Bangladesh set to execute ex-Army officer convicted of assassinating Bangabandhu

Anisur Rahman

Dhaka, Apr 11 (PTI) Prison authorities in Bangladesh on Saturday said that preparations were underway to carry out the execution of a former military captain who is on death row for his involvement in the 1975 coup in which the country's founder Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was assassinated.

Abdul Majed was arrested in Dhaka on Tuesday after hiding in India for nearly two-and-a-half decades.

'We are set for the execution... the last moment preparedness is underway,' the state-run BSS news agency quoted as saying inspector general of prisons Brigadier General AKM Mostafa Kamal Pasha.

Pasha on Saturday hinted that Majed was likely to be hanged after midnight as 'the main hangman and his alternatives were kept ready'.

He said that concerned officials as per the jail code would be present when the execution is carried out.

His remarks came a day after Majed's wife and four other relatives met him for nearly two hours in the prison.

President Abdul Hamid on Thursday rejected his mercy plea, removing the last hurdle for his hanging.

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal earlier told PTI that the presidential decision meant there was no bar in executing the convict, who was arrested in a surprise development earlier this week from Dhaka's Mirpur area.

'I can't tell you exactly when the execution will be staged but prison authorities will take steps to hang him as soon as possible,' Kamal said.

A specialised police unit arrested Majed, one of the fugitive convicted Bangabandhu assassins, as he returned home after hiding for nearly two and half decades in India.

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said the 'self confessed killer' was not only involved in Bangabandhu's assassination but also took part in the subsequent killing of four national leaders in high security Dhaka Central Jail on November 3, 1975.

He said previous reports indicated Majed was hiding in India but eventually he was arrested from Dhaka as he secretly returned last month.

Police's Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit arrested him in a predawn raid at Mirpur area while he was roaming around a shrine.

Majed is one of the six absconding ex-army officers who were handed down capital punishment after trial in absentia.

A prosecution lawyer said Majed told the court that he returned to Bangladesh on March 15 or 16.

The convict, he said, claimed he managed to live secretly in Kolkata for the past 23 years.

Law Minister Anisul Huq, who was a key prosecution lawyer of Bangabandhu murder trial, told PTI that Majed has no scope to challenge the judgment other than seeking presidential clemency.

'The original verdict was delivered in 1998 which was confirmed by the High Court under a mandatory legal procedure,' Huq said, adding that a notice was issued asking Majed to surrender while he had a constitutional right to appeal before the Supreme Court within the subsequent 30 days after the High Court decision but he continued to be on the run to evade justice.

'Now there is no legal option for him to challenge the verdict,' he said.

Another senior lawyer said the stipulated time for appealing against his death penalty expired long ago and Majed now could only seek presidential mercy unless the Supreme Court decides to consider any plea on his part.

Twelve ex-military officers were sentenced to death for the August 15, 1975 killing of Father of the Nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman along with most of his family members. Five of them have been executed while one died of natural causes as he was on the run abroad.

Bangabandhu's elder daughter and incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and younger daughter Sheikh Rehana survived as they were on a visit to the then West Germany at the time of the putsch, which also toppled Bangladesh's post independence government.

The five convicts were hanged at Dhaka Central Jail on January 28, 2010, after a protracted legal procedure while the delayed trial process began in 1996 when an infamous indemnity law was scrapped as it was protecting the assassins from justice until then.

Majed was one of the remaining fugitives believed to be hiding abroad with no confirmed whereabouts.

The rest of the fugitives included the key mastermind of the coup ex-lieutenant colonel Abdur Rashid. Interpol issued red alert against the absconders believed to be hiding in several countries including Pakistan.

Bangladesh confirmed two cases where two convicts took refuge in the United States and Canada, one of them is said to have shot dead Bangladesh's founder.

Dhaka said it was trying to extradite them but Canada declined to entertain the request citing provisions of the country's laws.

After the 1975 carnage, Majed was rehabilitated in civil service during the subsequent regime of former military-dictator-turned-politician Ziaur Rahman as an ex-cadre official and posted as the director of National Savings Department.

He later fled the country while serving in the finance ministry along with other 1975 coup plotters as the 1996 general elections brought Awami League back to power which vowed to expose to justice Bangabandhu killers in line with its election manifesto. PTI AR CPS