Thirty-four years after Bangladesh's founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was assassinated in a military coup, the country's Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the death sentence on five of his killers, paving the way for their walk to the gallows.
Pronouncing the verdict after a trial that dragged on for 13 years, Justice M Tafazzal Islam, who headed a five-member bench, said: "we find no cogent ground to interfere with the judgement order of the High Court".
Seven others, who are absconding, were also convicted to hang by the apex court. One of them has been confirmed by the Foreign Office to have died in Zimbabwe recently.
The apex court upheld the death sentence awarded to 12 the killers by a lower court in 1998.
The five, who will face the gallows, are sacked army officers Lt Col Syed Faruq Rahman, Sultan Shariar Rashid Khan, Mohiuddin Ahmed, AKM Mohiuddin and ex-Maj Bazlul Huda.
The judge read out the verdict in 10 minutes in a courtroom ringed by an unprecedented security cover.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is the daughter of Sheikh Mujib, was "overwhelmed with emotion", her close aide told PTI.
Sheikh Mujib, popularly called Bangabandhu, who led Bangladesh to independence in 1971, was gunned down at his home in a posh Dhanmandi area, along with his wife and three sons in a coup on August 15, 1975. Sheikh Hasina was abroad at that time.
A total of 20 people, including domestic staff, were killed when the Army officers stormed into his house, but the murder charges have been brought forward only for the killing of Sheikh Mujib.
"The Prime Minister cried after hearing the verdict. She was overwhelmed with emotion," said Syed Ashraful Islam, ruling Awami League's deputy leader. Ashraful said, "our government will act on the verdict and bring back the absconding killers wherever they are."
Hasina's younger sister Sheikh Rehana said, "the shame of the incident will be erased from our memories by the verdict."
Justice Tafazzal also rejected the leave to appeal prayers of five convicted soldiers. He said that the convicts have failed to make a case to commute their sentence.
"We are not inclined to interfere with the sentence of death awarded by the high court."
The case first came to the court in 1996, when Sheikh Hasina became the prime minister for the first time. She removed legal barriers enacted by the post-Mujib military governments to protect the killers.
At that time, the lower courts found 15 men guilty and sentenced them to death. Three were acquitted in 2001, while of the remaining 12, five appealed against the verdict to the Supreme Court.
The six fugitives are sacked Lt Col Abdur Rashid, Shariful Haq Dalim, Noor Chowdhury, Rashed Chowdhury, Captain Mazed and Risaldar Moslem Uddin. Dhaka has launched a diplomatic campaign to bring them back home and is also seeking the help of Interpol. PTI