21 August grenade attack: Death sentence awaits final disposal

Sheikh Hasina addressing the rally just before grenade attack
File photo

On this day 19 years ago, a gruesome grenade attack was carried out in a rally of the then opposition leader Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka’s Bangabandhu Avenue.

A trial court gave verdict in the case filed over the incident some 14 years later.

The case now awaits the final disposal in the High Court. In the meantime, hearing on the approval of death reference and appeal has started in the High Court.

A partial hearing has been held over the appeal of the accused in two related cases (murder and explosives) with death reference by the High Court bench of justice Sahidul Karim and justice Md Mostafizur Rahman.

Attorney general AM Amin Uddin on Saturday told Prothom Alo that paper books (details of case including case statement, chargesheet and judgment of trial courts) are prepared on a priority basis in preparation for death reference hearings.

Paper books reading is almost completed as about 30,000 pages have been read from the paper books and four to five hundred pages are left.

Attorney general said the hearing could not be held for the last several days as the senior judge of the bench has been ill.

He hoped the hearing would be completed within the next 12 to 15 working days.

A case requiring the approval of the High Court to execute the accused is known as a death reference case. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court and other documents need to be sent to the High Court for approval of the death penalty.

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Hearings on death references, prison appeals of accused, appeals and miscellaneous applications are usually held together. Paper books are to be created in preparation for the hearing.

The grenade attack in the Awami League rally in 2004 killed 24 leaders-activists of the party. Opposition leader of that time Sheikh Hasina and several hundred others were injured.

The then BNP-Jamaat coalition government took various steps to divert the investigation of the gruesome attack. New information came out as the caretaker government in 2007 re-investigated two related cases (murder and explosives).

In 2008, Criminal Investigation Department (CID) submitted a chargesheet in the case accusing 22 people including Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami leader Mufti Abdul Hannan. The chargesheet said militants carried out the attack to kill Sheikh Hasina and create a leadership crisis in Awami League.

The case was further investigated after Awami League came to power in 2009. Later a  supplementary chargesheet was submitted accusing 30 more people, including Tarique Rahman.

The trial court announced the verdict in 2018. The documents of two cases including the verdict reached the High Court the same year, which were recorded as death reference cases.

Later two paper books were prepared on priority basis. Meanwhile, the convicts in jail and on bail submitted prison appeals and regular appeals. Chief justice in October 2022 set that bench of the High Court for hearing the death references of the two cases. The state on 4 December last year started hearing by submitting paper books.

Deputy attorney general Bashir Ahmed said the state has presented depositions of 224 out of 225 witnesses from the paper books. He told Prothom Alo on Saturday that the deposition of a witness is yet to be taken. After that the judgment of the trial court will be presented from the paper books.

Shishir Manir, lawyer of three convicts including one sentenced to death, told Prothom Alo on Saturday that the state is yet to complete paper book submission. The hearing is paused as the senior judge of the High Court is ill. The prosecution would start placing its arguments after the state completes presenting paper books.

Death row convicts

The trial court on 10 October 2018, sentenced 19 people to death in the case. The death row convicts are former state minister for home affairs Lutfozzaman Babar, former deputy minister Abdus Salam Pintu, then DGFI director major general (retd) Rezzakul Haider Chowdhury, then NSI director general brigadier general (retd) Abdur Rahim, Hanif Paribahan owner Mohammad Hanif, militant leader maulana Tajuddin, maulana Sheikh Abdus Salam, maulana Sheikh Farid, maulana Abu Sayeed, mufti Moinuddin Sheikh alias Abu Zandal, hafez Abu Taher, Md Yousuf Butt alias Majed Butt, Abdul Malek, Mofizur Rahman alias Muhibullah, Abul Kalam Azad alias Bulbul, Md Jahangir Alam, Hossain Ahmed Tamim, Rafiqul Islam alias Sobuj and Md Ujjal alias Ratan. 14 of them are leaders-activists of Huji. Of the convicts, brigadier general (retd) Abdur Rahim and Huji’s former ameer Sheikh Abdus Salam died in 2021. 

Those who are sentenced to life imprisonment

Among the convicts sentenced to life imprisonment are BNP acting chairman Tarique Rahman, BNP leader Haris Chowdhury, Qazi Shah Mofazzal Hossain, Ariful Islam, militant leader mufti Abdur Rauf, hafez Yahia, mufti Shafiqur Rahman, mufti Abdul Hai, maulana Abdul Hannan alias Sabbir, Mursalin, Muttakin, Jahangir Badr, Arif Hasan alias Sumon alias Abdur Razzak, Abu Bakar Siddique alias hafez Salim Howlader, Md Iqbal, Ratul Ahmed, maulana Liton, Md Khalil and Shahadat Ullah alias Jewel.

According to the case documents, 16 including Tarique Rahman and Haris Chowdhury are absconding. Haris Chowdhry’s daughter Samira Chowdhury in last January told media that his father died of coronavirus on 3 September in 2021 at a hospital in Dhaka. But the government is yet to confirm the veracity of the claim.

Other convicts in the case

The trial court sentenced 11 other people to various terms. They are Major General (retd) ATM Amin, Lieutenant Colonel (retd) Saiful Islam Zoardar, lieutenant commander (retd) Saiful Islam alias Duke, former IGP Ashraful Huda, Shahudul Haque and Khuda Baksh Chowdhury; former DIG Khan Saeed Hasan, former DMP DC (east) Obaidur Rahman Khan, former CID superintendent of police Ruhul Amin and former ASP Abdur Rashid and Munsi Atiqur Rahman.

Three walked to gallows in other cases

A total of 52 persons were accused in the grenade attack. Of them, mufti Hannan and Sharif Shahedul Alam were hanged in the case filed over a grenade attack on then British high commissioner Anwar Choudhury.

Another accused Jamaat leader Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid was hanged for crimes against humanity. The trial court handed down verdict against 49 remaining accused.

Among them, some of the law enforcement officers have already completed their sentences. Now the victims are mainly looking towards the disposal of the death reference.