Justice was long withheld for the brutal killing of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the leading figure of Bangladesh’s independence struggle, and the members of his family. During the long years when Bangladesh was under the military rule of Ziaur Rahman and the BNP government, under Ershad’s military rule and that of Jatiya Party, and subsequently under two terms of Khaleda Zia’s rule, no trial was held for this despicable killing. On the contrary, Bangabandhu’s killers were facilitated in all sorts of ways at home and abroad.
When Ziaur Rahman was president, these killers were given posts in Bangladesh’s diplomatic missions overseas and were also given promotions. Though there was ample evidence of their involvement in various conspiracies and coup attempts, no action was taken against them.
Then when Ershad came to power, the promotions and benefits of the killers continued unabated. Not only that, with the help of Ershad’s government, they returned to the country and created new political parties (Progotisheel Gonotantrik Shakti and Freedom Party). They even joined the parliament. After 1990, two governments of Khaleda Zia also extended cooperation to these killers. The trial of Bangabandhu’s killers was held up in the Supreme Court.
Posted in diplomatic missions
We have information that on 8 June 1996, 12 of those involved in the assassination of Bangabandhu, were given postings in various diplomatic missions overseas. Towards mid-November 1975, they were living in Gaddafi’s Libya. They were given diplomatic postings in Bangladesh’s missions in different countries of the world.
The killers given the diplomatic postings were 1. Lt Col Shariful Huq (Dalim), first secretary, China; 2. Lt Col Aziz Pasha, first secretary, Argentina; 3. Maj AKM Mohiuddin Ahmed, first secretary, Algeria; 4. Maj Bazlul Huda, second secretary, Pakistan; 5. Maj Shahriar Rashid, second secretary, Indonesia; 6. Maj Rashed Chowdhury, second secretary, Saudi Arabia; 7. Maj Nur Chowdhury, second secretary, Iran; 8. Maj Shariful Hossain, second secretary, Kuwait; 9. Captain Kismat Hashem, third secretary, Abu Dhabi; 10. Lt Khairuzzaman, third secretary, Egypt; 11. Lt Najmul Hossain, third secretary, Canada; and 12. Lt Abdul Majed, third secretary, Senegal.
Their appointment letters were delivered to them in Libya by a foreign ministry official at the time, who later became foreign secretary, Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury. Prior to that, in February-March that year, Brigadier General (later Major General) Nurul Islam (Shishu) went to Libya to discuss matters with them. This was revealed by sources who were in the foreign ministry at the time.
Though 12 of the military officers accepted these postings, the two main actors of the 15 August killing Col Syed Farooq Rahman and Col Khandkar Abdur Rashid did not agree to come to an understanding with the government or to take up these jobs. They received full support from Libya’s President Col Gaddafi.
After President Zia, during Ershad’s government too, Bangabandhu’s killers were posted in various diplomatic missions around the world and were even given promotions. Maj Dalim was sent from Beijing to Hong Kong as Bangladesh’s Charge d’ Affaires. He was later appointed as the country’s Charge d’ Affaires in Poland, but the socialist government of Poland at the time did not accept this appointment. He was later made Bangladesh’s high commissioner to Kenya.
Maj Nur was Charge d’Affaires in Brazil at the time, after a stint as counsellor in Algeria. Maj Rashed Chowdhury was counsellor in Tokyo. Maj AKM Mohiuddin was the deputy chief of Bangladesh’s mission in Saudi Arabia (Benazir Bhutto’s government did not accept him for the same post in Karachi). Maj Shariful Hossain was made Charge d’Affaires in Oman. All of them were promoted to minister rank in the foreign ministry.
Later at a certain juncture, Lt Najmul Hossain and Captain Kismat Hashem left their jobs in the diplomatic missions. They took up Canadian citizenship and reportedly settled there. Lt Abdul Majed came back to Dhaka and was working in the planning ministry. He was also in jail at one point of time. No further information could be learnt about him.
Killers’ attempted coup
After the August 1975 killing, Farooq and Rashid made several attempts to stir up discord within the armed forces in order to carry out a coup.
We learnt that at the end of the seventies during President Zia’s rule, the killers living overseas, Shariful Huq (Dalim), Aziz Pasha, Bazlul Huda, Nur Chowdhury and the other accused persons, carried out an attempted coup in 17 June 1980 in Dhaka Cantonment. But the armed forces were informed in advance and aborted the coup.
Col Didarul Alam and a number of other political leaders were arrested to be tried under martial law. This was revealed by certain political sources in Dhaka.
Investigations by the armed forces found proof of involvement of Shariful Huq (Dalim), Aziz Pasha, Bazlul Huda and Nur Chowdhury in the attempted coup. The authorities found evidence of Farooq and Rashid’s direct involvement too.
The killer coterie has held meetings in May 1979 in Islamabad, and later in Tehran and then Ankara, to plan this conspiracy. They held several meetings in Dhaka, too. Then in May 1980 they held a final meeting in Dhaka, with Dalim, Aziz Pasha and Bazlul Huda present. They were joined by Col Faruk Rahman who had just been released from jail.
Incidentally, in 1977 Faruk had come to Dhaka secretly and was arrested from Banani and jailed. Their aim was to kill Ziaur Rahman during the coup and establish ‘Islamic socialism’ in the country. Details of this can be found in Brig Gen (retd) Sakhawat Hossain’s book ‘Bangladesh: Raktakta Odhay’. Brig Sakhawat Hossain (former election commissioner and columnist) was directly appointed from the army as state prosecutor during the trial of the members of the armed forces after the attempted coup.
After the coup attempt failed, Huda and Nur left their respective workplaces and fled to various countries abroad. Aziz Pasha was arrested in Dhaka. He agreed to be a state witness and he was later rehabilitated with a diplomatic posting in Rome. He was later said to have been given posts in the foreign ministry and the finance ministry in Dhaka.
Dalim, Huda and Nur were reinstated in diplomatic positions abroad and were also given several promotions. After President Zia, the autocratic government of Ershad continued to provide them with these jobs and other facilities.
Other than attempting to carry out a coup, these killers have been accused of all sorts of irregularities while in diplomatic service abroad, including misappropriation of funds. In June 1996 after the Awami League government came to power, six of the accused -- Shariful Huq (Dalim), Aziz Pasha, AKM Mohiuddin Ahmed, Rashed Chowdhury, Nur Chowdhury and Maj Khairuzzaman – were dismissed from service on grounds of violating the government service rules.
It was astonishing that during the government of autocrat Ershad, the killers Rashid, Farooq, Shahriar and Bazlul Huda were allowed to return to the country and participate in politics.
Even though it was proven that Shahriar Rashid and Bazlul Huda were involved in the attempted coup of 17 June 1980, no action was taken against them and they were allowed to return to Dhaka. They came to Dhaka and formed a political party, Progotisheel Gonotantrik Shakti. It was learnt that they were facilitated in this initiative by the Ershad government and its intelligence agencies. Bazlul Huda later joined Freedom Party.
Later we see that in 1985, Col Faruk and Col Rashid began political activities in Dhaka under an organisation for the ‘implementation of the ideals of the 15 August revolution.’
Col Farooq was a candidate for the presidential election in 1986. On 3 August 1987 at Sheraton Hotel, Col Rashid declared the founding of Freedom Party with Col Farooq Rahman as its president. Bazlul Huda was elected as member of parliament from the Meherpur-2 seat as a candidate of Freedom Party. Even before that, on 16 December 1983, Col Rashid and Col Farooq had published a book, 'Mukti Path' highlighting their political objectives.
It was obvious then that the autocratic Ershad wanted to build Freedom Party up as a terrorist political party to use against the democratic forces in the country. Immediately after the founding of Freedom Party, upon orders from Col Rashid, on 7 November Freedom Party cadres opened fire from a Pajero at a meeting on the National Press Club premises and a child was killed. On 11 February the next year, a businessman was similarly killed when Bazlul Huda and his cadres opened fire in Mymensingh.
When the voterless so-called election was held under the rule of Khaleda Zia’s government on 15 February 1996, the main killer Rashid was elected as member of parliament from Comilla-6 as a Freedom Party candidate. He became a member of the opposition in parliament. Faruk and Rashid were involved in all sorts of business schemes in Dhaka at the time and even submitted a proposal to Bangladesh Bank to set up a private bank in the country. Dalim, Nur Chowdhury, Rashed Chowdhury and others were posted as ambassadors and counsel generals in Kenya, Hong Kong and Brazil during the 1991-96 Khaleda Zia government.
It was also learnt that when Farooq and Rashid were in Libya, Freedom Party cadres were given armed training with the help of the Libyan government. A few hundred young men were given three months, six months and even up to nine months of training in Libya.
The Freedom Party cadres were training in the use of pistols, machine guns and other modern firearms. No investigation, however, was made by any government in this regard.
During the two decades which followed 1975, wherever Bangabandhu’s killers were, at home or abroad, they conspired against Bangladesh. They did so under the banner of political parties, sometimes with backing from elements within the armed forces and the government. These conspiracies were finally quelled after prime minister Sheikh Hasina came to power in 1996.
Even during the general elections on 12 June 1996, the killers of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman were particularly active. Farooq, Rashid, Dalim, Shahriar and others were involved in conspiracies within the cantonment and outside. Upon learning their plotting and conspiracies, security was beefed up for the caretaker government head at the time, Chief Justice Muhammed Habibur Rahman and also for Awami League president Sheikh Hasina.
Awami League, under leadership of the present prime minister Sheikh Hasina, won the majority in the 12 June 1996 election and formed the government with support of Jatiya Party. Upon formation of the new government, Col Farooq and Shahriar were immediately arrested in Dhaka. Maj Dalim and the others left the country before they could be arrested.
Trial of the Bangabandhu killers
On 12 November 1996 the seventh national parliament passed the bill to abolish the infamous Indemnity Bill. This opened the way to try the killers of Bangabandhu and his family. Then on 2 October 1996, Mohitul Islam submitted a petition for the trial of the killing of Bangabandhu and his family members.
On 8 November 1998 a lower court passed a death sentence against 15 of Bangabandhu’s killers. On 30 April 2001, the High Court upheld the death sentence of 12 of them. The final verdict was held up in the Supreme Court as after Khaleda Zia won the election in 2001, the BNP government once against obstructed the implementation of the verdict.
The trial process resumed during the rule of the 2007 caretaker government and one of the convicted killers was brought back from the US. In the beginning of 2009 when Awami League came to power, once again the way opened for the death sentence to be carried out against the killers.
Thus it is clear how the trial of Bangabandhu’s killers was held up for over three decades during the governments of President Zia, autocrat Ershad and Khaleda Zia. Not only that, they also protected and facilitated the killers in all sorts of ways.
* Matiur Rahman is the Editor of Prothom Alo. This piece appeared in the print and online version of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir