Senior Correspondent, bdnews24.com
Published: 2019-08-24 20:47:32 BdST
General Zia, founder of the BNP, became the army chief after the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on Aug 15 in 1975 and eventually the first military ruler of Bangladesh.
Pintu, an editor of TV channel DBC News, said there had been “mass killings” in the armed forces during Zia’s time to purge the freedom fighters in the force.
He suggested forming a commission to look into the details of those dark days, a proposal which was supported by former state minister Tarana Halim and Nuzhat Choudhury, daughter of martyred intellectual Abdul Alim Chaudhury.
“People have the right to know the dark days in the armed forces,” Pintu said.
They were speaking at a special discussion on the “locked chapter of history: 1975-1996” organised by the Centre for Research and Information (CRI) at the Bangabandhu Memorial Trust Auditorium in Dhaka on Saturday.
Dhaka Tribune Editor Zafar Sobhan and online activist Maruf Rosul also spoke at the event, moderated by Prime Minister’s Special Assistant Shah Ali Farhad. Youths born after the 1975 massacre of Bangabandhu and his family, who grew up reading distorted or no accounts of the years following the carnage, were in the attendance.
Pintu, the author of a book published in 1997 on these years, said he learnt how hastily the executions were carried out from the judges of the military tribunals.
“The judges said Zia signed the order. They just read that out.”
“I still get calls from the family members of those killed during that time,” he said, giving a recent example when a 42-year old man came to his office after hearing the speech of Hasanul Haq Inu in the parliament where the MP said Pintu knew the facts related to those “murders”.
“He cried for 10/12 minutes before saying anything. And then said, ‘I came to you to know the date of my father’s death’. After 42 years, searching all my research files, I told him it was Nov 27 and his father was hanged in Cumilla Central Jail. He burst into tears,” Pintu said. “This is just one example.”
“You cannot imagine those days,” he told the youths.
“Every night there was curfew in the town and hanging was going on in the central jail between 12am and 4am. There was a long list and they were racing against time.
“It took 30 minutes to hang one person. In one night, they could hang eight people. And for that many were sent to Cumilla, Bogra and Rajshahi jails. They even cut tendons to expedite deaths. I have the proof, it’s not merely a research,” he said.
“I talked with the executioner of the Cumilla jail….he said he hanged 92. Of the total 480 hangings in Bangladesh, Ziaur Rahman hanged 280 people and all of them were members of the armed forces.”
Things were changing so fast then that the authorities did not even have the time to check whether the person they were hanging was actually sentenced to death, Pintu said, suggesting that the government form a commission to know the details of those “mass killings” in the armed forces.
A person was hanged even after he was sentenced to life in prison. “’I am not given death penalty…,’ he cried, but they didn’t have time to check that,” Pintu said.
One of the tribunals was set up on Oct 8, but the judgment it gave was dated Oct 7 and the verdict was executed on Oct 9, according to Pintu. “The gazette on constituting the tribunal was issued on Oct 14.”
“Each and every officer told me, General Zia signed the death sentences at the dining table with fork in his one hand. He even signed at airport on his way abroad,” he said.
“He did that to do the hangings quickly. It was a regular affair.”
Pintu said BNP leader General Mir Shawkat Ali had told him they had killed 1,130 personnel, over 90 percent of whom were freedom fighters, in the military.
“His (Zia’s) mission was to eliminate freedom fighter soldiers. He promoted non-freedom fighter officers.”
Nuzhat Choudhury also called upon the government to form a commission to know the details of the dark chapter.
She said Zia wanted to eliminate those who supported 1971 Liberation War. “The conspiracy is still going on. In each and every profession, they did that systematically. We have to find out whether he had worked as an agent of the Pakistani forces.”
She said the commission can be tasked with looking into the facts of the killings of intellectuals in 1971, the Aug 15 massacre in 1975, and the post-1975 killings in the armed forces.
“It is the golden opportunity for this now. We need to have that commission to complete the history,” she said.
Tarana Halim said Zia had cancelled the collaborators’ act and rehabilitated war criminals. “He cancelled 12,000 pending trials and freed 475 convicted criminals.
He restored the citizenship of war criminal Ghulam Azam and brought him back from Pakistan, Tarana said.
“Everything was part of a well-planned conspiracy to keep a generation in the dark and let them grow with misinformation and distorted history, keeping them away from the true history of Bangladesh.”
Zafar Sobhan encouraged youths to read the true history of Bangladesh and said: “History is not a matter of opinion. It’s a matter of fact.”