The implementation of the Indemnity Act in Bangladesh is still considered as the darkest law passed in the history of the country and one of the worst pieces of legislation in the history of the world.
In an article titled ‘Indemnity Law of Bangladesh, Humanity’s darkest law’, Barrister Miti Sanjana, an activist and advocate in the Supreme Court of Bangladesh wrote that following the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the Awami League government faced a formidable challenge in reconstructing the war-ravaged country.
“Despite several overwhelming challenges, the Bangladesh government did not flinch from its duty under the leadership of Rahman, which prioritised reconstruction and rehabilitation and initiated reconstruction programmes, but the leadership was not accepted by anti-liberation and reactionary international forces and their local henchmen, who staged the President’s assassination, which marked a dark chapter in Bangladesh’s history,” she wrote.
Miti Sanjana further said that following the assassination of Rahman and 17 members of his family, self-proclaimed President Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad promulgated an ordinance, known as the Indemnity Ordinance, to protect the assassins of the noted leader, and imposed martial law on the same day. The ordinance sought to grant the accused immunity from prosecution.
Subsequently, Major General Ziaur Rahman turned the Ordinance into an Act in 1977, when he assumed the position of the President. On February 18, 1979, with Ziaur Rahman’s victory in the second parliamentary election, all ordinances and declarations made under four years of martial law were legalised through the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.
“Bangladesh as a nation was stigmatized, humiliated, defamed and insulted by making a law to protect killers of many people, including the father of the nation,” said Barrister Sanjana.
The first part of the Indemnity Ordinance, 1975 stated that no suit, prosecution, or other proceedings, legal or disciplinary, shall lie, or be taken in before or by any court, including the Supreme Court and court-martial, or other authority in respect to certain acts or things done in connection with, in preparation of, or execution of any plan for, or steps necessitating, the incident of August 15, 1975, and the proclamation of martial law on the morning of August 15, 1975.
The second part mentioned that those named by the president as people related to the assassination were indemnified. “The martial law rules were later amended to legalise the military coups, martial law decrees and orders, and other political events and decrees promulgated under their rule,” said Sanjana.
However, after the Awami League formed the government with Sheikh Hasina, as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh in 1996, the Indemnity Act was repealed in November 12 of that year, which paved the way for the killers of Rahman and his family to justice.
Although two of the 12 killers had filed a writ petition before the High Court challenging the repeal of the Act, the court dismissed their petitions in 1997, and the Indemnity Ordinance 1975 was declared void-ab-initio being ultra vires (done without legal authority) of the constitution. The Appellate Division stated that such an ordinance could not remain in place to judge any criminal offence — the Indemnity Ordinance was not supported by the Constitution.
On October 2, 1997, the Bangabandhu Murder case was filed in the form of an FIR, and in the next month, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court upheld the death penalty of 12 convicted former army officials for the assassination of Rahman and his family members, and five of the convicts, Syed Faruk Rahman, Mohiuddin Ahmed, Bazlul Huda, AKM Mohiuddin Ahmed, and Sultan Shahriar Rashid Khan were executed on January 27, 2010.
One of the convicts absconded to Zimbabwe, and met a natural death, while on April 12, 2020, the seventh killer, Abdul Majed was executed.
The government of Bangladesh is currently trying to bring back the five remaining self-confessed killers, Khandaker Abdur Rashid, Shariful Haque Dalim, Noor Chowdhury, Rashed Chowdhury, and Risaldar Moslehuddin, who had absconded abroad, for the execution of the death sentences issued by the apex court.
Sanjana in her article also stated that Rahman had been an inspiration of the youth and had ignited the fire of freedom in thousand hearts, who fought fearlessly to free the country, and the date of his assassination was the time when Bangladesh entered its darkest and bloodiest chapter.