Trouble mounts on Bangladesh opposition as court lists 2004 arms haul case for hearing

The Bangladesh’s high court bench will hear an appeal in the 2004 arms haul case on October 18, adding to the troubles of the country’s Opposition – the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its ally, the Jamaat-e-Islami.

These weapons were allegedly brought from China for the Assam separatist organization, ULFA. Two of the convicts are dead.

Top functionaries of the BNP-JAMAAT government, including two ministers, were found involved and later convicted for involvement in the sensational case.

In Bangladesh, if a lower court sentences a person to death, the judgment is examined by the high court.

The case documents and judgment have reached the high court while several convicts in the case have filed separate appeals with the court challenging the earlier verdict against them.

On January 16, the death reference and appeal of the accused sentenced to death were listed on the High Court’s agenda.

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In April 2004, when the BNP-Jamaat coalition was in power in the country, a huge consignment of arms was seized from the CUFL Ghat in the port city of Chittagong.

Ten trucks were lined up to carry the consignment. Following the recovery, two cases were filed with the police in Karnaphuli under the Arms Act and the Special Powers Act.

On January 30, 2014, the Chattogram Metropolitan Sessions Judge Court and Special Tribunal-1 Judge SM Mojibur Rahman sentenced 14 people, including two ministers of the BNP-JAMAAT coalition, to death under the Special Powers Act. Under the Arms Act, the 14 were sentenced to life imprisonment.

On February 4, 2014, the 514-page verdict in the two cases was published.

Two of the convicts, Jamaat Amir and former agriculture minister Motiur Rahman Nizami, walked to the gallows when convicted in the 1971 war crimes trials for atrocities against Bengalis in collaboration with the Pakistan Army. Another convict – a former top intelligence official, Abdur Rahim – died of Covid-19. The chief of a military wing, Paresh Barua, also convicted in the case, has not appealed.

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Interestingly, on Wednesday, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sharma credited the current Bangladesh premier and Awami League Chief, Sheikh Hasina, for taking adequate steps that helped curb militancy and terrorism in Assam.

Lauding the prime minister’s efforts, Sarma said the crackdown by the Bangladesh government on the insurgent group United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) inside the country has “tremendously helped Assam”.

The appeal will turn the focus back on the active patronage to gunrunning and terrorism during the BNP-JAMAAT rule between 2001 and 2006.

Since the Chittagong arms seizure was followed by the deadly grenade attack on an Awami League rally within four months – an attack that nearly killed Sheikh Hasina, it exposed the unholy alliance Tarique Rahman held with the pro-Pak Jamaat party to destroy the secular polity of the country.

It will also turn the lights on to the BNP’s de-facto chief, Tarique Rahman, who has been living in London for over a decade to evade punishment after conviction in the 2004 grenade attack on Sheikh Hasina’s rally that killed almost 30 Awami League leaders and activists. Those appealing the death sentence, including former junior home minister Lutfor Zaman Babar, were close confidantes of Tarique who enjoyed a close relationship with Pakistan’s spy agency ISI.

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