DHAKA: A special court in Bangladesh today handed death penalty to 14 people, including Jamaat-e-Islami leader and two former ministers on charges of smuggling weapons to a rebel group in neighboring India.
Among those convicted and sentenced to death by a court in Chittagong was Matiur Rahman Nizami, head of opposition Jamaat-e-Islami and the former industries minister in the 2001-2006 Cabinet of then-Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.
Nizami has been under arrest. He is also facing separate charges of crimes against humanity stemming from the country’s independence war in 1971.
Former directors general of the National Security Intelligence retired major general Rezzakul Haider Chowdhury and retired brigadier general Abdur Rahim, former NSI directors retired wing commander Shahabuddin Ahmed and retired major Liakat Hossain and field officer Akbar Hossain, former managing director of the Chittagong Urea Fertiliser Limited Mohshin Talukder and its former general manager AKM Enamul Haque and former Industries Secretary Nurul Amin were among the newly implicated persons.
The court also awarded death penalty to Paresh Barua , military commander of Indian separatist group United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) which was allegedly going to receive the arms.
Of the 11 Paresh Barua and Nurul Amin have been on the run while the rest are behind bars.
Security officials had seized a huge cache of arms and military equipment in April 2004 when they were being unloaded from fishing boats. According to case documents, the weapons and ammunition were destined for a rebel group active in Indian state of Assam.
The insurgents led by ULFA had fought for greater autonomy for their ethnic groups in Assam state before signing a cease-fire with the Indian government in 2011.
Four accused Monir Ahammad, Yiakub Ali, Hazi Mohammad Ataur Rahman and Abul Kashem Modhu had been dropped from the charge sheet as they died earlier.
12 accused including ULFA leader Paresh Barua and Industries Secretary Nurul Amin are on the run in the arms case. 13 accused are on the run in the smuggling case. Of them 12 were also accused in the arms case.
In the arms case, 27 accused are on bail and 11 are behind bars while 28 are on bail in the smuggling case and 11 are in jail.
The court of Chittagong Metropolitan Special Tribunal-1 SM Mujibur Rahman framed the charges against the accused in both cases on November 15, 2009 while the trial started on November 29 in 2011.
A total of 38 accused were examined under section 342 of Criminal procedure Code (CrPC) while 53 prosecution witnesses in the smuggling case and 56 in the arms case were testified.
“The verdict has been delivered on receiving permission from High Court division,” Judge SM Mojibur Rahman of the Chittagong Metropolitan Special Tribunal-1, said.
The other condemned convicts are: ex-NSI field officer Akbar Hossain Khan, former CUFL general manager (admin) Enamul Hoque, ex-managing director of CUFL Mohsin Talukder, former NSI director Wing Commander (retd) Shahab Uddin, smuggler and prime accused Hafizur Rahman, Abdus Sobhan and Deen Islam.
The huge cache of arms and ammunition which included 4,930 sophisticated firearms of different types, 840 rocket launchers, 300 rockets, 27,020 grenades, 2,000 grenade-launching tubes, 6,392 magazines and 11.41 million bullets were recovered on April 2, 2004 at the jetty of Chittagong Urea Fertiliser Ltd (CUFL).
Local media had reported that the smuggled weapons and ammunition, which also included more than 27,000 grenades, 300 rockets and 840 rocket launchers, came from Hong Kong via Singapore on a ship. The consignment was caught by police who intercepted it when the equipment was being loaded on 10 trucks.
Defense lawyer Mofizul Haque Bhuiyan said he would appeal the ruling, which he criticized as politically motivated.
Ashok Das, a prosecution lawyer, said the ruling proves that those found guilty used the Bangladesh territory to smuggle military equipment, which was meant to be used by rebels against India.
Ahead of the verdict, security was beefed up in the port city, especially in and around the court building, which is roughly 10 kilometres away from the CUFL jetty on the Karnaphuli river where the seizure was made in 2004.
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