Al Jazeera’s investigative documentary, “All the prime minister’s men” broadcast on February 1st has focused attention on the original trial that resulted in the conviction of Joseph, Haris and Anis for murder — the three brothers of the current Chief of Army Staff, Aziz Ahmed.
Mostafizur Rahman Mostafa, the murdered man, was shot on May 7th 1996 and taken to Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) with bullet wounds. He had an operation and was kept in intensive care. Eight days after he was shot, he was well enough to give a statement to a magistrate, Martuza Ahmed. This stated:
My name is Mostafizur Rahman. Joseph, Haris, Anis, Masum have shot me. Asim and Kabil were with them and I will recognise the 5/7 others who were with them if I saw them. This incident took place in front of my elder brother Shahjahan’s house. This happened around 2:30 in the afternoon. Haris shot me with a licenced gun. Masum shot me in the leg with a five star pistol. I fell down. Joseph took the pistol from my waist and shot me in the stomach with it. The others also had pistols in their hands and they shot at random. Shahdeen and Bahar were with me. They were also shot at. Shahdeen was hit but Bahar was not. This took place in 4/8, Block A, east of Lalmatia Press. I was shot 9 times.
Two weeks after the shorting on 20 May, Mostafa died . His wife had already filed a First Information Report with the police the day after the incident, naming the three Ahmed brothers and a number of other men as responsible for the killing, and following the police investigation, a charge sheet was submitted to the court on October 8th 1996 against five people including Joseph, Haris, and Anis. Another person was subsequently added to the charge sheet resulting in a total of six men on trial. Joseph and Anis had been arrested soon after the murder, but Haris went on the run and became a fugitive.
The trial commenced in the 8th court of the Additional Sessions Judge, and charges were framed against the men in July 1997. At some point, Anis obtained bail from the court.
The prosecution had 22 witnesses in support of its case, including two who were present at the time of the murder. One was Swadin Kumar Majumdar who was with Mostafa, the murder victim, when the shooting took place. He said that he was in Block A of Lalmatia when he happened to see Mostafa and a friend of his, Rafiqul Islam alias Bahar, travelling in a baby-taxi. He waved the vehicle down and the two men got out and as they were chatting, they were encircled by a group of men who then shot at them. Majumdar named the accused, including the three Ahmed brothers.
The other direct witness was Bahar himself who had travelled to the area with Mostafa. He also describes how they were encircled and shot at by the accused men whom he named. Another important witness was Habibur Rahman Mizan, the brother of Mostafa, who said that he heard about the shooting of his brother from Bahar and the following day met up with Majumdar who told him what had happened including the involvement of the three Ahmed brothers.
In their defence, Joseph and Anis made the following arguments: Mostafa, the murdered man, was an activist of the Dhaka city unit of the Freedom Party and was also linked to the Sarbahara Party (a revolutionary leftist party) from his home district. They argued that on the date in question, there was a quarrel involving Mostafa, Swadhin and others about extorted money during which there was an exchange of fire resulting in both men receiving bullet wounds. They argued that since there were criminal cases against Mostafa, he was first given treatment in a private clinic until his condition became worse, when he was admitted to DMCH.
The Ahmed brothers also claimed that they were being implicated in the murder due to political rivalry as Anis had competed against a man called Moqbul Hossain to become the Awami League candidate in the next parliamentary election. They argued that Hossain was a close friend of Habibur Rahman Mizan, the eldest brother of Mostafa, the murdered man, who was then an Awami League ward commissioner in the area and that it was at the behest of Hossain, that Mizan was implicating Anis and his brothers in the murder.
In their testimony Habibur Rahman Mizan and Rashida Parveen, the brother and wife of Mostafa, denied that he was linked to the Freedom Party. Mizan also denied there was any enmity between the two families and claimed that he did not know Anis had sought an Awami League nomination. He however did admit that the police had previously detained his brother Mostafa in relation to terrorist and extortion allegations.
On May 25th 2004, the trial judge convicted all the men — imposing a death sentence on Joseph and life sentences on Anis and Haris.
Subsequently Joseph and Anis appealed to the High Court — with Joseph writing a personal letter to the judges pleading his innocence. In it Joseph said:
I am letting you know that I am a law abiding citizen and a member of society. I was a second year B.Com (commerce) student of Dhaka Ideal College. I knew nothing about the incident mentioned in the case. One night, at around 10-11 pm, I was going to Gazipur from Dhanmondi in a private car. The Officer in charge of Dhanmondi Thana followed my car and just before Tongi bridge, he arrested me. Later on, driven by political motivation, they involved me in an arms case in Uttara thana. Later they took me to the DB office and tortured me and asked Tk3 lakh from me. When I couldn’t come up with that sum, they included my name in the murder case of Mirpur Thana Freedom party coordinator Mostafa who himself was accused in many extortion and murder cases. It was the case-18(5)96, date-8-5-96. Since I was the President of Mohammadpur Thana Chhatra League, [AL student wing] police connected me with that case to harass me. The Speedy Tribunal-3, without taking any statement from the neutral witnesses or analyzing or scrutinizing the statements given by the DW witnesses or taking the statements of the Dhaka Medical College doctor’s into consideration gave that verdict.
After reviewing the evidence, in September 2007, the judges AKM Fazlur Rahman and Quamrul Islam Siddiqui dismissed the appeals and upheld their sentences.
Anis Ahmed at this point failed to hand himself into the court and absconded.
Joseph, who had received a death sentence, then appealed to the appellate division where Justice Sinha, then chief justice, in a December 2015 decision, reduced his sentence from the death penalty to life imprisonment on the basis that although there was evidence beyond doubt that he was “the main architect behind the killing of the deceased”, the shooting was not a “primary” cause of the death.
In May 2018, Joseph was pardoned by the President of Bangladesh, who alone holds the constitutional authority to pardon a convict after all judicial processes have been exhausted.
Police placed Haris on Interpol’s list of Red Notice alerts of wanted men, though in 2020, it was removed. Haris remains on the Bangladesh police list of most wanted men. He and Anis remain fugitives.●