Bangladesh upholds death sentence for ex-president's killers
Bangladesh's Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the death sentence for five killers of the nation's founding president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, whose assassination in a 1975 coup reverberates to this day.world Updated: Jan 27, 2010 12:44 IST
Bangladesh's Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the death sentence for five killers of the nation's founding president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, whose assassination in a 1975 coup reverberates to this day.
The court dismissed the former army officers' last-ditch legal attempts to avoid being hanged after they were convicted 12 years ago for assassinating Mujib, as he was widely known.
"The Supreme Court, headed by the country's chief justice, has dismissed their final appeals," Syed Anisul Haque, chief counsel for the state, told AFP.
Mujib led Bangladesh to independence in 1971 during a bloody war against Pakistan.
He was gunned down at his home, along with his wife and three sons, in a military coup on August 15, 1975. His daughter, the current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, was abroad at the time.
A total of 20 people, including domestic staff, were killed when the group of officers stormed his house, but the murder charges that were brought only related to Mujib's death.
"It is a landmark verdict and we think this will go a long way towards establishing the rule of law in the country," Haque said.
The case was first heard in 1996 when Hasina became premier for the first time and removed a legal barrier enacted by the post-Mujib government to protect the accused men.
In 1998, 15 men were found guilty and sentenced to death.
Three were acquitted in 2001. Of the remaining 12, five appealed the verdict to the Supreme Court, six are in hiding and one is believed to have died in Zimbabwe.
Hasina lost power in 2001 to her bitter rival Khaleda Zia, under whose government the courts failed to process the appeal.
Proceedings were only reactivated after Hasina regained power a year ago in a landslide election victory over Zia.
Hasina has accused Zia's late husband Ziaur Rahman, who was the deputy army chief under Mujib, of playing a role in his murder.
Additional inspector general of prisons Syed Iftekher Uddin said the five convicted men would be executed within days.
The exact date would be set when the prisons department receives a copy of the Supreme Court order, he said.
After the court's decision, lawyers for the condemned men, who did not deny killing Mujib, lodged a request for presidential clemency -- though similar pleas have previously been rejected.
The defence had argued that Mujib's death was part of a mutiny and the defendants should therefore have been tried under martial law instead of through the civilian court system.
"We are devastated by this verdict. We believe we have not received justice and we must hope that we receive mercy from the president," said defence lawyer Abdullah Al Mamun.
Hasina, who has yet to comment on Wednesday's verdict, is likely to pursue further trials in connection to the 1971 liberation war.
She has sought international assistance on how to bring to court those who collaborated with Pakistan during the war.