24 others also handed 31 years behind bars for helping militants
Former post and telecommunications minister barrister Aminul Haque and 24 others were yesterday sentenced to 31 years and six months' imprisonment in the first-ever judgment of a case for patronising Islamist militants.
The convicts also include Rajshahi district BNP Secretary Shish Muhammad.
The Second Additional Sessions Judge's Court, Rajshahi convicted them for aiding and abetting the militants of Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) in extorting and torturing people in Bagmara upazila of the district in 2004.
The convicts were also fined Tk 25,000 each and in default they will have to suffer three years more in jail.
Two accused union council chairmen--Besharatullah and Rafiqul Islam--were acquitted in the case.
Judge Rezaul Islam delivered the judgment amid tight security in the absence of 17 accused including Aminul and Shish.
JMB adviser professor Lutfar Rahman, a teacher of a madrasa in Atrai of Naogaon, Bagmara upazila JMB leader Abdus Sattar, JMB activists Killer Mostak, Korban Ali, Afzal, Akram, Amzad, Nazrul and Mizanur were present in the court during the verdict.
Other absconding convicts are Siddiq, Monayem, Jahangir, Abdul Jalil, Latif, Mostafizur Hitler, Bulbul, Mokles, Halim, and Juta Mantu.
The state employed no lawyer for the absconding accused in the case since there was no charge against them for capital punishment.
The convicts were sentenced to 30 years' rigorous imprisonment--10 years each under section 326 for injuring grievously, section 307 for attempt to murder and section 387 for extortion--and 1 year's simple imprisonment under section 342 for wrongful confinement and six months' imprisonment under section 143 for unlawful assembly.
They were fined Tk 20,000 each--Tk 10,000 each under sections 326 and 307--and Tk 5,000 under section 387.
JMB torture victim Fazlur Rahman had lodged the case on March 30 with Bagmara Police Station. The poor farmer of Hasanpur village in the upazila was abducted, tortured and forced to pay ransom for his release from the militants in April 2004.
Sub-Inspector Mukhtar Hossain submitted the charge sheet of the case on April 23.
JUDGE'S EXPLANATION FOR THE VERDICT
Briefing the court before announcing the verdict, Judge Rezaul said it is well known that Bagmara was the centre of JMB's rise and there was a torture camp at the Hamirkutsa house of accused Korban Ali's father Ramjan Kaya who is widely known as a Razakar (collaborator of the Pakistan armed forces) during the Liberation War of 1971.
"Incidents of lynching people were almost open and common during the tenure of the previous [BNP-led four-party] alliance government and through such incidents the JMB militants not only took the law in their hands, but they expressed their no-confidence on the law of the land," the judge said.
"What the JMB militants had done in the areas on the plea of cleansing Sarbahara communist outlaws were no different from the deeds of these outlaws," he added.
About former minister Aminul and BNP leader Shish, the judge said the accused persons were influential in their areas and the militants continued their brutalities following direct and indirect patronisation of these two persons.
Referring to several verses of the holy Quran and Hadith, the judge said Islam is a moderate religion and it does not support any such torture and force on people to abide by the religion.
Executed JMB operations commander Siddiqul Islam Bangla Bhai had said in his statement that Shish Muhammad used to visit him and executed JMB chief Abdur Rahman in Bagmara during their "anti-outlaw" operations.
Bangla Bhai and his men also visited Shish Muhammad's houses at Tanore in Godagari upazila and Upashahar Housing Estate in Rajshahi city and Shish, also chairman of Mundumala municipality, gave the militants money, the statement said.
REACTIONS AT COURT
Hearing the judgment, JMB's Bagmara adviser Lutfar started shouting, "I do not honour the verdict...it is partial."
Other accused present in the dock and their relatives in and outside the court burst into tears.
"My husband is Fazlu's [the plaintiff] cousin and he was implicated in the case out of jealousy and rivalry over land. He was never linked with militants," Kajal Rekha, wife of convict Nazrul, said.
Public Prosecutor Ekramul Haque said, "The JMB came into being, flourished and continued criminal activities with the finance and assistance of barrister Aminul Islam, Shish Muhammad other ruling party men of the BNP-Jamaat alliance. So, the judgment is appropriate."
Additional PP Nurul Islam said, "Minister Aminul was responsible for the district and its law and order. He came to learn about the rise and criminal activities of the JMB through various newspaper and media reports. But, he did not take any action against the criminals.
"Aminul's silence [about the militants' activities] corroborated the depositions of witnesses and it is proved that he was one of the abettors and conspirators," he said, adding, "Aminul and other politicians directly and indirectly financed and patronised the JMB and they instigated the militants to collect tolls for their smooth operation."
The additional PP said four prosecution witnesses told the court that they saw the militants talking with former minister Aminul over mobile phone and that the militants boasted before them of having links with the minister and his men.
Lawyers Hamidul Haque, Mansur Rahman, Ankur Sen and Abul Kalam moved for the defence. They said the case was false and filed with an ulterior motive to harass personal and political rivals taking advantage of the changed political atmosphere.
They said the prosecution side did not come up with enough witnesses and evidence. Moreover, they could not show any material evidence against the accused persons.
88 others including his relatives also jailed
A Natore court yesterday sentenced former deputy minister for land Ruhul Kuddus Talukdar Dulu to eight years in prison for guiding and abetting arson and damage of houses at three villages in Naldanga upazila in 2004.
The Court of Additional District Magistrate (ADM) also sentenced Dulu's cousin Atikur Rahman to eight years in jail and 87 others including his brothers, cousins and nephews to rigorous imprisonment for seven years.
It fined all the convicts Tk 10,000 each, and in default ordered them to suffer one year more in jail.
The judgement delivered by ADM Rawnak Mahmud in presence of Dulu is the first in 22 cases filed against him and also the first one in the country by a magistrate's court punishing a former minister.
The convicts include Dulu's brothers Nabi Talukdar, Anisur Rahman Talukdar, Mujibar Rahman Talukdar, Rafik Talukdar, cousins Nurunnabi Talukdar, Abidur Rahman, Mujibar Rahman nephews Rentu, Belal, Helal, Bulbul, Dalim, Dollar, nephew-in-law Rahim Newaz and Natore municipal ward commissioners Sadrul Huda Dambel, Sohag and Nasim Khan.
The other convicts include former president of Jatiyatadi Chhatra Dal (JCD) Natore unit Dewan Shahin, secretary Mostafizur Rahman Shahin, BNP workers Mintu, Ratan, Hazrat, Shafi 'gunman', Shanti Mastar, Mamun, Razzak, Kuddus, Alamgir, Hafizul, Majibur, Azizul, Jalal, Aziz, Rahim Bux, Golap, Kalu, Kausar, Tofazzal 'Rajakar' and Saiful.
The court acquitted five accused in the case including district Jubo Dal General Secretary Babul Chowdhury, Rupchand, Mohsin, Majnu and Jubayer.
ADM Rawnak Mahmud read out order portion of the 53-page judgement amid tight security and in presence of 28 of the 94 accused including Dulu.
In the verdict, Dulu and Atikur were sentenced to five years in prison for arson, one year for causing damage and for looting, one year for rioting with deadly weapons and one year for directly guiding and abetting the crimes.
The other accused were given five years' jail term for arson, one year for damage and for looting, and one year for rioting with deadly weapons.
Jatiya Chhatra Samaj Natore district unit President Asaduzzaman Shah had filed the case with Naldanga police station (PS) on February 25 accusing 105 people.
On May 3, Officer-in-Charge of Naldanga PS Arman Hossain submitted two charge sheets -- one for arson and looting and another under explosives act-- accusing 94 people.
Later, the charge sheets were sent to the ADM's court and the district judge's court. Charges were framed at the ADM's court on June 27.
According to charges, accused persons launched a series of attacks in Ramsa Kazipur (Dulu's home village), Shahpara and Amtali Bazar villages following Dulu's (then state minister) orders for retaliating the murder of his nephew Sabbir Ahmed Gama on February 7 in 2004.
Dulu rushed to the village following the murder and started torching Asaduzzaman's house. He carried gunpowder in government vehicle and himself supplied it to the arsonists.
In a couple of days, some 37 houses and shops were torched by using gunpowder and belongings were looted and damaged.
Dulu's armed cadres unleashed a reign of terror in the areas exploding bombs and firing shots, the charges said.
Complainant Asaduzzaman expressed his joy over the judgement. "When the incident occurred, I believed my life is also threatened. And I thought I would not get justice ever."
He said all the affected people are somehow linked with the Awami League and, Dulu acted against them with a political motive. "Dulu tried to progress and sustain in politics by killing his rivals".
Public Prosecutor Abdul Kader and assistant PP Shamsul Haq Bhuiyan expressed satisfaction at the verdict. Depositions of all the 26 witnesses corroborated each other and proved allegations against the accused without any doubt, they said.
Defence lawyers Shakhawat Hossain and Mozammel Hossain said they would appeal to higher court against the verdict. Most of the witnesses are relatives of the complainant and they have political rivalry with Dulu, the lawyers said.
Moreover, the complainant and witnesses are convicts in Gama murder case. So, they made false depositions, the defence said.
With nine bolts and a stainless-steel rod inside his legs and all fingers broken and permanently bent, Fazlur Rahman still suffers the pain but the justice he received yesterday gave him some compensation.
"I thank God as I was able to see justice delivered in my life time," Fazlur Rahman, the plaintiff of the case filed against former BNP minister Aminul Haque and others told The Daily Star over telephone yesterday after the verdict of the case was delivered.
"Even though most of the JMB [Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh] kingpins were hanged and their masterminds put in jail, I still cannot go to my village as their followers remain," said Fazlur, a JMB torture victim. He now lives at his in-law's house in Bogra.
"The militants have handicapped me, not only physically but also financially as I had to either sell or lease out all my properties for my treatment," he added. "Still, I cannot sleep properly due to pains in my body," he said adding that he needs more money for treatment. Fazlur, a farmer from Baghmara, took treatment for almost two years after JMB second-in-command Siddiqul Islam Bangla Bhai and his men tortured him.
Fazlur lodged the case on March 30 this year with Baghmara Police Station, Rajshahi. Sub-inspector Mukhtar Hossain submitted the charge sheet of the case on April 23 accusing 27 people including former BNP minister Aminul Haque and the verdict of the case was delivered yesterday. Fazlur said he filed the case of his own accord hoping to get justice as he was encouraged by the deeds of the present caretaker government.
A Rajshahi court yesterday handed down the jail sentence of 31 years and six months to 25 people including BNP leader and former minister Barrister Aminul Haque for financing and abetting JMB militants. The second court of Additional Sessions Judge also fined each of the convicts Tk 25,000, in default, they would have to suffer three more years behind bars.
Bangla Bhai himself and Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB) militants kidnapped him on April 20, 2004 and took him to their torture camp, set up at the Hamir Kechchha house of Ramzan Kaya, who the locals claim to be a Liberation War collaborator.
Fazlur, in an interview with The Daily Star earlier, said, "Armed with machetes, iron rods, bamboos and hockey sticks, 20 JMB thugs led by Siddiqul Islam Bangla Bhai picked me up at Hasanpur."
Only three weeks earlier, Bangla Bhai started his operation publicly and set up a camp in Baghmara under the banner of JMJB.
"I was going to the Union Health Centre in my village along with my wife and three daughters. They showed up on motorbikes and took me to the house of Ramzan Kaya at Hamir Kechchha and locked me inside a room," he said.
A number of men of Bangla Bhai got Fazlur out of the house and asked him if he knew them. "You are a Sarbohara [member of an outlawed party]. Where is your arms and ammunition?" he quoted Bangla Bhai as saying. "I am just a poor farmer. I never worked for any underground party," he told Bangla Bhai.
As he kept denying he was a Sarbohara, he was asked to pay a ransom of Tk 2 lakh.
Being refused the ransom, Bangla Bhai started beating him. As other armed zealots joined in. He soon fainted, he told The Daily Star during the interview.
His wife Jotsna Begum recovered him later by a pond next to the camp and took him to hospital. He was later moved to Rajshahi Medical College Hospital and Bangladesh Rehabilitation Centre for Trauma (BRCT) in Dhaka.
Barrister Aminul Haque, ex-BNP minister sentenced to a 31-year term yesterday, not only blatantly patronised Islamist militants using the police and administration during the BNP-Jamaat-led coalition government but also barred local authorities in Rajshahi to take action against the militants in 2004-05.
Since the open rise of Bangla Bhai-led militant organisation Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) in northern Rajshahi in 2004, The Daily Star in its continuous investigation in the past few years has revealed Aminul's role from the forefront as one of the key patrons of the militants.
Aminul, also former lawmaker of Rjshahi-1 constituency, and Ruhul Kuddus Talukder Dulu, former lawmaker of Natore-2 and former deputy minister for land, jointly patronised the JMB in the region.
Dulu was sentenced to eight years imprisonment yesterday in an arson case.
Dulu and Aminul also talked Rajshahi Mayor Mizanur Rahman Minu, fellow MPs Nadim Mostafa of Rajshahi-4 and Alamgir Kabir of Naogaon-6 into their JMB game.
The militant patrons made it mandatory for all to send public and private jeeps, cars, microbuses and motorcycles to the processions of Siddiqul Islam alias Bangla Bhai. Police cars would stay within 500-1000 yards of the operation area to back up Bangla Bhai and officers-in-charge of different police stations were also compelled to be there.
They personally controlled police officials including superintendents of police in Rajshahi, Naogaon and Natore for their political and personal interest and prevented those who took initiatives to stop militant activities in the region.
Even the then state minister for home Lutfozzaman Babar left the responsibility of the region's law and order with Aminul's personal whim.
Inspector General of Police (IGP) Nur Mohammad, who was deputy inspector general (DIG) in Rajshahi range in 2004, is one of the witnesses of Aminul's defiance of the existing legal and administrative systems to establish his control over the region.
The IGP told The Daily Star last month, "I talked to the home minister twice or thrice on this matter, but he kept on pushing me towards Aminul Haque. When I talked to district minister Aminul Haque, he said, 'Do not talk on this matter. You do not need to pursue this matter. This has come from the highest level. From the prime minister to Tarique Rahman, everyone knows about it.'
"I have told Aminul several times that you are the local minister and I am the DIG. I cannot allow this to go on. He asserted again saying this matter has the approval of the prime minister and Tarique Rahman," the IGP said.
Bangla Bhai swung into action in certain upazilas of Rajshahi, Naogaon and Natore after outlaws, popularly known as Sarbahara, killed four persons--relatives, close political aides and cadres of the patrons--in five months from November 2003.
In November 2003, operatives of the outlawed Purba Banglar Communist Party killed BNP's Bagmara upazila president Abdul Hamid Moru in Rajshahi city. Gunmen killed Dulu's nephew Sabbir Ahmed Gamma in Natore's Naldanga upazila in February 2004.
Under cover of outlaw cleansing, the BNP bigwigs in the North actually intended to stamp their political supremacy over Rajshahi, Natore and Naogaon regions. They effectively used the militants to destroy their political opponents, ensuring BNP's dominance in the long run.
Following the execution of six JMB militants including Abdur Rahman and Bangla Bhai, a few victims of Bangla Bhai had filed several cases since March this year, accusing Aminul, Dulu, Nadim and many other JMB goons.
The case against Aminul was the first to have been disposed of as its verdict was given yesterday while other cases are awaiting disposal.
Among the JMB patrons four are now in different jails in different cases. They are Tarique Rahman, Babar, Dulu and Minu.
Charges have been pressed against Rajshahi City Corporation (RCC) Mayor and former BNP lawmaker Mizanur Rahman Minu and ten others in an extortion case on July 26.
Police submitted the charge sheet to the Court of Additional District and Sessions Judge AS Sheikh Zahirul Haque yesterday.
The case was filed by Shamsul Alam Khan, a member of the managing committee of Evergreen Model School and College in the city, with Rajpara Police Station on April 21.
In the case, the complainant alleged that Mayor Minu and his ten associates demanded Tk 4 lakh in toll from him.
The joint forces arrested Minu on June 1 in connection with the case. Later, he was produced before the court that sent him to jail on a three-month detention.
District BNP Vice-President Nazrul Huda and former general secretary of BNP city unit Shafiqul Haq Milon are among the accused.