Sheikh Hasina, the day after the 21 August 2004 grenade attack
Shamsul Huq

The paper book for the death reference of the accused in the 21 August grenade attack case is ready. Now the High Court bench is to be formed. The hearing will then commence. In the meantime, the state has appointed two lawyers for the absconding accused.

The grenade attack had been carried out on 21 August 2004 at a public meeting of Sheikh Hasina, leader of the opposition at the time and presently the prime minister, at Bangabandhu Avenue in Dhaka city. A total of 22 leaders and activists of Awami League were killed in the attack. A few hundred persons of the party, including Sheikh Hasina, were injured. Tomorrow, Saturday, marks the 17th anniversary of the incident.

The BNP-Jamaat government at the time diverted the investigations into the gruesome incident. In 2007, the caretaker government took up the two cases (killings and explosions) again and fresh evidence emerged. In 2008, CID submitted charge sheets against 22 accused persons. It was said that the attack had been launched by militants to kill Sheikh Hasina and leave Awami League bereft of leadership.

Further investigations into the cases were carried out during the Awami League government rule. A supplementary charge sheet was then issued, naming 30 more persons as accused in the case, including Tarique Rahman. In 2018, a special court gave the verdict in the cases. These two cases (killings and explosives) are in the second phase for hearing in the High Court.

Attorney general AM Aminuddin, speaking to Prothom Alo on Thursday, said the paper book for the death reference has been prepared. Legal counsel has been appointed for the absconding accused. The cases are ready for hearing. All out efforts have been made to ensure a speedy hearing. Once the bench is formed, the hearing will commence.

He said, the court functions in a limited manner due to coronavirus. Had there been no outbreak of coronavirus, the hearing would probably have started by now.

The special court, in the grenade attack and killing incident, had sentenced to death 19 persons including former state minister for home Lutfuzzaman Babar, former deputy education minister Abdus Salam Pintu, former director of the Directorate General Forces Intelligence (DGFI) Maj. Gen. (retd) Rezzakul Haider Chowdhury and former director general of the National Security Intelligence (NSI), Brig. Gen. (retd) Abdur Rahim. And 14 of those sentenced to death were members of the militant organisation Harkatul Jihad (HuJi-B). Also, 19 accused, including BNP's acting chairman Tarique Rahman, were handed down life imprisonment, with 11 others receiving prison sentences of various terms and imposition of fines.

In the meantime, the accused in jail and out on bail, have filed jail appeals and regular appeals. Generally the death reference is held according to the year and serial of the case. Till 20 June this year there were 850 death reference cases. The hearing of death references from 2016 is now taking place. However, depending on importance, the death reference of particular cases can be given priority. The High Court presently has three benches for the hearing of death reference.

Spokesperson of the Supreme Court, Mohammad Saifur Rahman, on Thursday told Prothom Alo, "The paper book and other documents of the 21 August incident are being scrutinised carefully and this is at the final stage. Once this pre-hearing preparation is complete, steps will be taken in accordance to the law."

19 sentenced to death

The special court convicted 19 persons to death and imposed a Tk 100,000 fine on each. These accused include former state minister for home Lutfuzzaman Babar, former deputy minister Abdus Salam Pintu, Maj. Gen. (retd) Rezzakul Haider Chowdhury, Brig. Gen. (retd) Abdur Rahim, proprietor of Hanif Paribahan Md Hanif, militant leader Maulana Tajuddin, Maulana Sheikh Abdus Salam, Maulana Sheikh Farid, Maulana Abu Sayeed, Mufti Moinuddin Sheikh alias Abu Jandal, Hafez Abu Taher, Md Yusuf Bhat alias Majed Butt, Abdul Malek, Mofizur Rahman alias Mohibullah, Abul Kalam Azad alias Bulbul, Md Jahangir Alam, Hossain Ahmed Tamim, Rafiqul Islam alias Sabuj and Md Ujjal alias Ratan. Among them, Abdur Rahim died of coronavirus in hospital last Sunday.

Tarique and others facing life sentence

The special court sentenced 19 of the accused to life imprisonment and a fine of Tk 50,000 each. They are BNP acting chairman Tarique Rahman, BNP leaders Haris Chowdhury, Kazi Shah Moazzem Hossain Kaikobad, Ariful Islam Arif, militant leader Mufti Abdur Rauf, Hafez Yahya, Mufti Shafiqur Rahman, Mufti Abdul Hai, Maulana Abdul Hannan alias Sabbir, Mursalin, Muttakin, Jahagir Badar, Arif Hasan alias Sumon alias Abdus Razzak, Abu Bakr Siddique alias Hafez Selim Howladar, Md Iqbal, Ratul Ahmed, Maulana Liton, Md Khalil and Shahadat Ullah alias Jewel.

Three hanged in other cases

There were 52 accused in the 21 August grenade attack incident. Of them, HuJi-B leader Mufti Hannan and Sharif Shadedul Alam have been hanged in the case of the grenade attack on British high commissioner Anwar Chowdhury. Another accused, Jamaat leader Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid, has been hanged in the crimes against humanity case. The special court issued the verdicts against the remaining 49.

Sentences of varying terms

The 11 accused against whom sentences of varying terms were passed are Maj. Gen. (retd) ATM Amin, Lt. Col. (retd) Saiful Islam Joardar, Lt. Commander (retd) Saiful Islam alias Duke, former IGP Ashraful Huda, former IGP Shahudul Haque, former DIG Khan Sayeed Hasan, former DMP DC (East) Obaidur Rahman Khan, former IGP Khuda Baksh Chowdhory, investigating officer during the alliance government former ASP Abdur Rashid, former ASP Munshi Atiqur Rahman and former superintendent of police Ruhul Amin. According to the records, 17 of the accused, including Tarique Rahman and Haris Chowdhury, are absconding.

* This report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir