This will be this court’s second verdict in such murder case against militants this month
A special tribunal is set to deliver on Tuesday its verdict in the Avijit Roy murder case -- six years after the brutal killing in public on Dhaka University campus had left the nation shocked.
Following closing arguments by the prosecution and defence on February 4, Judge Md Majibur Rahman of Dhaka’s Anti-Terrorism Special Tribunal fixed February 16 to deliver its judgment.
It will be the second verdict by this court against militants this month. On February 10, over five years after the murder of publisher Foisal Arefin Dipon, eight leaders and members of banned militant outfit Ansar al-Islam -- formerly known as Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) -- were sentenced to death.
Dipon was killed for publishing the books of writer-blogger and online activist Avijit, who was a bio-engineer and a naturalised US citizen.
Avijit’s assassination on February 26, 2015, was subsequently followed by the murders of several other bloggers, publishers, and freethinkers, including Dipon.
Public Prosecutor (PP) Md Golam Sharuar Khan Zakir told Dhaka Tribune that they were hopeful about securing the capital punishment for the six accused in this murder case.
“We were able to prove the charges levelled against them beyond doubt,” he said.
However, defence lawyer Faruq Ahmed claimed the prosecution had failed to prove the charges. "I'm optimistic about their acquittal provided there is a fair judgment.
The six accused are sacked Bangladesh Army major Syed Ziaul Haque alias Major Zia; Abu Siddique Sohel; Mozammel Hossain; Arafat Rahman, Shafiur Rahman Farabi, and Akram Hossain.
All of them are leaders and members of Ansar al-Islam. Three of them -- Mozammel, Sohel and Arafat -- gave confessional statements in court following their arrests.
Of the six, only Zia and Akram are still on the run.
Avijit was hacked with machetes by several militants near the main entrance of Suhrawardy Udyan, adjacent to the TSC intersection at Dhaka University, around 8:30pm on February 26, 2015.
He died at Dhaka Medical College Hospital around 10:30pm.
Avijit’s wife Rafida Ahmed Bonya was also severely wounded in the attack but survived. The couple was leaving the Amar Ekushey Book Fair when they came under attack.
The following day, Avijit’s father and prominent educationist Prof Ajay Roy filed the murder case at Shahbagh police station.
Four years later, police filed a charge-sheet against the six in March 2019. The tribunal accepted it the next month. The trial started in August that year following the indictment of the accused.
During the trial, the court heard 28 prosecution witnesses, including Prof Ajay, who passed away on December 9, 2019.
According to court documents, police sources and confessional statements of the defendants, militants Mozammel, Akram and one Hasan were living at Elephant Road in Dhaka in 2015.
After the plan to kill Avijit in February that year was made, Akram and several others had recced the blogger’s Dhaka home and followed his movement around the city for several days before they met with Zia.
Zia then changed the plan and ordered them to kill Avijit at the book fair.
On February 26, 2015, Sohel, Akram, Mozammel and Hasan went to the book fair, followed Avijit, and then took position outside TSC, as per Zia’s instructions. Mozammel then informed Mukul Rana, who was the then leader of Ansar al-Islam’s operational branch.
Around 8:30pm, Avijit and his wife were going to TSC from the fair when four members of another team of the militant outfit, who were led by Rana and tasked to kill him, attacked them with machetes.
Zia was reportedly also present at the scene with others and helped the killers flee the scene.
Shafiur Rahman Farabi, a fundamentalist blogger, was arrested on March 2, 2015, two months after the murder, and charged with inciting Avijit’s murder.
“Although Farabi was not directly involved in the attack, he has been charged with incitement as his writing provoked the attack,” said a counterterrorism officer.
Avijit’s murder had rocked the nation, leading to widespread protests around the country and drawing condemnation from abroad and international organizations.
Several months later, publisher Dipon, who owned Jagriti Prokashony, was similarly hacked to death in his Aziz Super Market office in October 2015.
Between and after the two murders, a series of attacks on writers, bloggers, publishers and online activists in Bangladesh had also taken place. Such brutal attacks on secular voices had left the nation shocked and reeling from panic.