Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman, the founding father of Bangladesh, and all but two members of his family were assassinated in a gruesome and barbaric manner on Aug 15, 1975 by a group of army officers with the concurrence of Mujib’s own trusted associate Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad. Khondaker immediately took control of the government, proclaiming himself President. Several of the army officers who were involved in the killing, including Maj Syed Faruque Rahman, received promotions. Maj Gen Ziaur Rahman was appointed Army chief. Khondaker also ordered imprisonment of four influential pro-Mujib leaders Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmed, A. H. M. Qamruzzaman and Muhammad Mansur Ali, who are also known as national leaders. He replaced the Sk Mujib coined national slogan ‘Joy Bangla’ with ‘Bangladesh Zindabad’ on the pattern of ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ and also changed the name ‘Bangladesh Betar’ to ‘Radio Bangladesh’ in Pakistani style.
More controversially, Khondaker proclaimed the Indemnity Ordinance which granted immunity from prosecution to the assassins of Mujib who are also referred to as ‘Killer Majors’. Mujib’s daughters Sk Hasina and Sk Rehana who were in London at the time of assassination were barred from returning to Bangladesh. BAKSAL founded by Mujib and all pro-Mujib political groups were dissolved. Subsequently on Nov 3, 1975 the four imprisoned national leaders were also assassinated inside the Dhaka Central Jail. Khondaker was however ousted from power on Nov 6, 1975 in a coup led by pro-Mujib Army officer Brig Khaled Mosharraf.
Khondaker was imprisoned by the Mosharraf regime and later by the regime of Gen Ziaur Rahman till 1978. He was named in the investigation of the murder of Sk Mujib launched in 1996 by his daughter Sk Hasina, who had then won the national elections and become Prime Minister. Due to his death, Khondaker was not chargesheeted or tried. But he was one of the key plotters of Mujib’s murder. He is also known for legitimising murders by protecting Mujib’s killers. He was also responsible for the heinous killing on Nov 3, 1975 of the four national leaders who had led the country during the liberation war in absence of Sk Mujib who was then imprisoned.
Khondaker Mostaq Ahmed who became President promulgated the infamous Indemnity Ordinance that blocked investigation into the cold-blooded murders of Sk Mujib and his family as well as the four national leaders. The Martial Law government of Gen Ziaur Rahman that followed took the ordinance into the statute book, and gave protection to the murderers under the cloak of law. Gen HM Ershad, the military dictator who succeeded Zia, followed the footsteps of his predecessors; far from taking any punitive action against the killers he rewarded them by giving them diplomatic appointments abroad.
When the democratically elected government of Khaleda Zia came to power in 1991, there was expectation of the law taking its course against the killers. But she fared no better and stuck to the past. The police probe was reopened only on Aug 18, 1996, twenty one years after the crime was committed, when Awami League and Mujib’s daughter Sk Hasina came to power, after she annulled the Indemnity law to pave the way for prosecution of the Mujib killers.
On Nov 8, 1998, after an 18-month trial, Dhaka District and Sessions Judge imposed death sentences on 15 ex-Army officers involved in the killing of Sk Mujib. Eleven of the fifteen were tried in absentia as they had fled from the country. Subsequently, Bangladesh High Court upheld death sentences on 10 of these 15 officers leaving the fate of five others undecided. The ten on whom death sentence was confirmed include Lt Col Sayed Faruq Rahman, Lt Col Sultan Shahriyar Rashid Khan, Lt Col Khandaker Abdur Rashid, Lt Col Shariful Haque Dalim, Lt Col A.M. Rashed Chowdhury, Lt Col A.K.M. Mohiuddin, Lt Col Noor Chowdhury, Lt Col Abdul Aziz Pasha, Major Mohammad Bazlul Huda and Capt Abdul Majed. Those whose fate was left undecided include Lt Col Mohiuddin Ahmed, Maj. Ahmed Shariful Hossain, Capt Mohammad Kismat Hashem, Capt Nazmul Hossain Ansar and Risalder Moslemuddin. Four who are presently in custody in connection with Mujib murder include three against whom death sentence was confirmed – Lt Col Sayed Faruq Rahman, Lt Col Sultan Shariyar Rashid Khan and Maj Bazlul Huda. The fourth one is Maj Mohiuddin Ahmed.
Earlier, Maj Mohiuddin Ahmed was repatriated from the US where he stayed a number of years as a fugitive. The Awami League Govt which was in power during 1996-2001 had urged the US to extradite him as he was convicted in the Mujib murder case. He had earlier held a variety of diplomatic posts abroad for two decades.
Immediately after the jail killings of the four national leaders, Kazi Abdul Awal, the then Deputy Inspector General (Prisons), in the first information report (FIR) filed with Lalbagh Police Station on Nov 4, 1975, accused Capt Moslemuddin and four other army officers for the killings. The officer-in-charge of the Police Station tasked ABM Fazlul Karim with the investigation. Their prosecution would have been a cakewalk because the killers proudly proclaimed their crime. But the police investigation and trial did not go any further. What followed was a bizarre sequence of events one would associate with mafia rule rather than a civilized government.
Most of the Mujib killers were also involved in killing of the four national leaders inside Dhaka Central Jail on Nov 3, 1975. On Oct 12, 2000 the court framed charges against 21 persons including 17 former army officers and four political leaders – K M Obaidur Rahman (former BNP MP), Taheruddin Thakur, Shah Moazzem Hossain and Nurul Islam Manzur in connection with jail killing. All of them were close associates of Mujib who later joined the cabinet of Khondaker Mostaq Ahmed after he proclaimed himself as President. Two of the key accused Khondaker Mostaq Ahmed and his Secretary Mahbubul Alam Chashi escaped prosecution, as their deaths had overtaken the long arm of law and they had to be dropped from the charge sheet.
As the Awami League government went out of power and BNP-JEI alliance government took over in 2001, five of the accused Obaidur Rahman, Nurul Islam, Shah Moazzem Hossain, Taheruddin Thakur and Maj (retd) Khairuzzaman got out on bail. The BNP-JEI Govt even went a step further and rewarded one of them, namely Maj (retd) Khairuzzaman, by appointing him to a foreign ministry job with the rank of Additional Secretary. All the five of them were acquitted.
Out of 21 accused in jail killing only eight were physically present in the country. With five out on bail, only three – Lt Col Syed Faruque Rahman, Lt. Col Sultan Shahriar Rashid Khan and Maj Bazlul Huda were in jail custody in connection with Mujib murder. They were convicted and given death sentence. Twelve others had to be tried in absentia while Lt Col Abdul Aziz Pasha died. The accused on the run include Risalder Moslemuddin, Lt Col Khondaker Abdur Rashid, Lt Col Shariful Haq Dalim, Lt Col SHMB Noor Chowdhury, Maj AKM Mohiuddin Ahmed, Lt Col AM Rashed Chowdhury, Maj Ahmed Shariful Hossain, Capt Abdul Majed, Capt Kismat Hasem, Capt Nazmul Hossain, Dafadar Marfat Ali Shah and Dafadar Abdul Hasem.
It is learnt that among those convicted Lt Col Shariful Huq Dalim is hiding in Hong Kong, Lt Col HMB Noor Chowdhury in Canada, Lt Col A M Rashid Chowdhury in the US and Risaldar Moslemuddin is hiding in India. Lt Col Aziz Pasha expired in 2001 in Zimbabwe. It is significant that many of these killer Army officers were promoted to higher ranks and protected under the Indemnity Law. They are on the run at present, aided and abetted by their well-wishers and partners in crime in political parties, bureaucracy and the Army.
In the trial for killing of the national leaders three junior officers were given death sentence while 11 of the 12 absconding accused officers were given life sentence. It is significant that all the 11 have already been sentenced to death for killing Sk Mujib and his family. While pronouncing the verdict, the judge blamed the Investigating Officer (IO) for faulty investigation and said all the killers of the four national leaders could not be awarded capital punishment due to IO’s negligence. Abdul Akhand Kahar, an assistant superintendent of police at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) who was the IO in the case in August 1996, was transferred to Barisal in October 2001 immediately after the BNP-JEI alliance government assumed office. He was sent on forced retirement a year later. The original charge sheet could not be traced. Jail officers and security personnel who were on duty during the killings were not charge-sheeted.
During the 16 years of military rule under Gen Zia and Gen Ershad as well as during the five-year BNP rule under Khaleda Zia (1991-96) the ‘killer majors’ were given a free run. Those on diplomatic assignments continued to enjoy life abroad, while Lt Col Faruq and Lt Col Abdur Rashid, the two masterminds of the 15 Aug 1975 Mujib murder continued to stay in Libya for a decade doing manpower supply business. They returned home in 1985 and with the active support of Gen Ershad floated a new organization named Freedom Party and a daily newspaper called ‘Millat’. This party and its mouthpiece campaigned against the Awami League and India to Ershad’s political advantage.
The High Court in 2001 stayed the sentences on appeals by the convicts and the sentences remained suspended during the BNP-JEI regime at the behest of the Govt. Six years later in 2007 when the Army-backed dispensation was in power the Appellate Division of Supreme Court admitted the appeals for hearing which are yet to begin. Now, after Sk Hasina returned to power in Jan 2009 with a massive mandate, her Govt has taken a number of steps to ensure that culprits are brought to book and justice prevails. Four judges have been appointed in the Supreme Court to ensure that the Mujib murder case is brought to its logical end leaving no room for any misgiving. Justice delayed may not always be justice denied.