2004 grenade attack case : Justice after 14 years
It’s better to be late than never as the adage goes. The 2004 August 21 case in which a heinous attempt was made to kill en masse top Awami league leaders including –very importantly– our incumbent Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, has been undoubtedly a deeply shameful chapter in our national history where the search for justice continued to cry out in vain. Thus, it was a moment of great satisfaction when on Thursday last the truth was finally, amply and irrevocably established about who were the real and behind the wings assassins in that tragic event. The judges declared Tareque Rahman, the acting Chairman of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) as the mastermind of the plot to kill our beloved Prime Minister. He was joined in that effort by the then State Minister for Home Affairs Lufuzzaman Babar and other stalwarts of the BNP and elements of extreme Islamist terror groups.
While Tareque was given life imprisonment, Babar was sentenced to death by hanging. But this is not the end of the matter. The present Awami League leadership have reacted saying that life imprisonment for Tareque is not enough as the mastermind behind the appalling crime. So, he too deserves capital punishment or hanging by death. Thursday’s judgement was only in a lower court. Therefore , they are likely to appeal in a higher Court to further increase Tareque’s punishment from life imprisonment to capital punishment or death sentence. It is also speculated after the judgement that in the next step the AL leadership would also seek to associate ex Prime Minister Khaleda Zia with the event as she was also holding the portfolio of Home Minister at that time. It could not be that as Home Minister she had no knowledge of the bestial crime that her State Minister was plotting or the direct patronage and supervision of it by her son Tareque who at that time was unofficially the most powerful and influential individual of the BNP administration eclipsing even his mother in most cases.
This case highlighted the willingness of the intelligence services to become involved in domestic politics. Intelligence organizations exist to protect the state against its enemies, not to take sides in domestic political disputes. In Bangladesh the intelligence organizations in this case were dragged into domestic politics, losing their professionalism. These special organizations were used and corrupted to serve domestic political interests. First, protection of the AL leaders was unsatisfactory. Second, no attempt was made to control the crime scene negating use of forensic methods to provide objective evidence. Without forensic evidence it was difficult to prove what actually happened. Third, the police investigation in the BNP period was corrupt and false. It was only resumed investigation under a caretaker government that put the derailed investigation process on a right track. Earlier, the then BNP government with its Home Ministry tried many gimmicks to falsely placate innocent persons with the incident that completely reoriented the investigation away from any objectivity. Indeed BNP’s handling of that episode was a stark manifestation of the criminal bent of its leadership at the highest level.
Of course, the BNP leaders are saying after Thursday’s verdict that the convicted men are victims of political vengeance. But what politics can be there in seeking justice for killing and maiming of so many in the completely peaceful rally of a political party by firing into it and tossing live grenades ? Surely, the judgement was to punish ones responsible for such sheer murders whereas the attackers were ones who had express political designs in attempting to wipe out the core leadership of the country’s oldest and biggest political party in a bid to pave the way for their ascendancy.The grenade attack killed 24 Awami League leaders including former president Zillur Rahman’s wife Ivy Rahman and injured scores of others. Sheikh Hasina was also injured and luckily avoided certain risk to her life. More than 500 leaders, activists, supporters and people attending the meeting were injured during the barbaric grenade attack. The assailants also fired few bullets at the bulletproof SUV that Hasina boarded immediately after the blast.
Many of the convicted –including mastermind Tareque Zia–are in foreign countries hoping to get political asylum. The recent court verdicts against them in Bangladesh have clearly established their guilt and in all fairness there exists no grounds– legally and morally– to accord them political asylum. Therefore, the credibility and international image of these countries will be at stake if they do not heed international norms and conventions in the matter and fail to hand these convicted persons to Bangladesh authorities as would be requested.