Unresolved case

18 August 1996: Awami League come into power after 21 years and begin investigation

The Indemnity Ordinance of 1975 prevented further investigation into the jail killing.

In 1996 the Awami League once again came to power for the first time since 1975. Sheikh Mujib's eldest daughter Sheikh Hasina was elected Prime Minister. One of her immediate action was to remove the Indemnity Act on 12 November 1996 and commence the investigation into the killing of her father and his four colleagues, 21 years after they were brutally assassinated.

Criminal Investigation Department (CID) opened a probe on 18 August 1996, three days after Sheikh Mujib's 21st death anniversary. Investigation Officer (IO) Abdul Kahar Akand, assistant superintendent of CID, arrested Lt Col (dismissed) Syed Farook Rahman, Lt Col (relieved) Sultan Shahriar Rashid Khan and retired major Khairuzzaman on 9 September 1996. The IO also arrested Shah Moazzem Hossain, BNP lawmaker K. M. Obaidur Rahman and Nurul Islam Manzoor on 29 September 1996. Taheruddin Thakur was accussed on 3 November 1996 and arrested soon after he gave a confessional statement to an additional chief metropolitan magistrate.

The investigator sketched a map of the scene, recorded statements of witnesses and seized 53 items of evidence to press charges against 21 people, including Obaidur, on 15 October 1998.

Former president Khondakar Mushtaque Ahmed and former secretary Mahbubul Alam Chashi were dropped from the chargesheet, as they died before the probe started.

The chargesheet mentioned that Mushtaque and his associates pressed the four national leaders to join his cabinet after the killing of Bangabandhu.

On refusal, several army officers backed by Mushtaque picked up some Awami League (AL) leaders and activists including the four leaders on 23 August 1975 and sent them to Dhaka Central Jail, where the four were killed.

The Daily Star, Bangladesh

On 12 October 2000 the court pressed charges against 23 prominent people, including 16 army officers, 5 senior BNP politicians, a president and his secretary. Three of the 23 accussed had passed away so they were dropped from the chargesheet. These were former President Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed, his secretary Mahbubul Alam Chashi, and Lt. Col. Abdul Aziz Pasha who was believed to be dead abroad.

The trial began on 12 April 2001.

2001 - 2004: Legal tangles and obstructions, including a petition from Tajuddin's wife Syeda Zohra

In 2001 a BNP-led four-party coalition government came to power. Begum Khaleda Zia, wife of General Zia who some Awami League members accuse of conspiring to Sheikh Mujib Rahman, was elected as Prime Minister. On 15 December 2002 her government cancelled the appointments of fours special public prosecutors who conducted the case under the Awami League, without explanations.

On 26 January 2003 Syeda Zohra Tajuddin filed a petition seeking trial in the Hight Court. In her petition, the Awami League presidium member and wife of slain prime minister Tajuddin Ahmad said she feared she would not get fair justice in the lower court. The High Court rejected the petition on 25 August 2003.

Finally, on 3 December 2003, nearly a year after they were dismissed, the government reinstated the fours special public prosecutors in face of strong public protest. Advocate Anisul Huq (later a Law Minister), who headed the special prosecutors, spoke against "unwarranted interference" in the case, a possible reference to the government assigning prosecutor of the court Abdullah Mahmud Hassan to cooperate with the special prosecutors in running the case.

20 October 2004: 15 out of 20 found guilty of jail killing

On 20 October 2004, more than eight years after the case was re-opened, the Dhaka Metropolitan Sessions Judge's Court announced the verdict. Of the 20 accused, 3 former army personnel were to be hanged till death, 12 former army personnel were to be imprisoned for life, and 5 people were to be acquitted. Four of the five acquitted were senior BNP politicians, while the fifth, Khairuzzaman, was even reassigned to Additional Secretary to foreign ministry by Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.

Three army officials given death sentence:

  1. Resalder (retd) Muslemuddin
  2. Dafadar (dismissed) Marfat Ali Shah
  3. Dafadar (dismissed) Abul Hashem Mridha

Twelve given life imprisonment:

  1. Lt Col (dismissed) Syed Farook Rahman
  2. Lt Col (retd) Sultan Shahriar Rashid Khan
  3. Major (retd) Bazlul Huda
  4. Lt Col (dismissed) Khandaker Abdur Rashid
  5. Lt Col (relieved) Shariful Haq Dalim
  6. Lt Col (retd) S. H. M. B. Noor Chowdhury
  7. Major (Retd) A. K. M. Mohiuddin Ahmed
  8. Lt Col (retd) A. M. Rashed Chowdhury
  9. Major (relieved) Ahmed Sharful Hossain
  10. Captain (retd) Abdul Majid
  11. Captain (relieved) Kismat Hashem
  12. Captain (relieved) Nazmul Hossain Ansar

Five acquitted:

  1. K. M. Obaidur Rahman
  2. Shah Moazzem Hossain
  3. Nurul Islam Manzoor
  4. Taheruddin Thakur
  5. Khairuzzaman

Three dead and thus dropped from chargesheet:

  1. Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed (President during August-November 1975)
  2. Mahbubul Alam Chashi (former Secretary)
  3. Lt Col (relieved) Abdul Aziz Pasha (believed to be dead abroad)

Judge Mohammad Motiur Rahman of the Metropolitan Sessions Judge's Court, Dhaka set up near Dhaka Central Jail, hands down the verdict at 10:30am amid beefed-up security.

About 400 undercover and uniformed policemen will remain on high alert guarding the court building, high-rises in the court area and roads in and out of Dhaka Central Jail.

Among the 23 accused, three are in custody, five on bail, 12 have been evading arrest and three died. Eleven convicts in the Bangabandhu Murder Case are among the accused.

The Daily Star (Bangladesh)

28 August 2008: Only 1 given death sentence

On 28 August 2008 the High Court division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh dismissed the death sentence of Dafadar Marfat Ali Shah and Dafadar Abul Hashem Mridha and only upheld capital punishment of Muslemuddin. Marfat Ali and Abul Hashem were acquitted along with 4 of the 12 in originally given life sentence, Syed Farook Rahman, Sultan Shahriar Rashid Khan, Bazlul Huda and A. K. M. Mohiuddin Ahmed. The High Court did not give any verdict about the 8 others given life term by the lower court.

In 2009 the government filed an appeal with the Supreme Court against the High Court verdict, appealing to the Supreme Court to uphold the trial court's verdict. In 2011 an appellate bench granted the government's appeal and the Supreme Court exempted Farook, Shahriar, Bazlul Huda and Mohiuddin from the case as they were already hanged after the four were found guilty of Sheikh Mujib's murder in the "Bangabandhu Murder Case" in 2010.

If you consider the High Court verdict where it upheld the death sentence of only one person and acquitted the rest, the question that comes is how one single person can carry out such a huge conspiracy. The judgment is not even a farce; it is a shame for the entire country.

Rowshan Akhter, daughter of Kamruzzaman

According to media reports and police sources, 6 of the fugitives are still hiding in different countries. Lieutenant Colonel Khandaker Abdur Rashid, who led the army officers along with Lt. Col. Syed Farook Rahman against Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, is believed to be living in Libya and Pakistan. Five others - Dalim, Noor Chowdhury, Rashed Chowdhury, Kismat Hashem, and Ansar - are believed to be living in Canada. Major Ahmed Sharful Hossain and Captain Abdul Majid still remain untraced.

Anisul Huq, now promoted to Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs in the Cabinet of Bangladesh since 2014, promised all efforts were being made to find the fugitives and bring them back to Bangladesh. He also said that the legal procedure had began to confiscate the property and wealth of those convicted in the case.

At present: 2 more sentenced to death but case still continues

On 30 April 2013 the Appellate Division upheld the death sentences against Dafadar Marfat Ali Shah and Dafadar Abul Hashem Mridha and the life imprisonments to the remaining eight others. But the whereabouts of Marfat Ali and Abul Hashem is not known. Even the state defence lawyer appointed by the Supreme Court for the two accused, Barrister Abdullah Al Mamum, publicly declared in 2018 that neither Marfat Ali, Abul Hashem nor their relatives "never communicated with me".

Currently there has been no significant movement on the case. It has been over 45 years and another chapter of Bangladesh's history, just like many others, remains shrouded in mystery.

The war that was won in 1971 would, in effect, be lost through the murders of 1975.

Syed Badrul Ahsan, Journalist