South Asia1975 massacre

Bangladesh ups efforts to bring back killers of founding father

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is determined to bring back six former Army officers who were leaders of the coup that killed her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and 16 other family members four decades ago

August 20, 2018 6:55 PM (UTC+8)
The Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Memorial is covered with floral wreaths in Dhaka on August 15, 2010. Bangladesh's founding father was killed along with many family members in a military coup on August 15, 1975 by a group of disgruntled army officers. Photo: AFP / Munir uz Zaman

Bangladesh has stepped up its diplomatic efforts and interaction with Interpol, the international police organization, to find and bring back six fugitives alleged to have killed Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, father of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Rahman was the country’s founding president who managed to win independence from Pakistan following a war in 1971.

Hasina, who has been prime minister for two consecutive terms, is making these efforts despite a decline in her popularity ahead of national elections due to be held later this year.

Bringing all the killers of Rahman and 16 other members of his family to justice was an election pledge as well as a personal goal of Hasina, who is one of the family’s only two survivors. The other surviving member is Sheikh Rehana, Hasina’s younger sister. Both were in West Germany when Rahman was assassinated in Dhaka, the capital 43 years ago.

Rogue army officials carried out the assassination of Rahman and his family on August 15, 1975, and that date is a day of national mourning in Bangladesh.

The coup toppled the Rahman-led Awami League government and left the party politically vulnerable for 21 years until Hasina became prime minister in 1996. An investigation into the murder of Rahman and other family members was launched once Hasina became national leader.

Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina speaks with a reporter during the UN General Assembly in New York in September 2017. Photo: Reuters/ Stephanie Keith

However, the investigation process and subsequent trial was slow because of legal complications. It came to a halt after Hasina’s rival, Begum Khaleda Zia, came to power in 2001. But in 2010, when Hasina began her second tenure as PM, five among the 11 convicted killers were hanged.

Trial and repatriation

Hasina, who is near the end of two consecutive terms spanning nearly a decade (2009-2018), has held several rounds of talks on repatriating her father’s killers with the heads of countries where these people now live.

Bangladeshi police have also been working with Interpol to locate the killers. Inspector General of Bangladesh Police Mohammad Javed Patwary said on August 13: “We have so far received concrete information on two [culprits] — one in the US and the other in Canada.”

Government sources said two law firms have already been engaged by the government in the US and Canada to bring back the fugitive, convicted killers: Lt. Col. (sacked) AM Rashed Chowdhury and Major (Retd) Noor Chowdhury.

Hasina also called upon Canadian Prime Minister Justine Trudeau on June 12 this year at the G7 summit to deport Noor Chowdhury, who now resides in Canada.

To get these other convicted killers deported, the government formed a task force on March 28, 2010, with law minister Anisul Huq as its head. Huq, who was also chief prosecutor of Rahman’s case, told Asia Times: “We have confirmed the whereabouts of Noor Chowdhury and Rashed Chowdhury and have already appointed internationally reputed lawyers for the extradition process.”

However, he admitted the repatriation process would not be easy as Rashed Chowdhury was granted political asylum in the US, and even though Noor Chowdhury has not won asylum in Canada, Canadian law prevents the extradition of people who face the death sentence.

“We are hopeful as we have good diplomatic relations with both the government and this is a very sensitive issue for us,” he added. The Bangladesh government was not sure about the exact location of other killers who have absconded, he said. Information surfaced from time to time that some are in Libya, or Pakistan, or South Africa.

According to unspecified sources, Khandakar Abdur Rashid has businesses in Libya and Kenya. But the Kenyan government has not provided any specific information. Delhi had confirmed that Abdul Mazed and Moslehuddin were not in India, as had been assumed. “Our government is working with Interpol to find their exact location. We’ll find all the killers, no matter where they are hiding,” Huq assured.

The assassination of Rahman’s family

After Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan on December 16, 1971, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman became prime minister for three years. He was later made the President of Bangladesh and set up a national unity government, known as BAKSAL on June 7, 1975, by banning all political parties and independent press.

BAKSAL was meant to bring stability to Bangladesh and improve law and order, but it created hostility among the bureaucracy, military and civil society.

A group of mid-ranking army officials including Syed Faruque Rahman, Khandaker Abdur Rashid, Sharful Haque (Dalim), Mohiuddin Ahmed and A.K.M. Mohiuddin Ahmed, Bazlul Huda, S.H.M.B. Noor Chowdhury — all majors in the Bangladesh Army and veterans of Mukti Bahini (liberation force) — planned to topple the government and establish a military government of their own. They thought the government was subservient to India and would dismantle the Bangladesh Army in the future.

In the wee hours of August 15, 1975, one of the four groups of conspirators led by Major Huda, attacked Rahman’s residence. They killed Rahman along with Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib, his wife; Sheikh Nasser, Rahman’s younger brother, plus Sheikh Kamal, Sheikh Jamal and Sheikh Russel, Rahman’s three sons, Sultana Kamal and Rosy Jamal, his daughters-in-law.

Two other groups killed Sheikh Fazlul Haque, Rahman’s nephew who was thought to be his successor and his pregnant wife Arzu Moni. Rahman’s brother-in-law Abdur Rab Serniabat, his two children,  and his nephew Shaheed Serniabat were also killed. The fourth group was sent to resist an expected counter-attack by security forces.

After the assassination, the infamous Indemnity Ordinance was promulgated by the self-proclaimed President Khondker Mushtaque Ahmed to protect the killers from justice. The subsequent Bangladesh Nationalist Party government, led by Major General Ziaur Rahman, ratified it as the Indemnity Act in 1979.

After Hasina came to power, a First Information Report on the assassinations was lodged with police and an investigation launched. Later in 1996, Parliament scraped the Indemnity Act, paving the way for leaders of the putsch to face justice.

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