Thirteen years have passed since the gruesome August 21 grenade attack took place, families and relatives of victims still do not know how long they will have to wait to see the accused punished as the trial continues to linger.
In August, 2014, the prosecution said trial proceedings would end by August, 2015. Having failed to finish the proceedings within the time, they later said the trial reached a crucial moment with a December, 2016 deadline set.
Asked about the progress, Syed Rezaur Rahman, chief prosecution counsel, on Sunday told the Dhaka Tribune: “The court has completed recording statements of prosecution witnesses on May 30 this year and is now recording statements of defence witnesses.”
It will not take much time, he reassured.
Delay in trial proceedings and causes
Police submitted charge sheet against a total of 52 people, including war criminal Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujaheed and militant leader Mufti Abdul Hannan, in a case filed over the attack. Of the accused, eight are on bail, 25 are in jails, and the rest are absconding.
Mujaheed, who was a Jamaat-e-Islami leader and a former minister, was executed for crimes he committed against humanity during the 1971 Liberation War. Mufti, a former chief of Harkat-ul Jihad al-Islami Bangladesh, or HujiB, was hanged as well in a separate case filed for carrying out a grenade attack on then British high commissioner to Bangladesh Anwar Choudhury.
The prosecution produced a total of 225 witnesses, who were cross-examined by defence counsels.
Asked why the trial takes too much time, Rezaur said: “The prosecution has been trying to proceed fast with the trial, but the defence repeatedly took time over several issues, causing a delay in the proceedings.
“Also, this is a big case in terms of the number of deaths and accused.”
He alleged that the then BNP-Jamaat alliance government tried to impede trial by staging a “Joj Mia” drama. Therefore, further investigation was needed, which too contributed to the delay, he added.
“Some of the accused moved the High Court on several occasions, causing a loss of nearly 300 workdays. They also cross-examined every prosecution witness against each accused,” Rezaur said.
He, however, added that the proceedings were uninterruptedly going on now.
Raising an objection that the trial process is going on faster than normal, Sanaullah Mia, a lawyer for BNP Senior Vice-Chairman Tarique Rahman, an accused in the case, said they were frustrated with the “speedy” proceedings.
“The unusually speedy trial indicates that we will be denied justice,” feared Sanaullah, also a BNP leader.
August 21: What happened on the day
The ghastly attack was launched on an anti-terrorism rally brought out by the then opposition Awami League on Bangabandhu Avenue in Dhaka on this day in 2004. A number of grenades were hurled at leaders and activists when the opposition leader, now Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, had just finished her speech and a procession was about to begin.
Hasina narrowly escaped death with her one ear dysfunctional. Twenty four Awami League leaders and activists, including former chief of the party’s female wing Ivy Rahman, were killed, and countless more suffered splinter injuries.
Risking their lives, Awami League leaders, who were on a truck used as a dais to address the rally, were prompt to form a human shield to save party chief Hasina.
Bullets were fired at Hasina as a final attempt to kill her when she and other leaders were rushing to leave the spot.
BNP’s involvement and Joj Mia drama
Right after the attack, BNP, the party in office, pinned the blame on the opposition party, while many of its leaders pointed finger at India.
A petty criminal, Joj Mia, was implicated as the mastermind of the attack along with a local criminal group in 2005. Several months after Joj was arrested, the media brought the issue to the limelight that a wrong person had been victimised with regard to the incident.
According to the charges filed by police, different militant organisations under the aegis of the then government executed the attack, which was plotted at Hawa Bhaban, then political office of BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia.
The ammunition came from Pakistan while Khaleda Zia’s son Tarique Rahman extended assistance to the attackers, according to the charge sheet.
Initially, the trial began in 2008 after Criminal Investigation Department (CID) had pressed charge sheet against BNP leader Abdus Salam Pintu, militant Mufti Abdul Hannan and 20 others in the case.
Though investigators hinted at BNP’s involvement, they did not probe deep into it.
Investigation started afresh after the Awami League formed government in 2009. In July, 2011, CID submitted a supplementary charge sheet against 30 people including Tarique, Mujaheed and former state minister Lutfozzaman Babar.
Charges were framed in March, 2012.