Another case had been started under the Explosives Act over the massacre inside the border guards’ headquarters in the capital’s Peelkhana in 2009 but that too has been lingering in the judicial court.
The mutiny within the now-defunct Bangladesh Rifles led to the killings of more than 50 army personnel.
The High Court had upheld the death sentence of 139 convicts and life imprisonment of 185 convicts given in 2017 by the judicial court. Other 228 convicts were sentenced to jail for different terms.
An internal trial was conducted by the force through which, 6,000 soldiers were jailed. Later, a general court began trial proceedings over the massacre.
A Dhaka judge’s court subsequently handed down death sentences to 152 of the accused and life imprisonment to 160 others. Another 256 accused were fined and given jail terms in 2013. As many as 277 people were also acquitted by the court.
The High Court upheld the death sentence of 139 accused in 2017. It also sentenced 185 to life imprisonment, while another 228 were handed different jail terms.
As many as 48 appeals and “leaves to appeal” have been filed to the Supreme Court on behalf of 203 convicts until now.
On the other hand, the state has filed 20 “leaves to appeal” seeking capital punishment for 83 convicts, who were either acquitted or whose punishments were scaled down to life imprisonment from death by the High Court.
Altogether, 71 appeals and ‘leaves to appeal’ have been filed with the Supreme Court by both plaintiffs and defendants.
The state will apply for hearings, once all the pending appeals are filed, said Attorney General AM Amin Uddin. He hopes that the hearings will start towards the end of 2021.
Defence lawyer Md Aminul Islam, however, believes the hearings will not start this year.
The border guard force, formerly known as Bangladesh Rifles, faced a mutiny in February 2009. A total of 57 army officers were killed by the disgruntled soldiers on Feb 25 at the BDR Headquarters in Peelkhana.
The bloody revolt claimed 74 lives in all and had spread beyond Dhaka. Under the circumstances, the border guard force was renamed as Border Guard Bangladesh or BGB.
In its verdict in 2017, the High Court said the incident was a plot hatched by a certain quarter in order to destabilise the state and its socioeconomic security. Also, it was a conspiracy to annihilate a skilled and well-trained armed force.
The full verdict of the High Court was published on Jan 8, 2020. But the appeal hearing is being delayed for different reasons, including the costs and process of collecting the copy of 29,059-page verdict, preparing the appeal paper-book and timing of the final trial, according to lawyers involved in the case.
They have filed 20 leaves to appeal as of Dec 24 last year, seeking capital punishment for 75 people acquitted by the High Court and the elevation of the punishment for eight people who were given life imprisonment instead of death sentence, Attorney General Amin told bdnews24.com.
"We had to spend Tk 2.7 million to file these 20 appeals. I believe it is the biggest criminal appeal in the history of the Supreme Court.”
The appeals, which included copies of the lower and High Court verdicts, FIRs and charge-sheets, consisted of around 50,000 pages, the attorney general said.
“The trial will be held at the regular Supreme Court bench,” he said when asked if the state will request a special bench to conduct the trial.
“According to the Supreme Court rules, one must appeal to the Chamber Court to set the trial date and we’ll go for it when all the appeals are filed.”
“We hope that the Appellate Division will uphold the High Court’s verdict. In some cases, we felt the High Court verdicts need to be changed and we’ll show those. That’s why we appealed,” he added.
Aminul, on the other hand, said the defence team spent Tk 1.9 million to file the first appeal on behalf of nine convicts.
According to the Supreme Court’s procedural law, an advocate-on-record is a lawyer authorised to appeal to the court on behalf of any party.
“After filing the appeal, we applied to the chief justice through an advocate-on-record, seeking permission to use the first appeal along with the paper-book for the other convicts. The chief justice has granted us the permission and we subsequently filed an appeal.”
The convicts whose death sentences were upheld by the High Court as well as those who have had their punishment reduced to life imprisonment can directly appeal to the Appellate Division, the lawyer said.
But those who had their life imprisonment sentence upheld by the High Court cannot directly appeal the decision. They must first file a ‘leave to appeal’ and once that is granted, they can file the appeal.
The 48 appeals filed on behalf of 203 convicts include 30 direct appeals and 18 leaves to appeal.
After the filing of the first appeal, each of the subsequent 47 appeals and leaves to appeal cost around Tk 25,000, said Aminul.
According to the Supreme Court’s rules, an appeal should be filed within 30 days of collecting the copy of the High Court verdict. That deadline expired a long time ago.
The Supreme Court law stipulates that an appeal has to be filed within 30 days of collecting the certified copy of the High Court’s verdict. But the deadline passed a long time ago.
Asked if those who missed the deadline can seek recourse now, Aminul said they can either file an appeal or seek leave to appeal with a petition to pardon the delay.
“Both parties must submit the summary of each appeal for the hearing. This is applicable for those whose leave to appeal has been accepted by the court. Under the present reality, I believe the hearing cannot begin this year,” Aminul said.
FAMILIES AWAIT JUSTICE
Saquib Rahman, son of Col Quadrat Elahi Rahman Shafique, was 18 years old and on the Savar campus of Brac University when his father was killed in the mutiny.
Suaqib’s mother Lobbi Rahman, a culinary expert, hosts a TV show on cooking.
“My mother appears happy on TV, but I’ve seen her pain at home,” said Suaqib visiting the grave of his father and other BDR mutiny victims at the Military Graveyard in Banani on Thursday.
He sounded his frustration at the long wait for the execution of the verdict in the Peelkhana murder case.
He demanded the formation of a committee for judicial enquiry into the mutiny to find out the masterminds.
“The court proceedings are going ahead as usual. It will see whether there were murders or not, but the motive behind the killings will not be known without investigation,” Suaqib explained.
Col Quadrat’s 83-year-old father Habibur Rahman, who retired as a public servant 25 years ago, said he can offer no answer when people ask him whether he got justice 12 years after the killing of his son.
“Now I am waiting for the judgment of Allah,” he said.
Col Quadrat had joined the border force as the sector commander in Dinajpur only one and a half months before the mutiny.
“We don’t know why my son was killed. We never imagined Quadrat would die in this manner,” Habibur said.
Many other families of the victims came to the graveyard to offer special prayers or recite the Quran.