Two Bangladesh trial courts on Monday sentenced 15 people to death – 10 militants and five former police – for massacres in 1988 and 2001.
Dhaka Metropolitan Session Court Judge Rabiul Alam sentenced the militants who killed five people 19 years ago at a rally of the Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB).
“The court has handed down capital punishment for the 10 militants belonging to the Harkat-ul Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh (HuJI) for the grenade attack at the rally,” public prosecutor Salahuddin Howlader told BenarNews.
“The court has observed that the HuJI carried out the attack for political causes,” the prosecutor said.
Meanwhile in Chittagong, Judge Md Ismail Hossain sentenced five former police officers who shot 24 supporters of Sheikh Hasina, who was not prime minister at the time, during a January 1988 Awami League rally. Hasina attended the rally and was not injured.
In Dhaka, four of the defendants in the grenade attack, Mufti Mainuddin Sheikh, Arif Hasan Suman, Sabbir Ahmed and Shawkat Osman alias Sheikh Farid were present. The others, Jahangir Alam Badar, Mohibul Muttakin, Aminul Mursalin, Mufti Abdul Hai, Mufti Shafiqur Rahman and Nur Islam have absconded.
CPB President Mujahidul Islam Selim said his party is pleased that justice was served two decades after the attack.
“After coming to power, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) government in December 2003 closed the investigation saying that the case had no merit. As we waged political agitation, the same BNP government initiated a reinvestigation of the case,” Selim told BenarNews. “But the BNP tenure ended before the completion of the investigation.”
Four people died at the scene of the Jan. 20, 2001, attack while a fifth died later at a hospital. Police under the BNP government submitted a final report on Dec. 17, 2003, that did not list any suspects.
“As justice was not done for previous attacks, the militants then carried out a grenade attack on Hasina in 2004,” he said.
The HuJI carried out a grenade attack on Hasina on Aug 21, 2004, the same year as a similar attack against Anwar Chaudhury, the British envoy in Bangladesh.
Selim said some BNP and Awami League leaders blamed the 2001 attack on the CPB.
“We handed over evidence of the attack to Hasina who assured us there would be justice. Today’s verdict proves that the attack was a militant attack, not an ‘internal political in fight’ of the CPB,” he said.
In 2005, the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate asked police to reinvestigate following a CPB petition. That investigation led to the police Criminal Investigating Department submitting a charge-sheet on Nov 27, 2013, accusing 13 HuJI militants.
One suspect, HuJI chief Mufti Abdul Hannan was executed for his role in another attack, while two others were acquitted. The other 10 were sentenced to death on Monday.
1988 massacre verdict
On Jan. 24, 1988, police shot and killed 24 at an Awami League rally in Chittagong attended by Hasina, who was the party’s president at the time.
Public prosecutor Shabu Biswas told journalists that police shot at Hasina’s motorcade without any provocation at the direction of Mirza Rakibul Huda, the then-Chittagong police commissioner who has since died.
Biswas said the court sentenced J.C. Mandal, Mostafigur Rahman, Pradip Barua, Shah Md Abdullah and Mamtaj Uddin.
“They were punished as they misused their power that led to the death of 24 innocent people,” he said.
Four of the defendants were in court while Mandal has absconded. In addition to the death sentences, all five were sentenced to 10 years for causing severe injury with dangerous weapons.
Hasina had gone to Chittagong to rally supporters in a movement to get rid of military ruler H.M. Ershad who came to power following a coup on March 24, 1982.
“The killing was a heinous episode in our political history. The attack was aimed at killing our leader Sheikh Hasina who had been fighting for the political rights of the people,” Faruk Khan, an Awami League member, told BenarNews.
“Finally the relatives of the victims get justice,” he said.