A speedy trial tribunal on Wednesday sentenced 19 people, including State Minister for Home Lutfozzaman Babar and former Deputy Minister for Education Abdus Salam Pintu, to death while 19 others, including BNP acting Chairman Tarique Rahman, to life imprisonment in two cases filed over the August 21 grenade attack on an Awami League rally in the capital in 2004.
Besides, 11 people were awarded different terms of jail in the sensational cases, said Public Prosecutor Mosharraf Hossain Kajal.
Judge Shahed Nuruddin of the Speedy Trial Tribunal-1 at Old Dhaka’s Nazimuddin Road pronounced the verdict around 12:13 pm after a long wait for over 14 years, reports UNB.
The others who were awarded death penalty are then DGFI Director Major General (retd) Rezzakul Haider Chowdhury, then NSI Brigadier General (retd) Abdur Rahim, Mohammad Hanif, Mohammad Rafiqul Islam, Sheikh Abdus Salam, Abdul Mazed, Maulana Shawkat Osman, Mahibullah alias Mafizur Rahman, Maulana Abu Taher, Maulana Abu Sayeed, Mohammad Jahangir Alam, Abul Kalam Azad, Mainuddin Sheikh alias Abu Zandal, Ujjal alias Ratan, Hossain Ahmed Tanim, Sheikh Abdus Salam and Abdul Malek.
All of the condemned convicts were also fined Tk 1 lakh each.
The other lifers are Shahadat Ullah alias Jewel, Maulana Abdur Rauf, Sabbir Ahmed, Tarik Hasan Sumon, Hafez Maulana Yeahia, Abu Bakkar, Ariful Islam, Mahibul Muttakin, Anisul Mursalin, Mohammad Khalil, Jahangir Alam Badar, Iqbal, Liton, then Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's political secretary Abul Harris Chowdhury, Shah Moazzem Hossain Kaikobad, Mufti Shafiqur Rahman, Mufti Abdul Hye and Ratul Ahmed.
They were also fined Tk 50,000 each and in case of failure to pay the penalty, they will have to serve one more year in jail.
The tribunal sentenced former IGPs Ashraful Huda and Khuda Baksh Chowdhury, Shahidul Haque, Lt Commander (retd) Saiful Islam Duke, Lt Colonel (retd) Saiful Islam Zoardar, Major General (retd) ATM Amin, ex-DIG Khan Sayeed Hasan, former police supers Obaidur Rahman Khan and Ruhul Amin, ASPs Abdur Rashid and Musnhi Atiqur Rahman to two years’ imprisonment.
They were also fined Tk 50,000 each, in default, to suffer six months more in jail.
Of the convicts, Tarique Rahman, Mursalin, Mahibul, Khalil, Jahangir, Iqbal, Liton, then Prime Minister Political Harris Chowdhury, Kaikobad, Shafiqur, Abdul Hye, Ratul, Saiful Islam, ATM Amin and Sayeed Hasan were tried in absentia.
Talking to reporters after the verdict, Kajal said they also sought death penalty for Tarique Rahman in the cases. “We’ll appeal against the judgment with the higher court,” he said.
Kajal said the fugitives will be brought to justice.
Meanwhile, defence lawyer Sanaullah Mia said they were disappointed at the verdict.
He claimed that Tarique Rahman is innocent.
Replying to a query, Sanaullah said the verdict against Tarique will be challenged once he returns home.
BNP also turned down the verdict, saying it has been given at the ‘behest of the government’ with a political motive.
“BNP thinks that the verdict is a politically motivated one. It’s a naked manifestation of satisfying government’s political vengeance,” said BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir while speaking at a press conference at party’s Nayapaltan central office.
Of the charge-sheeted accused, Jamaat secretary general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed, and militant leaders Mufti Abdul Hannan and Sharif Shahedul Alam alias Bipul-- were dropped from the cases as they had been executed after convictions in other cases.
Thirty-one accused, including Babar and Salam, were produced before the tribunal from a Gazipur jail before the delivery of the verdict.
They were brought to the tribunal from Kashimpur Central Jail in Gazipur in three prison vans around 11:20am.
Meanwhile, security was beefed up in the capital, including in and around the special trial court, to fend off any untoward incident over the verdict.
Additional law enforcers were deployed at important points of the capital while members of Rapid Action Battalion, Bomb Disposal unit of Dhaka Metropolitan Police and Armed Police Battalion remained posted at Nazimuddin Road.
Besides, the movement of pedestrians on and around the road was restricted.
Earlier on September 18, the tribunal fixed October 10 to pronounce its verdict in two cases-- one for murder and the other for grenade blast-- after both the prosecution and the defence completed their arguments.
Closing their arguments, the prosecution sought the highest punishment to all the accused, including Tarique, saying they were able to prove all the charges beyond reasonable doubt.
They also said Tarique masterminded the attack and helped militants in order to kill Sheikh Hasina by throwing the grenades to make Awami League leaderless.
But the defence lawyers sought acquittal of their clients as they said the prosecution failed to present substantial evidence to prove the charges.
They also claimed that Tarique, who has been staying in London since 2008, was implicated in the cases with a political motive.
Earlier, the court set September 17 and 18 for hearing the closing arguments after hearing the prosecution's rebuttal arguments against defence arguments on September 12.
On October 23 last, the prosecution started placing arguments before the tribunal in connection with the two cases filed over the August 21 grenade attack on an Awami League rally in the capital in 2004.
On August 21, 2004, the grisly grenade attack was carried out on an anti-terrorism rally arranged by Awami League at Bangabandhu Avenue during the BNP-Jamaat alliance's rule, aiming to kill then opposition leader Sheikh Hasina.
At least 24 leaders and activists, including AL's women affairs secretary and late President ZillurRahman's wife Ivy Rahman, were killed and 300 others injured in the grenade attack.
Although Sheikh Hasina fortunately escaped the attack unhurt, her hearing was affected badly.
At least 13 grenades were thrown from the rooftops of a nearby building soon after Sheikh Hasina had finished her speech at the rally.
Then the two cases -- one under the Explosive Substances Act and another for murder -- were filed in connection with the grenade attack.
The then BNP-led government formed a one-member investigation committee comprising of High Court Justice JainulAbedin on August 22, 2004.
Justice JainulAbedin submitted his report after 40 days indicting that a powerful foreign intelligence agency had a hand in the incident. But Awami League turned down the probe report.
As the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) was later assigned to deal with the cases, they made a cooked-up story of Joj Mia and arrested him with 20 other people in connection with the incident in June 2005.
Joj Mia was reportedly forced to give a statement confessing to his involvement in the attack. Later, there had been no progress in the investigation during the BNP-Jamaat rule.
The investigation into the grenade attack took a new turn after the military-backed caretaker government took over following the 1/11 political changeover in 2007.
On June 11, 2008, the CID assistant police superintendent FazlulKabir submitted two separate charge-sheets in the two cases, accusing 22 people, including Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami operations commander Mufti Abdul Hannan and Abdus Salam Pintu.
After recording the testimonies of 61 prosecution witnesses, a court on August 3, 2009 ordered further investigation into the cases following petitions filed by the prosecution after the Awami League came to power.
Now-retired police officer Abdul KaharAkanda was given the charge for carrying out investigation into the cases.
In July, 2011, a supplementary charge-sheet was submitted accusing 30 more people, including TariqueRahman, former state minister for home Lutfozzaman Babar, Abul Harris Chowdhury and the Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed.