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Bishwajit murder: a welcome verdict

THE conviction on Wednesday of 21 activists of the Bangladesh Chhatra League, student front of the ruling Awami League, by a speedy trial tribunal in Dhaka, on the charge of hacking Bishwajit Kumar Das, a tailor, to death in Old Town during a countrywide blockade by the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its allies on December 9, 2012, could be called an exception at a time when it seems to have become the norm of a sort that the incumbents and people loyal to them are above and beyond the law in the past five years or so. Such a decisive and demonstrative verdict—the tribunal sentenced eight to ‘be hanged by the neck until death’ and the rest to life in prison—was also unexpected in view of the brazen politicking that the AL-led government resorted to in the immediate aftermath of the fatal attack on Bishwajit, the video footage of which was aired by different television channels. The incumbents sought to distance themselves from the assailants, claiming that they were not BCL activists, a claim that, however, did not find any traction in either public perception or the judicial process. According to a report published in New Age on Thursday, the tribunal observed that ‘so-called Chhatra League’ league leaders of Jagannath University had carried out the attack on Bishwajit, which resulted in his death. It is also worth noting that the post mortem examination and inquest reports, which attributed Bishwajit’s death to a single stab injury—three and a half inches long, and one and a half inches deep, had prompted the High Court to summon the coroner and the police officer in question, and ask them if they had prepared their reports under pressure, to protect someone.
In any case, so far the law seems to have taken its own course in the trial of Bishwajit’s murder. However, it would be premature to claim that justice has been done. First of all, the judicial process is not yet complete; the death sentence will be automatically referred to a High Court bench that, according to the New Age report, will consider the sentence and the appeals that the lawyers of the eight convicts are likely to file. Moreover, two of the eight sentenced to death remains absconding, as are all but two of the 13 sentenced to life-term imprisonment. While the court issued warrant for arrest of the absconding convicts, it remains to be seen if and to what extent it would be implemented by the police and other law enforcement agencies; after all, the law enforcers’ reluctance to resist or go after anyone related to the incumbents is borne by the fact that Bishwajit was hacked multiple times in the very presence of some on-duty policemen, who, as video footages showed, played the role of silent onlookers.
Last but not least, if the law is allowed to take its own course and the incumbents do not try to manipulate the proceedings in the higher judiciary, and if the apex court upholds the verdict of the speedy tribunal, the convicts could seek for presidential clemency. Given the precedents set by the previous president, the late Zillur Rahman, who granted pardon to more than 20 murder convicts, all of them associated with the ruling party, in the exercise of Article 49 of the constitution, justice may again fail to catch up with criminals. One may only hope the current president will not tread the same path and let justice prevail.

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