Babar, Pintu, 17 others sentenced to death; Tarique gets life
Fourteen years after the deadly August 21 grenade attack on an Awami League rally, a Dhaka court on Wednesday sentenced 19 people to death including the then BNP-led government’s state minister for home affairs, Lutfozzaman Babar.
Tarique Rahman, exiled eldest son of jailed BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia and the party's current acting chairman, was also handed a life in jail sentence.
Also sent to jail for life were Khaleda Zia’s former political adviser Haris Chowdhury and 17 others.
Judge Shahed Nuruddin of the Speedy Trial Tribunal-1 delivered the verdicts in the two cases - one for murder and another for the grenade blast - before a packed courtroom on Wednesday amid tight security.
Also Read- Justice served, says home minister
The court also issued prison sentences of various lengths to 11 former government officials who were revealed to have been part of the plot to annihilate the top leaders of the Awami League, which was then the main party of opposition in parliament.
The court permitted all those found guilty on Wednesday to file appeals with the High Court within 30 days, but said the absconding convicts would first have to surrender.
The 2004 atrocity killed 24 people and injured hundreds including the prime target, current prime minister Sheikh Hasina, who narrowly escaped death but was left with a permanent hearing impairment.
The attack was orchestrated by a group of influential BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami leaders using the state machinery.
Working with militant outfit Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B), they collaborated with some senior officials of the Home Ministry, police, the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence, the National Security Intelligence, and the Prime Minister’s Office.
Following the attack, the erstwhile government tried to derail the investigation by placing the blame on the Awami League.
Later, a fresh investigation revealed the involvement of the people in power, senior government officials and the militants.
Wednesday morning at around 11:20am, the non-absconding accused were brought into the court in a microbus, an ambulance and a prison van.
Also Read- August 21: The events as they unfolded
At around 11:38am, the judge of the speedy trial tribunal began reading out the 13-page operating part of the verdicts in front of the arrestees on the dock and lawyers from both sides.
The court finished reading the verdict and ordered arrest warrants against the absconding convicts.
After the court had pronounced the sentences, Lutfozzaman Babar, speaking from the dock, told journalists that he had been charged in the case falsely. He stated that the militants wanted to annihilate Awami League for their own interests and that BNP was not involved.
Chief prosecutor of the August 21 grenade attack case, Advocate Syed Rezaur Rahman, expressed his satisfaction with the verdict delivered by the court.
Also Read- BNP rejects verdict
“The prosecution team will analyze the verdict and provide further reaction later,” he said. “If necessary, we will take it up to a higher court.”
AL ministers say justice served, BNP rejects verdict
In an immediate reaction at the secretariat, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said he believes that justice has been served as it has been proved that those involved in crimes will never be able to evade punishment.
He said: “As we saw [from the verdict], some police officials and high-ups from different government agencies were also found guilty, which clearly means that they were convicted for negligence of duty. The patrons of the attackers also received punishment.”
Also Read- State satisfied
He also said the government will make a serious effort to expedite the repatriation process of absconding convicts, as the verdict has already been delivered against them.
Law Minister Anisul Huq said the government may consider whether it will move the High Court after receiving a copy of the verdicts.
“Despite being satisfied with the judgment, the government may seek tougher punishment for BNP leaders Tarique Rahman, Harris Chowdhury and Mofazzal Hossain Kaikobad since they were given life imprisonment,” he said at the secretariat.
“Tarique should have been awarded capital punishment, because he was the mastermind of the attack.”
To protest the verdicts, BNP and its affiliated organizations have announced a seven-day program of protests and rally in all upazilas, districts and cities – including Dhaka.
Also Read- 'Tarique sentenced unfairly'
Trial and investigation summary
The attack took place during the tenure of the BNP-led Four Party Alliance government.
The investigation into the gruesome attack had been diverted away from the perpetrators at that time.
In 2007, the caretaker government launched the investigation again and in June 2008, CID charged 22 people including BNP state minister Abdul Salam Pintu and HuJI-B leader Mufti Hannan.
In December 2008, the Awami League government took power and further investigated the incident.
In July 2011, supplementary charges were brought by CID against 30 new people including BNP senior vice chairperson Tarique Rahman, former state minister for home affairs Lutfuzzaman Babar, Haris Chowhdury, and Jamaat leader Ali Ahsan Muhammad Muzahid.
The trial into the case then began against 52 people with two charge sheets.