President Ziaur Rahman was assassinated in Chittagong on May 30, 1981. Two days later General Manzur was assassinated. The facts related to the planned murder of Manzur show how the main military leaders of the time desperately tried to bury the truth behind Zia’s murder and how it helped them take power. Manzur was the unsuspecting victim of their duplicity, which has become evident from the testimony of witnesses and defendants and some authoritative books on the murder.
All these years since June 1981, justice for Manzur and his family has remained elusive.
As adjutant general of the Bangladesh Army, Major General Moinul Hossain Chowdhury was empowered to oversee the entire court martial against those accused of the murder and mutiny of Ziaur Rahman.
But he was neither informed nor involved in this process. This was a blatant violation of the Army Law, which had authorized him to consider matters relating to discipline, court of inquiry and court martial in the military.
General Moin had previously refused to sign the order of the office for the formation of the army’s court of inquiry into the assassination. He refused to do so because his proposal to find out the reasons for the officers’ mutiny was not included in the mandate of the court of inquiry.
Ershad, however, ignored Moin’s refusal and signed the order himself.
For this, Moin, a veteran freedom fighter, had to face unpleasant consequences. He was monitored 24 hours a day by the intelligence services. His phone was continually tapped.
Annoyed by such surveillance, Moin informed Army chief Ershad and DGFI Mohabbat chief Jan Chowdhury. But he got no cure. Both Ershad and Mohabbat Jan expressed their ignorance on this matter. Moin couldn’t believe they weren’t aware of the circumstances.
Thus, removing the adjutant general, the army authorities carried out all the formalities related to the court martial. A seven-member general campaign court martial, headed by Major General Abdur Rahman, who had been repatriated from Pakistan, was established. The majority of the tribunal’s members were repatriated officers.
The Home Office asked then-Chittagong deputy commissioner Ziauddin M Chowdhury to prepare rooms in the Chittagong District Prison to accommodate the court.
The order from the Interior Ministry surprised the deputy commissioner, who felt it was an unusual arrangement. A court martial is always held in the cantonment.
In this case, the military requested this unique arrangement because the arrested army officers were being held in the district prison. The Chittagong Civil Administration made the arrangements in accordance with the requirements of the military.
The general campaign court martial began on July 10, 1981 to try 33 army officers accused of the assassination of Zia and of organizing a mutiny on May 30, 1981. They had previously been charged with the offenses by a court of law. staged investigation dominated by officers previously repatriated from Pakistan.
The army headquarters, dominated by officers, including army chief Ershad, repatriated from Pakistan after the end of the country’s liberation war, was the general campaign court martial in a pre-planned manner. to punish the accused. The general court martial in the field had a broader jurisdiction than that exercised by a general court martial.
In a general court martial, accused persons are entitled to better treatment despite the seriousness of the offenses. The tribunal is also larger, the aim being to ensure a fair trial for the accused. All rights of the accused, under military law, must be guaranteed. The accused will be able to exercise them to their best advantage.
But in the general court martial formed in 1981, the provision of rule 35 of the army rules was not respected and no accused had the opportunity to object to a member of the court. decides on his case.
In this trial, three senior officers – a brigadier and two lieutenant-colonels – were the prosecutors. They had been repatriated from Pakistan.
Three defense officers have been appointed for the accused persons. The selection did not reflect the individual choices of the accused.
Of the three officers appointed to defend the accused, a brigadier was repatriated from Pakistan, while a colonel and a lieutenant colonel were freedom fighters.
Relatives of Brigadier General Mohsin Uddin Ahmed, who was facing a court martial, asked the campaign court martial for permission to hire lawyer Gaziul Haq to defend Mohsin in court.
Relatives of Colonel MA Rashid and Major Dost Mohammad also requested permission to hire lawyer Aminul Haq to defend them in court. Aminul Haq even went to Chittagong and met the authorities concerned.
But their demands were turned down, although military laws allow civilian lawyers to defend accused persons at court martial.
Several other provisions of army rules were also violated.
The trial was hastily completed in just 17 days, starting July 10. The court imposed the death penalty on 12 officers and various prison terms on 14 others. The other defendants, although acquitted, were dismissed from their posts.
Lt. Col. Fazle Hossain, who was ill at the first court martial, was then tried by another general campaign court martial led by Brigadier Mofizur Rahman, another repatriated officer.
The most important conclusion of the on-camera trial was to hold General Manzur responsible for organizing the rebellion and the assassination of President Zia. Manzur was posthumously named the leader of the failed rebellion by the General Court Martial, led by General Abdur Rahman.
None of the convicted police officers were allowed to appeal their convictions due to strict legal provisions. The law on the army did not provide for any appeal against the decision of the court martial.
Due to illegality and miscarriage of justice, however, a motion for brief was filed with the High Court to challenge the court martial’s decision.
But the HC rejected the petition on the grounds that judicial competence was excluded by paragraph 5 of article 102 of the Constitution. This sub-clause prevailed over the competence of the HC to exercise its authority at the request of any person aggrieved by the action of a military tribunal.
The case went to the Supreme Court’s Appeal Division, which agreed with the HC.
Finally, the fateful night arrived on September 23, 1981. The officers were hanged in various prisons.
The trials were part of organized efforts to eliminate freedom fighters in the military. These efforts were led by officers who had been repatriated from Pakistan after the emergence of Bangladesh.
Given the nature of the trials and convictions, many say the trials were aimed at freedom fighters. The court martial sentenced a total of 22 officers, none of whom were repatriated. All of them took an active and leading part in the 1971 war. Almost all of the 12 officers hanged in September 1981 were active freedom fighters and at least five of them were decorated war heroes.
A total of 33 officers were charged during the trial, but none of them was a repatriated officer. Even the repatriated officers who worked closely with Manzur were spared, even though the army’s court of inquiry noted the involvement of some repatriated officers in the mutiny.
At the end of the trials, the white paper prepared by the military also blamed General Manzur for assembling so many freedom fighters in the areas of Chittagong and Parbatya Chittgong. But being the GOC, Manzur didn’t have much to do with this situation. The officers of the freedom fighters had been transferred by the army staff to the Chittagong area. It was a shrewd move to remove officers of the freedom fighters from important posts in the army headquarters of the day. Ershad had taken these steps to give posts to the officers he loved.
Following the trials, massive screening was carried out through the formation of a selection committee, again dominated by repatriated officers from Pakistan. About 100 officers were forced into retirement, accused of indirect involvement or of having been aware of Zia’s assassination. But they had nothing to do with the mutiny. Yet this was only done to eliminate the Freedom Fighting officers from the army.
[The report been prepared on the basis of the books, “Silent Witness of a General” by Major General Moinul Hossain Chowdhury, “Assassination of Ziaur Rahman and the Aftermath” by Ziauddin M Chowdhury, “Democracy and the Challenges of Development” by Moudud Ahmed and “Zia and Manzur murder and the aftermath” edited by ASM Shamsul Arefin.]