48 years ago on 15 August 1975, Bangladesh witnessed the darkest dawn in the history since its independence in 1971. The Father of the Nation of Bangladesh and then President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, popularly known as “Bangabandhu” (Friend of Bengal) along with most of the members of his family including his ten-year old son was brutally assassinated by a group of terrorist military officials. His two daughters survived the carnage as they were abroad. The eldest one, Sheikh Hasina, is the current Prime Minister of Bangladesh.
A few weeks later, a notorious Indemnity Ordinance was promulgated by the brutal usurper Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed, who proclaimed martial law on 15 August 1975 and declared himself the President of the country, preventing the trial of this gravest crime against humanity. This national traitor Ahmed appointed then Major General Ziaur Rahman as the Chief of Army Staff, who eventually declared himself President in April 1977. The killing spree by the internal enemies of Bangladesh continued and four national leaders and closest associates of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman were arrested and killed by the illegal regime inside prison on 03 November 1975.
The values and morals, primarily democracy, secularism, equality and justice, on which Bangladesh became independent through a bloody War of Liberation under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman against the oppressive Pakistani regime, were completely reversed by the illegal military regime after the murder of the country’s Founding Father. In fact, murder of the Founding Father of Bangladesh was an evil attempt to murder the independent and sovereign Bangladesh, earned through the historic War of Liberation just 3 years and 8 months previously. The sacrifice of an estimated three million lives and honour of more than two hundred thousand women were betrayed by the usurper. The national slogan in Bengali, the mother tongue of the people, “Joi Bangla” (Victory of Bengal) that was the soul of the nation since the beginning of the liberation struggle was banned and replaced by “Bangladesh Zindabad” (“Zindabad” – meaning “long live” is not a Bengali word). There was an attempt to destroy the secular and Bengali identity of the nation. In a poor and low-literacy society, the military dictator Ziaur Rahman began poisoning the vein of the state by injecting the elements of religion, the weakest point of such a society.
The history of the country was totally distorted by the illegal military regime led by Ziaur Rahman, who later formed a political party named “Bangladesh Nationalist Party“ (BNP). It was the puppet parliament under the presidency of this military dictator Ziaur Rahman that turned the indemnity ordinance into an act in July 1979. The history of the country’s glorious War of Liberation in 1971, and the 23-year long struggle for freedom led by the country’s Founding Father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman were erased even from the text books. Mentioning the name of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was banned in print and electronic media for years. Secularism, one of the fundamental principles of state policy in the constitution of the country, was removed. The two daughters of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who survived the carnage, were not even allowed to return to Bangladesh for almost six years. They were living as refugees in India. It was in May 1981 when his eldest daughter, Sheikh Hasina, was elected President of Bangladesh Awami League by its leaders and, braving all odds, returned to Bangladesh.
Ziaur Rahman, who participated in the country’s War of Liberation in 1971 against the oppressive Pakistani authorities, not only indemnified the self-confessed killers of the country’s Founding Father but also rewarded the terrorist killers by sending them abroad with diplomatic assignments. He totally destroyed the democratic and secular fabric of the state. He developed great friendship with Pakistan, against which Bangladesh fought its just War of Liberation, and made the relationship with India worsen significantly. India provided unstinted support to Bangladesh during the War of Liberation and joined the war when it was attacked by Pakistan on 03 December 1971. On 16 December 1971, Bangladesh became truly independent when the Pakistan military surrendered in Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, to the joint forces of Bangladesh and India.
Religion-based politics were banned in independent Bangladesh but Ziaur Rahman allowed them in the country. The trial of war criminals was stopped and almost 11,000 war criminals were released from prison. Several notorious war criminals including Jamaat-e-Islami’s leader Ghulam Azam, who actively collaborated with the Pakistan military in committing genocide against the civilian Bengalis in 1971, were allowed to come back to the country from abroad and operate in the public political space. Most of the war criminals belonged to the banned Jamaat-e-Islami, an extremist political organization, and their cohorts like the Muslim League. Thus began religion-based extremist politics in Bangladesh. Several political figures, who opposed the independence of Bangladesh were inducted into the political party BNP formed by Ziaur Rahman and given important portfolios in his government including that of the Prime Minister (Shah Azizur Rahman). Such attempts to destroy democratic and secular Bangladesh continued during the regime of the second military dictator of the country, Hussain Muhammad Ershad, and later during the regime of Khaleda Zia, widow of Ziaur Rahman. The process of murdering Bangladesh was such that killers of the Founding Father of the country not only enjoyed absolute impunity but some of them were allowed to form a political party (Freedom Party) and even made members of parliament through farcical elections. Two notorious war criminals (Motiur Rahman Nizami and Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mijahid, both leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami) were made cabinet ministers and another notorious war criminal (Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury from the BNP) was made adviser with ministerial rank to Prime Minister Khaleda Zia during the dark five years of the BNP-Jamaat coalition government between 2001 to 2006. The culture of impunity attained new heights and terrorism and violent religious extremism were directly patronized by the government. On 21 August 2004, a dastardly grenade attack was launched by BNP-Jamaat government-sponsored terrorists at a public rally of Bangladesh Awami League to kill Sheikh Hasina, then leader of the opposition.
The murder trial of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, his family and others could only be started in 1996 when his party Bangladesh Awami League won the elections in June 1996 and his eldest daughter Sheikh Hasina became Prime Minister. The Parliament repealed the infamous indemnity act in November 1996. Members of Parliament from Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat-e-Islami were absent during the voting. The trial then began after 21 years of the carnage. Unfortunately, the trial didn’t proceed during the BNP-Jamaat regime between 2001 to 2006 and was resumed in 2009 when Bangladesh Awami League returned to power.
After a protracted trial in regular courts, the final verdict was given by the apex court of the country, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, in November 2009. 12 convicts were given the death sentence by the highest court in the country. 5 out of these 12 killers were executed in January 2010. Among the remaining 7 fugitive killers, one died naturally In Zimbabwe in 2001. Another one was arrested and executed in 2020. The whereabouts of 2 out of the remaining 5 fugitive killers are known. One of them, Rashed Chowdhury, is staying in the United States. Another one, Nur Chowdhury, is staying in Canada. Despite repeated requests by the Government of Bangladesh, the United States and Canada have not yet returned these convicted killers of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to Bangladesh. The Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina has publicly and categorically questioned several times the issue of upholding human rights and the rule of law by these two countries as they have been sheltering these killers for years. It’s high time that the United States and Canada return these killers to Bangladesh to face justice and demonstrate that they actually practise what they preach globally – human rights and the rule of law. Otherwise, there has to be a serious question mark over their moral right to promote these values globally.