The trial of the February 25-26 mutinies by soldiers at different sectors of the Bangladesh Rifles begins today with a special court at the Rangamati sector headquarters opening the proceedings. The trial will be conducted under the Bangladesh Rifles Order 1972 and the BDR director general, major general Mainul Islam will chair the three-member special court.
The two others on the special court are lieutenant colonel Abdur Rauf and major Mostafa. They are officers deputed to the border guards from the army. Deputy attorney general Mohmmad Sohrawardi will assist the special court as the attorney general’s representative. This is the fourth of the six special courts formed under the order on November 15 for the trial of the BDR soldiers facing charges of mutiny.
Special Court 1 was formed for the mutinies in Khulna, Rajshahi and Kushtia sectors, Special Court 2 for Dinajpur and Rangpur sectors, Special Court 3 for Sylhet, Comilla and Mymensingh sectors, Special Court 4 for Chittagong, Rangamati and Khagrachari sectors and Special Court 5 for Dhaka sector. The courts will also hold trial of the mutinies in other battalions and installations under the sectors concerned. Special Court 6 will hold trial of the mutinies at the BDR headquarters in Dhaka, other installations under the headquarters, signal sector, Sadar Rifles Battalion, BDR Hospital and the Rifles Security Unit.
Briefing reporters at the border guards’ headquarters in Dhaka on Monday, BDR deputy director general, brigadier general Obaidul Huq said all were set for starting the trial of the mutiny by the Special Court 4 in Rangamati. He, however, refused to give the number of the accused BDR soldiers to be produced in the court. Five BDR personnel of the 12th battalion now in Rangamati jail – habildars Sabbir Ahmed, Sohrab Hossain and Shamsul Haque and soldiers Abul Kalam Azad and Abdur Rahman – will be produced in the Special Court 4 on the first day of its proceedings to face the mutiny charges, said sources in the BDR.
A renowned national english daily New Age correspondent in Rangamati reports: The first day’s proceedings will begin at 3:00pm today and continue till sunset, the commander of Rangamati BDR sector, colonel Siddiqur Rahman, told New Age on Monday. According to Siddiqur Rahman, after the framing of the charges, the accused soldiers will get 27 days for self-defence. The accused soldiers, however, will need to argue in their own defence in the courts and they may take assistance of any officer of the paramilitary force or any lawyer, said the sector commander.
Rights groups Odhikar and Ain o Salish Kendra, however, said the accused BDR rebels would be denied justice unless they were allowed to defend themselves by lawyers of their choice.
Article 10(A)(3) of the Bangladesh Rifles Order 1972 says, ‘A subordinate officer or a rifleman or signalman, accused of an offence under this order, shall have the right to conduct his own defence or to have the assistance of any officer of the force or of any legal practitioner of his own choice.’ The rights watchdogs, in separate statements on October 22, viewed that lawyers were not debarred by the article from placing arguments in the special court in defence of their clients. ‘Taking assistance of a legal practitioner means the lawyer appointed by an accused will argue in his defence,’ Odhikar’s general secretary Adilur Rahman Khan, also a Supreme Court lawyer, told New Age on Monday. He also said that the trial proceedings must be held in public in an open court, especially in presence of journalists.
Three cases were lodged with the Langadu, Baghaichhari and Barkal police following the February 25-26 BDR rebellion. In the cases, five BDR soldiers of 12 battallion were sued in Langadu, 16 were sued in Baghaichhari and 11 in Barkal. In the first day’s proceedings, the five accused soldiers will be produced today in the court in the Langadu case. Seventy-four persons, including 57 army officials, were killed in the BDR headquarters in Dhaka during the February 25-26 rebellion. The six special courts, formed on November 15, will, however, try the BDR soldiers on mutiny charges only.
BDR personnel and civilians against whom charges of other criminal offences such as killing and looting have been brought, will, however, be tried by a speedy trial tribunal under the Penal Code. Their trial in the tribunal will begin after charges are pressed in the case. An inter-ministerial meeting on September 15 decided to conduct trial of the BDR rebellion under the Bangladesh Rifles Order and the trial of other criminal offences committed during the rebellion under the speedy trial tribunal under the Penal Code.
The government came up with the decision on the law and the mode of the trial of the cases in line with the observations made by the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in its reply to the presidential reference on the issue, the law minister, Shafique Ahmed, had told reporters after the meeting. In its reply to the reference, the Appellate Division categorically said the BDR rebellion cases could not be tried under the Army Act and not even by issuing a notification under Section 5 of the act applying it to the Bangladesh Rifles with a retrospective effect.
The Criminal Investigation Department is investigating the BDR rebellion case filed on March 1 with the Lalbagh police on charges of criminal offences committed during the rebellion. The case was later transferred to the New Market police and the CID took charge of the investigation. The CID recorded the statements of 6,250 people, including 125 members of the families of army officers residing inside the BDR headquarters and 430 civilians residing in the neighbourhood. About 310 members on the BDR staff, 25 firemen and 700 law enforcers, including policemen, army men and others who worked inside the BDR headquarters after the rebellion, were also interviewed.
The CID interrogated more than 1,600 BDR soldiers and 27 civilians after the court had remanded them in CID custody. The court has so far recorded the statements of about 400 BDR soldiers and 27 civilians. Unnatural deaths of at least 39 BDR soldiers in custody in Dhaka and elsewhere have been reported since the rebellion. The government formed a committee on May 14 with a deputy secretary of the home ministry to investigate the unnatural death of the BDR soldiers. Four months have already elapsed without much headway in the investigation of the incidents of unnatural death of BDR soldiers in custody while the committee has sought two more months to complete the task.