Family calls for swift execution while defence cries foul
More than five years after the brutal murder of publisher Foisal Arefin Dipon, eight leaders and members of the banned militant outfit Ansar al-Islam have been sentenced to death.
Judge Md Majibur Rahman of the Anti-Terrorism Special Tribunal in Dhaka also fined each of them Tk50,000, while delivering the verdict at Wednesday noon.
The convicts are sacked army major Syed Ziaul Haque Zia; Akram Hossain alias Hasib; Abdus Sabur alias Abdus Samad alias Sujon; Khairul Islam alias Jamil alias Jisan; Sheikh Abdullah alias Jubayer alias Jayed; Abu Siddique Sohel alias Sajid alias Sihab; Mozammel Hossain alias Saimon; and Moinul Hasan Shamim alias Sifat alias Shamim alias Samir.
Of them, Zia and Akram are still on the run, while the other six are behind bars for the 2015 murder.
The six were produced in court earlier in the morning after being brought from Dhaka Central Jail in Keraniganj. All of them wore bulletproof jackets and helmets. They were taken to the courtroom at around 11:30am.
In anticipation of the verdict, security was beefed up in and outside the court since the morning.
The convicts apparently showed no reaction as they stood in the dock when the judge read out the operational part of the 53-page verdict.
While the prosecution team expressed its satisfaction over the verdict, the defence counsels said they would move the High Court against the judgment.
The plaintiff in the case, Dipon’s wife Dr Razia Rahman, broke down in tears after the verdict was pronounced.
Later, she told reporters: “We are grateful. All we want now is the arrest of the fugitives and quick execution of the verdict.”
‘They deserve no sympathy’
In the verdict, Judge Md Majibur Rahman observed that Dipon’s killers had the objective of destroying the secular and democratic character of the state.
The judge noted that Dipon was killed in a premeditated manner for publishing the books of writer-blogger Avijit Roy.
Avijit Roy was also brutally murdered on the Dhaka University campus in similar fashion eight months before Dipon was killed in 2015.
The sole purpose of the Ansar al-Islam members was to silence bloggers, writers and publishers, and in effect, silence the voices of the people, observed the judge.
He added that the accused committed the crime to disrupt public security by creating panic and to impede free speech.
The militants wanted to endanger public safety and force the government to refrain from engaging in democratic politics and development work in the country, the judge said in his observation.
The judge added that other Ansar al-Islam members would be motivated to commit such crimes if the accused in this case were spared. Since the accused were involved in Dipon’s murder in an organized way as members of the militant group, they must be given the same punishment.
They do not deserve any sympathy, he observed.
Only the death penalty would ensure justice and it would be an exemplary punishment, he said, adding it would also bring peace of mind for Dipon’s family and would frighten and discourage others from committing such heinous crimes in the future.
Dipon was brutally hacked to death at the Jagriti Prokashony office on the second floor of Aziz Super Market in Shahbagh on October 31, 2015.
Razia Rahman filed the murder case at Shahbagh police station two days later against unidentified assailants. Police pressed charges against the eight militants on November 15, 2018.
On October 13, 2019, the court indicted the eight in the case. Twenty-two out of 26 prosecution witnesses testified in court during the trial.
According to the case docket, the attackers killed Dipon by hitting him on the back of his neck with sharp weapons inside his office.
The murder of Dipon, son of former Dhaka University professor and writer Abul Quasem Fazlul Huq, in October 2015 occurred amid a series of attacks on writers, publishers and online activists in Bangladesh.
At the same time on the day of Dipon’s murder, three bloggers and writers were attacked in the same manner at the office of the publishing house Shuddhashar in Lalmatia.
However, the trio — Shuddhashar owner Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury Tutul, who was also a close friend of Avijit Roy, blogger Ranadipam Basu and poet Tareq Rahim — managed to survive the attack.
Such brutal attacks on secular voices after Avijit’s murder left the nation shocked and reeling from panic.
Arrests and confessions
Six militants — Sabur, Khairul, Abdullah, Sohel, Mozammel and Moinul — had confessed before the court following their arrests.
Mozammel in his confessional statement said he joined the militant outfit in 2014 and met Zia, the mastermind behind the murder, in Sylhet. They planned to kill Dipon as he had published Avijit’s book. Zia was also his arms trainer.
Moinul said he had joined Hizb ut-Tahrir, another banned militant group, in Sylhet while he was a college student. He later came to Dhaka and learned how to operate firearms from one Selim.
Once the attack on Dipon had been planned, he had carried out a reconnaissance of Aziz Super Market and its adjacent areas.
Zia ordered the murder, chalked out the plan and supplied money. Akram also took part in the planning.
According to the arrestees’ confessions, Moinul managed the weapons, Sabur trained the killers, Mozammel, Sohel and Khairul monitored and recced the place, and Abdullah moved money from one place to another to fund the attack.
The main attack was carried out by the militants Asad, Alam, Akash, Taiyeb and Jani, according to the charge sheet, in which the police also mentioned that the militants Selim, Hasan, Talha, Tarek were involved as well.
The law enforcement agencies had unearthed this information about them during the investigation, but were unable to find or arrest them — leading to the police dropping their names from the charge sheet.
However, another accused named Shariful, who also went by such names as Shakib, Hadi and Mukul Rana, was killed in a gunfight with police in June 2016.