It has been three years since the bodies of seven brutally murdered men were retrieved from Narayanganj’s Shitalakkhya River, three days after they were kidnapped in broad daylight.
In January this year, a Narayanganj court sentenced to death 26 people, including former city corporation councillor Nur Hossain and three former senior officers of the local RAB unit, in the two cases filed over the sensational incident. Nine others were also sent to prison.
However, the families of the victims now only hope that the High Court will uphold the punishments in its verdict on Sunday (August 13) after hearing the appeals of the accused. The accused had challenged their sentences in February.
The families said they were happy with the lower court’s verdict, but still feared that sentences of some of the accused may get reduced due to their influential positions.
On April 27, 2014, Narayanganj City Corporation councillor Nazrul Islam, his three associates Sirajul Islam Liton, Tajul Islam Rasel and Moniruzzaman Swapan, and Swapan’s driver, Jahangir, were kidnapped on Dhaka-Narayanganj Link Road.
Senior lawyer Chandan Kumar Sarker and his driver Ibrahim were also kidnapped from the same area after they witnessed the first abduction.
Talking to this correspondent recently, the families of Nazrul and his associates shared how they are struggling to come to terms with the gruesome killings. They were united by one hope: that justice would bring peace to their minds and to the souls of their departed loved ones.
Nazrul’s wife, Selina Islam Beauty, who is also the plaintiff of one of the cases, hoped the High Court will uphold the death sentences on Sunday.
“The prime minister has assured us that the guilty will be punished,” she said. “I also spoke to the attorney general several days ago. He said they will try to have the lower court’s verdict upheld. We are waiting for that.”
Four months after her husband’s death, Beauty was elected to the post of Narayanganj Ward-2 councillor which had fallen empty with the brutal killing of Nazrul.
Asked if there was any kind pressure on her, she said, “I did face some pressure before. I also received a death threat during the election. But now everything is normal.”
She said the government should seize all of Nur Hossain's illegal assets and distribute them among the struggling families of the victims.
“The murders have left seven families scrambled. Only a family knows what it means to lose the head of the family. The families of Tajul, Liton, Sawpan's driver Jahangir and Chandan's driver Ibrahim have become helpless,” she said.
Beauty claimed that Nur Hossain had political vengeance in his mind when it came to Nazrul. “Nur was a supporter of BNP-Jamaat before he joined the Awami League. So they had some conflict over that. But my husband never interfered in Nur Hossain’s activities.”
However, Nur Hossain had filed a false case against her husband and several others after an altercation, she said.
Nazrul and his four associates were abducted when they were returning after appearing before a court in that case.
Regarding her family’s current condition, Beauty said, “My husband had built a house. Rents collected from that house help us to get by.”
‘Only a father knows...’
Tajul’s father, Abul Khayer, told the Dhaka Tribune that “darkness fell over the family” after his son’s death.
“Only a father knows how painful it is to carry his son’s dead body on his shoulders,” he said.
Abul said Tajul was the eldest of three sons and was the main breadwinner in the family
“My wife is sick. One of my sons now works part-time along with his studies and the younger one is a sixth grader. I have a small job. We are struggling,” Abul said.
According to Abul, Tajul had known Nazrul for a long time, and they were close. He claimed his son was not even in the country when Nur Hossain filed a case against the pair - along with several others - in February 2014.
“It was a false case. Because Tajul had gone to India at that time to look after Nazrul's son, who is there for higher studies,” Abul said.
“When we met the prime minister, I had urged her to help my other son get a job. She said he should finish his studies first and then she will see. Nobody has contacted us since then.”
If his son had a better job, the family would struggle less, he added.
Shamsun Nahar Nupur, the wife of Jahangir, told the Dhaka Tribune that she was seven months pregnant at the time of her husband’s killing.
“My husband had wished for a daughter. We had a baby girl, but he never got the chance to see her,” she said.
Jahangir had been the only breadwinner in the family. “Since my husband died, I have been financially struggling with my daughter. I earn only Tk6000 from a small city corporation job,” she said.
“My daughter is three years old now (so) next year, I’ll have to get her into a school. I want my daughter to have a good life. I want her to become a doctor. But thinking about all this, all I see is a bleak future.”
When they met her several years back, Nupur said, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had assured them of coming to their aid and ensuring punishment to those guilty of the murders.
“My husband was innocent; he was just driving the car that day. I want justice for his murder. Hopefully, the verdict will be upheld.”
‘Family never the same after that’
Moniruzzaman Swapan’s brother, Mizanur Rahman Khan Ripon, told the Dhaka Tribune that Swapan had rushed out of the house on the morning of his death.
“He told our mother that he was going to court for an appearance in a case. My mother had asked him to be careful. Later, my brother never returned,” he said.
Ripon said his brother’s wife, Morsheda, also lost her mother 10 months after Swapan was killed and was still mentally unstable. “Our family has never been the same after that,” he said.
Swapan met Nazrul while the pair were studying in 1993, and followed him. He helped Nazrul to look after his business in addition to running his own.
Ripon felt as though the lower court had been “a bit lenient” to some of the accused. “But still, if the High Court upholds the death penalties, my brother will get justice,” he said.
Liton’s younger brother, Saiful Islam Mintu, also said that all they want from the High Court is justice when it delivers the verdict on Sunday.
“The last time I saw my brother was at the dinner table on the night before (his death). We didn’t talk much. He used to maintain a little distance from us because of his political ties,” Saiful said.
Nazrul and Liton had been childhood friends and used to share projects while doing contractor business together in Narayanganj. Liton took on most of the projects as Nazrul as a public representative could not, Mintu added.
“But after they were killed, we had to close our business because one person’s trade license can’t be used by another. Liton was the main breadwinner in our family. Since his death, we are somewhat managing.”
Mintu said their joint family now live in Sanarpar area in their own house. “We were four brothers and three sisters. Liton was the third. Our mother died a while ago and although our father is alive, he is very sick.”
The Dhaka Tribune could not reach the families of Chandan and Ibrahim for comments, despite repeated attempts.