Seven people have been sentenced to death and one has been acquitted over the militant attack on Holey Artisan Cafe in 2016. The attack left 22 people dead. As the court observed while pronouncing the judgment, those convicted are “unworthy of mercy”.
The accused were looking quite nonchalant as an anti-terrorism court in Dhaka delivered the verdict against them in the grisly Holey Artisan Cafe attack case.
They were smiling as they appeared in court. One of them was seen wearing a prayer cap with the insignia of Islamic State, an international terror organisation in whose ideology these people believe in.
Even though the death sentences for seven of the eight accused on trial for the dreadful attack in 2016 meant that justice had finally been done, the "brain-washed" youths were seemingly unmoved in the courtroom.
When Judge Rahman of the Anti-Terrorism Special Tribunal declared that seven of the eight accused would die by hanging, one among the convicts shouted at the judge, "You will be judged by Allah in the afterlife."
All of this is testimony to the arrogance and absence of repentance in the misguided youths.
For the peace-loving people of the country, however, Wednesday's judgment was truly a triumphant day for justice. The verdict was a clear denunciation of the fanatical beliefs held by these misguided young men and a patent statement on how they had been misinterpreting religion to achieve their sinister aims.
Judge Md Majibur Rahman delivered his verdict amid tight security. As the judge took his seat in the courtroom at 12:00 noon sharp, the room was packed with lawyers and journalists from home and abroad.
"These people wanted to wreak havoc in society and wanted to establish a Jihadist state. As their activities threatened public safety, they will be hanged until they are pronounced dead," Judge Rahman read from the verdict.
According to Judge Md Mojibur Rahman, the convicted people are "unworthy of mercy" because of their "despicable manifestation of the insane, cruel and brutal" side of militancy.
The seven convicts who will walk the gallows are Jahangir Hossain, Aslam Hossain Rash, Hadisur Rahman, Rakibul Hasan Regan, Md Abdus Sabur Khan, Shariful Islam Khaled and Mamunur Rashid Ripon. Each of them has also been fined Tk50,000.
The eighth accused, Mizanur Rahman alias Boro Mizan, was acquitted as the charges brought against him could not be proved.
Boro Mizan was named in the charge-sheet submitted by the Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime Unit of Dhaka Metropolitan Police in July last year.
The charge-sheet notes that Mizan possessed gel bombs and carried them to the militants, who used them in the Gulshan attack.
Counter terrorism officials have refrained from making any comment in this regard.
Inspector General of Police Dr Javed Patwary said police would file an appeal petition in the High Court against Mizan's acquittal.
While talking to this correspondent, Mizanur Rahman claimed that he was a fish trader and that he did not know anything about the attack.
"I always claimed before the court that I was beaten and framed unlawfully and finally the court heard my appeal," Mizan said with sadness.
The court scenario
The security around the Supreme Court area was beefed up on Wednesday. Hundreds of security forces, including the paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion, were deployed in and around the court premises.
At 10:15 am, all the eight accused in the case were brought to the court premises. Police produced them before the court around 11:50 am.
While getting off the prison van, few of the militants were seen with smiling faces.
Militant Regan came to the court with a crutch as he was not able to walk normally due to illness.
After entering the courtroom dock, the militants were quite normal and silent.
Some of them were just looking around the entire courtroom, and at foreign journalists.
Regan sat on a plastic chair in the dock, while the others were standing to hear the verdict.
At first the judge thanked all who were involved in the trial process. The judge also mentioned that he tried to bring justice in the case.
"I was aware that the incident drew global attention so it is obvious that the verdict will get reactions from all over the globe.
I tried hard to uphold justice and gave the respondents highest facilities to defend them.
Then he started to read out his observations. He mentioned that the main planner of the attack, Md.Tamim Chowdhury was inspired by the IS and for the implementation of so-called Khilafat or Jhihad.
They carried out this heinous attack on innocent people only to bring themselves in the limelight and draw the attention of IS. So they are unworthy of mercy in the eye of law.
He also added that Rash mentioned in his 164 acknowledgement that he asked Tamim as to why they were going to carry out attack in Gulshan area. Tamim replied that it was necessary for drawing the attention of foreign community and also the IS.
Judge Mojibur Rahman said the militants tried to make foreign citizens who are living in the country panicked. What they did was an anti-state activity and it was aimed at presenting the country with a negative image before international community.
"So they should punish hardly," he said.
After the verdict was announced, the militants shouted in the courtroom and gestured in favour of 'Khilafat'.
They rejected the verdict and chanted "Allahu Akbar".
"You will be judged by Allah in afterlife," Abdus Sabur shouted at Judge Majibur Rahman.
The seven convicts were then taken out of the courtroom. While they were getting on the prison van, they shouted "Allahu Akbar" and said they do not accept the judgement.
"We will see you on the Judgement Day after life," they screamed.
Reactions on the verdict
Two Japanese citizens, including Jiji Press journalist Tokra Takeda, were present at the courtroom.
While talking to The Business Standard, they expressed satisfaction over the verdict. Thanking the government for upholding justice, they said, "This verdict will give a message worldwide that none can escape punishment after committing such crimes against humanity."
The investigation officer of the case, Inspector Wahiduzzaman said the convicted were not involved with the IS directly but they worked in line with its ideology.
Public prosecutor Abu Abdullaha told the media that the court punished the accused according to the law as the state defense proved their offence.
"If the verdict is executed none will dare to commit this kind of offence future."
On the other hand, the defence has expressed dissatisfaction and said they would challenge the verdict.
"We are aggrieved by the verdict," Delwar Hosen, one of the defence counsels, said while talking to the media on the court premises.
Shamsuzzaman Shams, brother of police officer Robiul Islam who was shot dead by militants during the attack, said, "I cannot get back my brother, but I am satisfied with the verdict. Now, I hope that militancy of any kind will not be entertained in Bangladesh anymore."
The family of the deceased Assistant Commissioner of Detective Branch of Police wants immediate execution of the verdict.
Rabiul's brother Shamsuzzaman Shams urged the government to take initiatives in memory of the victims.
Meanwhile, Abdul Hakim, father of convicted Shariful Islam Khaled rejected the verdict and said that his son was wrongly charged and convicted.
"We do not know what we should do next but only know that the verdict was unjust. They did not do justice to my son," he also broke in tears.
One of the convicted persons, Mohammad Hadisur Rahman claimed that he was forced to give confessional statement in the case. He cited one Nur Nabi and said he had forced him to sign the statement copy.
Meanwhile, Mamunur Rashid Ripon acknowledged that they were involved in the attack. He said this the ideology they believe in will remain alive even after this verdict and that they will make to come back.
Govt satisfied with verdict: Law minister
Law Minister Anisul Huq said the government is satisfied with the verdict in the Gulshan Holey Artisan Café attack case.
"We are happy with the verdict. That we are finishing trials of such much-talked-about cases is the reason behind this satisfaction," the minister told reporters at the Secretariat.
The prime minister clearly stated after the Gulshan terror attack that the criminals must be handed down punishment, and this verdict is a confirmation to her vows, the minister added.
"The trial in the case began in December last. The court took statements of 113 witnesses. But we have to see the judgement and the witness and evidence against the person who go acquitted in the case. Then, we will decide appealing against the verdict in the upper court," the minister said.
To another query about recovering the lost image of Bangladesh in the global arena, the law minister said the government has proved that the country can ensure a quick trial of such killings through following the legal procedure rightly.
The death reference will reach the High Court Division within seven days. "We hope the paper books will be prepared soon, and the verdict will be executed on time," the minister said.