Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Bangladesh: Death penalty on army coup leaders

Bangladesh Upholds Death Penalty on 1975 Coup Leaders (Update1)
By Jay Shankar

From Bloomberg, 19 November 2009

Nov. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Bangladesh’s Supreme Court upheld death sentences on five army officers for assassinating Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the country’s first president, in 1975.

"We are very much happy," Qamrul Islam, the junior minister for law, justice and parliamentary affairs, said in a telephone interview from the capital, Dhaka. "We have been waiting for this moment and judgment for the last 34 years. It is our hope that the accused will be hanged soon."

Rahman, who led the country to independence from Pakistan, was killed in a coup that brought a military government to power. His wife and three sons were among 16 family members who died in the pre-dawn attack.

Bangladesh began the trial after Rahman’s daughter, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, who was abroad during the coup, became prime minister in 1996 and overturned an indemnity law passed by the military government 11 years earlier.

After Rahman’s death "the murderers were indemnified, which is unprecedented in history," Wali-ur Rahman, a former trial coordinator and now director of the Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs research body, said by phone from Dhaka.

Bangladesh deployed security forces to prevent unrest over the court ruling. Police will "focus their attention on diplomatic areas, the Dhaka central jail, the Supreme Court and judges’ complex," Home Secretary Abdus Sobhan Sikder said from Dhaka. The increased security will continue after today’s verdict, he said.

Subversive Incidents
Hasina’s ruling Awami League told party leaders and supporters to be on the alert after "subversive incidents" occurred during the trial process, it said in a statement on its Web site.

Increased security is needed because Attorney-General Mahbubey Alam last month received a letter from an unidentified person threatening to kill him and family members if the army officers weren’t released, Sikder said.

Unidentified attackers last month threw a bomb at the car of legislator Fazle Noor Tapas, an Awami League member, Reuters reported at the time. At least a dozen people were injured in the attack. Tapas, who escaped unhurt, is one of the lawyers taking part in the trial process, according to the report.

Death sentences were handed down on 15 army officers by a court in 1998 and the group first appealed the ruling in 2000, Bangladesh’s New Nation newspaper said on its Web site. Three officers were later acquitted.

Fled the Country
Seven of the killers are living abroad, Sikder said. The five in jail will have 30 days to file an appeal against the Supreme Court judgment and their last option is a mercy petition to the president, Sikder said.

The killers were "sent abroad as diplomats," the Bangladesh Institute’s Rahman said. "Many countries, especially in the Middle East, accepted them."

Hasina’s government couldn’t complete the trial process while in power and the administration led by Prime Minister Khaleda Zia didn’t "pursue the matter at all" when it took over in 2001, Rahman said.

A military-backed government declared emergency rule in January 2007 and started an anti-corruption drive that resulted in the arrests of leading politicians, including Hasina and Zia, causing further delays.

Fair Trial
"The masses wanted a clear and fair trial," Retired Major General, A.N.M. Muniruzzaman, president of the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies, said by telephone from Dhaka. "It is a long awaited trial. It went through a very lengthy legal process" that was "very transparent."

"No one can complain on that count," he said.

The government is also taking precautions after the recent arrests in Bangladesh of Lashkar-e-Taiba militants from India and Pakistan, Muniruzzaman said.

More than 50 Islamic militants from both the countries are active in Bangladesh and police have arrested six Indians and three Pakistani militants since May 27, Bangladesh’s daily New Age newspaper reported on Nov. 15, citing Monirul Islam, deputy commissioner of the country’s detective branch.

Bangladesh, which has had at least five military coups since its creation in 1971, was hit by its first suicide bombings in 2005, attacks that were blamed on the Jamaatul Mujaheedin Bangladesh terrorist group.

Eighty-three percent of the country’s 156 million people are Muslim and almost 40 percent of the population lives on less than $1 a day.

Last Updated: November 19, 2009 01:23 EST

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