Bangladesh is once again set to pay its tributes to the victims of the deadly August 21 grenade attacks, one of the most harrowing instances of political conflict, on the 17th anniversary of the attacks on Saturday.
At least 24 people were killed and around 300 were injured in the grisly attack on an Awami League rally in the capital on August 21, 2004.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, at the time opposition leader in parliament, narrowly escaped the attack with an ear injury.
Bangladesh freed itself from the stigma of one of the most shocking crimes in its political history when Dhaka Speedy Trial Tribunal-1 Judge Shahed Nur Uddin pronounced the verdict on October 10, 2018, in the cases filed over the heinous incident.In a landmark verdict, the court awarded capital punishment to 19 people, including former state minister Lutfozzaman Babar and former deputy minister Abdus Salam Pintu in two cases filed over the attack.
The court also awarded life term imprisonment to 19 people, including BNP acting chairman Tarique Rahman, while 11 others were sentenced to various jail terms.
However, the victims and their families have been counting their days for justice as the cases are pending with the High Court for hearing on death reference and appeals.
Where does it stand now?
Following the verdict, the lower court on November 27, 2018, sent a 37,385-page case document, including the verdict, to the High Court for examination.
On January 13, 2019, the High Court accepted the appeals of the convicts in both cases but hearings on the death references and appeals are yet to be started in the case.
Supreme Court spokesperson Md Saifur Rahman said there had been an unusual delay for the offices concerned of the High Court and Bangladesh Government Press in preparing the paper books due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The paper books reached the HC on August 16, 2020, clearing the way for the court to begin hearings on the death references and appeals in the cases.
A paper book, which contains all the details of a case, is necessary for the High Court in order to hear and dispose of a death reference or an appeal.
The murder case filed over the August 21 grenade attack has 585 paper books containing around 10,500 pages in 13 volumes.
Altogether 22 appeals have been filed by the convicts independently, while 12 jail appeals have been filed by convicts through the jail authorities in the murder case.
Meanwhile, the case filed under the Explosives Substances Act has 495 paper books containing around 10,000 pages in 11 volumes.
A total of 17 appeals have been filed by the convicts independently while 12 jail appeals have been filed in the blast case.
As the paper book is ready for hearing, the chief justice will now send the death references and appeals to an HC bench for their hearing and disposal.
Attorney General AM Amin Uddin told Dhaka Tribune: “We will move an application before the High Court next week to start the hearing on the appeals and death references in the cases.”
“It cannot be said at the moment how much time will be needed for the final disposal of the cases in the High Court, but we will try our level best to complete the hearings within this year,” added the chief law officer of the country.
A historic verdict
While delivering the verdict, Judge Shahed Nuruddin stated that in a democratic state, whichever party comes to power, it has to try its best to establish democracy by applying a liberal policy towards the opposition party.
But a ruling party’s attempt to reap political benefits by killing opposition leaders cannot be a manifestation of democratic thoughts.
During the delivery of the verdict, the judge stated that rivalry between the ruling and the opposition parties was inevitable in politics, but it was utterly unacceptable that attempts would be made to eliminate the opposition leadership.
“General people don’t want such politics,” said the judge.
“For the party in power to try to gain political advantage by killing opposition leaders is not indicative of democratic thought,” he said.
The court observed that the grenade attack was meant to eliminate the top Awami League leaders from politics and local militants actively took part in the attacks.
Two cases were filed on August 22, 2004 over the grenade attack incident.
The trial had initially started on September 29, 2008.
However, following the submission of supplementary charge sheets against 52 people in the cases by the CID, the trial commenced for a second time on March 18, 2012.
The names of three of the accused – top Huji leader Mufti Abdul Hannan, Sharif Shahedul Bipul and Jamaat-e-Islami secretary general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujaheed – were dropped from the case as they had been executed in relation to other cases.
A total of 31 accused faced the trial in person while 17, including BNP leader Tarique Rahman, were tried in absentia.