Dhaka – A Dhaka court on Wednesday sentenced two former ministers and 17 others to death for their roles in the grisly grenade attacks on an Awami League rally 14 years ago, officials said.
Former state minister for home minister Lutfozzaman Babar and former deputy minister for education Abdus Salam Pintu were awarded the death penalty for the August 21, 2004 grenade attacks on an Awami League rally in central Dhaka.
Acting chairperson of opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party Tarique Rahman, who was identified as mastermind of the attack, was awarded life in prison along with 18 others. Haris Chowdhury, the political secretary to former prime minister Khaleda Zia, was also sentenced life in prison.
Judge of the Speedy Trial Tribunal Shahed Nuruddin handed down the sentence in a crowded courtroom in Dhaka amid tight security, Mosharraf Hossain Kazal, a prosecution lawyer, told reporters at the court premises.
A group of assailants carried out grenade attacks on August 21, 2004 on a rally organized by the then-opposition Awami League, killing 24 leaders and activists in the party.
Sheikh Hasina, then the opposition leader in parliament and now the country’s prime minister, narrowly escaped the attack. At least 500 others were wounded in the assault.
The court observed that the attack was meant for elimination of the entire leadership of Awami League, according to chief prosecutor Syed Rezaur Rahman. The court also observed that the investors also find involvement of the state, political leadership, a section of the administration and the police in the attack.
Former Inspector General of Police — Ashraful Huda and Shahudul Haque — were given a total of four years’ imprisonment. They were fined Tk 50,000 each in two cases one for murder and another for explosives blast.
They will have to serve another six months if they fail to pay the financial penalty. The court also handed down four years of imprisonment to Lt Commander (retd) Saiful Islam Duke, also nephew of Khaleda Zia, Saiful Islam Joarder, former DGFI official (sacked), and Maj Gen (retd) ATM Amin.
Police officers Sayeed Hassan Khan (Former DC (South) of Dhaka Metropolitan Police) and Obaidur Rahman Khan (former deputy commissioner East of DMP) were given four years each for their role during the assault.
Five years prison-term were given to former IGP Khoda Baksh Chowdhury, former SP Ruhul Amin and former ASPs of CID Atiqur Rahman and Abdur Rashid.
Investigators found the attack was planned at Tarique Rahman’s political office Hawa Bhaban and then ruling BNP-led coalition engaged the militants to kill the central leadership of the Awami League.
A total of 52 people were found involved in planning and executing the attacks. They were also accused of destroying the evidences to save the attackers.
Nineteen of them were sentenced to death, 19 others to life in prison and 11 were awarded with various other jail terms. Three others were exempted as they were executed in other terrorism related cases, said the prosecution lawyer.
Thirty-one of the accused were on the dock when the judgment was delivered. Babar, who was on the dock, cried that he was innocent. Arrest warrants have been issued against 18 of the accused, who was tried in absentia.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said that he was happy with the verdict. “We will hopefully be able to bring back all the absconders living abroad to face the justice,” he added.
Law Minister Anisul Huq said Tarique Rahman deserved the maximum punishment for the heinous attack and the killings. He suggested the prosecution to file for an appeal to raise punishment for Rahman.
Tarique Rahman’s mother Khaleda Zia has been in jail since February since she was convicted in a graft case. She was sentenced to five years in jail for embezzling funds meant for an orphanage.
Several hundred Awami League activists in the southern port city of Chittagong brought out processions to demand execution of Rahman. Similar protests were organized in other parts of the country.
Defence lawyers said they were frustrated with the verdict as they believe they were deprived of justice. “We will file appeal with the higher court,” Sanaullah Mia, one of the defence lawyers, said.
Bangladesh Nationalist Party dismissed the verdict as politically motivated.
“It is yet another bad precedence that the government created to keep the opposition parties away from the next general election,” said Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, general secretary of the party.