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Asia-pacific

No stay of execution for officers convicted of killing former president

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2009-11-19

Five former Bangladeshi army officers convicted of killing the country's president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in a coup more than 34 years ago have been refused an appeal against their execution, which can now take place.

AFP - The Bangladesh Supreme Court rejected Thursday an appeal by five former army officers convicted of killing the nation's founding president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in a coup more than 34 years ago.

Security was tight in the capital with more than 12,000 extra police deployed ahead of the ruling, which paves the way for the execution of the killers, some 13 years after they first came to trial.

Around 1,000 people squeezed inside the packed courtroom, while 10,000 more gathered outside, many breaking down in tears upon hearing the final verdict in a case that has haunted the South Asian nation for decades.

"The Supreme Court has accepted our argument that the five men are guilty and dismissed their appeals. They are going to go to the gallows," said chief state prosecutor Syed Anisul Haque.

Sheikh Mujib, as Rahman is known, led the country to independence in 1971 after a bloody, nine-month war against Pakistan.

He was gunned down at his home, along with his wife and three sons, in a coup on August 15, 1975. His daughters, the current prime minister Sheikh Hasina and her sister Sheikh Rehana, were abroad at the time.

Hasina's spokesman, Nakibuddin Ahmed, told AFP the prime minister had offered a prayer of thanks after the verdict was heard, and urged her supporters to "pray for the departed souls" of those who died.

Sheikh Rehana, who lives overseas, said she was relieved that the trial had finally concluded and that "justice and truth had prevailed".

"I hope the shame of the incident will be erased from our history through this final verdict," she told online newspaper bdnews24.com.

"Hopefully, none will face such agony and painful memories will fade. May peace exist in the country."

A total of 20 people, including domestic staff, were killed when army officers stormed Sheikh Mujib's house.

One of the state lawyers in the case, Fazle Noor Tapash, who lost both his parents in the killings, hailed the verdict as "historic".

"Finally the souls of the father of the nation and those who were murdered will be able to rest in peace," said an emotional Tapash, who is an MP in Sheikh Hasina's ruling party and whose father was Sheikh Mujib's nephew.

Defence lawyers, meanwhile, said they were "not satisfied" with the ruling.

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 killers.

At that time, 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.

The appeal argued that Sheikh Mujib's death was part of a mutiny and the defendants should therefore have been tried in a military rather than a civilian court.

The Supreme Court hearing finally began last month after the politically sensitive case had spent eight years in limbo.

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 early this year.

Hasina has accused Zia's late husband Ziaur Rahman, who was the deputy army chief under Sheikh Mujib, of playing a role in his murder.

Law professor Shahdeen Malik at BRAC University in Dhaka said although the verdict could heal some wounds, it would also "raise questions about the failure to hear the case for such a long time".

Hasina last week warned lawmakers to be united and alert for "untoward incidents" as the appeals hearings drew to a conclusion.

The UN issued a blanket security warning for all staff, while the British Foreign Office told its staff and their families to stay within the diplomatic boundary in Dhaka a day before and a day after the verdict.

Date created : 2009-11-19

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