of Bangladesh. On November 19, 2009 the Supreme Court upheld the death penalty to twelve convicts. The death warrants were issued on January 3, 2009. The Appellate division rejected the review petition as it contained no new argument and any legal grounds for reviewing the Supreme Court judgment. Some of the convicts had appealed to the president for clemency but that too was rejected. Under Bangladeshi law the death sentences must be carried out within three or four weeks of the decision, unless the president grants clemency. Hence the execution of convicts was done on the night of January 27, 2010.

    Out of the twelve convicts, six are still at large and are abroad. They are believed to be holed up in Libya, US, Canada, Pakistan and Kenya. One convict died in Zimbabwe in 2002. The killers who walked to the gallows were - Syed Farooq Rahman, Sultan Shahriar Rashid Khan, Mohiuddin Ahmed, Bazlul Huda and AKM Mohiuddin Ahmed. The Bangladesh government has sought the cooperation from other countries where the absconding killers are suspected to be hiding. Interestingly, the killers did not deny their role in the assassination of Mujibur Rahman, but said they should be tried in a military rather than a civilian court.

    Though the detractors of Shaikh Hasina’s government might like to call it an act of vengeance, punishing the culprits of Mujib’s murder was actually an effort to establish the rule of law and justice. The execution has ended the long wait for justice, after the heinous crime took place nearly 34 years ago on 15 August 1975. The killing of Mujib was a dark chapter in Bangladesh’s history. After the murder of Mujib, Bangladesh saw a series of coups and counter coups. As a result, democracy was kept in abeyance in the country and the military ruled for decades. The punishment of Mujib’s killers will hopefully now delegitimize this process and strengthen democracy in Bangladesh.