Peelkhana carnage: Wait for justice lingers 15 years on

A murder case is pending an appeal hearing at the Appellate Division, while the explosives case is still in the testimony phase

Published : 25 Feb 2024, 07:47 AM
Updated : 25 Feb 2024, 07:47 AM

Fifteen years after the bloody mutiny at the border guards' headquarters in Peelkhana, the trial process relating to the carnage remains unfinished.

Two cases, one involving murder charges and another under the Explosive Substances Act, are awaiting a final resolution. The murder case is pending an appeal hearing at the Appellate Division, while the explosives case is still in the testimony phase in the trial court.

The timeline for the conclusion of both cases is shrouded in uncertainty. Attorney General AM Amin Uddin highlighted the complexity of the cases, given the large number of accused and witnesses involved.

He said the appeal hearing might take several months and a separate bench of the Appellate Division, which could be established soon, to start the process.

The state's chief law officer is hopeful that the appeal hearing will begin within this year.

The murder trial, involving 850 accused, ended on Nov 5, 2013. The court handed down 152 death sentences, 160 life sentences, and various other jail terms to 256 people. Additionally, 278 people were acquitted.

The High Court ruled on the death references and appeals on Nov 27, 2017. It confirmed the death sentences for 139 accused, sentenced 185 to life in prison, and handed down various sentences to another 228, while acquitting 283.

Before the High Court's verdict, 54 accused, including 15, had died. Afterwards, 226 accused filed appeals and petitions for leave to appeal against the verdict. Similarly, the state appealed against the acquittal of 83 accused and sought sentence revisions. These appeals are currently pending.

Meanwhile, the trial of 834 accused in the Explosives Act case started in 2010 but stalled midway through as the state turned its focus to shoring up evidence for the murder case.

The explosives case is being heard by Dhaka's Metropolitan Special Tribunal No.1. Acting Judge Faisal Atiq Bin Quader had been conducting the trial at a makeshift court in Bakshibazar.

Of the 1,345 witnesses called by the prosecution, 273 have given their testimony so far.

Mosharraf Hossain Kajol, representing the state, said the court is currently conducting hearings four days each month.

"We are nearing the completion of testimonies from magistrates who recorded the defendants' statements. Next, we will hear from the individual who prepared the post-mortem report and from members of the victims' families."

Another state lawyer, Tapas Pal, added that the new judge, Mohammad As-Shams Jaglul Hossain, is scheduled to record testimonies in the explosive case on Feb 28 and 29.

On Feb 25, 2009, the nation was shaken by a mutiny that started at the headquarters of the now defunct Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) in Peelkhana.

By the time it came to an end the next day, 74 people, including 57 army officers, were killed. The mutiny had also spread to other BDR camps across the country but no killing was reported outside Dhaka.

The incident drew international concern and marked a dark chapter in the country's history.

After the bloody uprising, the paramilitary force was revamped and its name was changed to Border Guard Bangladesh.

While the trial for the mutiny itself was conducted by a BDR court, the murder case was tried in a conventional court.

In total, 468 BDR members have been acquitted or released in relation to the murder and Explosives Act cases.

There have been complaints from the defendants regarding the state's handling of the case, suggesting that delays in the trial are due to inaction by the prosecution.

However, Special Public Prosecutor Mosharraf Hossain Kajol refuted such claims. "The trial is progressing rapidly. The accusations from the accused are unfounded."

Addressing the murder case, AG Amin Uddin said that an Appellate Division bench consisting of four judges would be necessary to hear the appeal against the High Court's ruling.

"The trial will take time and could affect other Appellate Division cases. If a separate bench is formed with the appointment of new judges to exclusively hear this case, it could expedite the process. The decision rests with the chief justice."