Thursday, December 14, 2017 | ePaper
Independence Day 2017
International media on Bangabandhu's trial, release and home-coming
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman gave birth to a nation, a country, as well as a new map. Just as he had the required leadership quality for attaining these, similarly were there the 3 million martyrs and the sacrifices of 200 thousand mothers and sisters. This saviour of the Bangalis had to traverse tough terrains over a long period of time starting from the Language Movement up to the Liberation War. He had to go to jail seventeen times between 1938 and 1971. This indomitable man could never be held back by the Pakistani autocrats. Despite being framed in the Agartala conspiracy case and sentenced to death by hanging through the farcical trial of 1971, he repeatedly returned to his nation and birthplace due to the qualities of courage and patriotism.
As per the plan of Pakistan government, Bangabandhu was arrested on 25 March at 1.30 am after midnight from his residence at Dhanmondi road 32. News of his arrest and the besieged city of Dhaka could be obtained from the foreign media and the interview given by Bangabandhu to David Frost after independence, although the news was not published in any Dhaka-based newspaper. In a report published on 30 March 1971, the Washington Post informed about the ransacking of Bangabandhu's residence and garden, and the shredding of the red, green and yellow flag of Bangladesh which was flying outside with bullets when he was arrested. Before his arrest, the Pakistani soldiers entered the building while firing in a commando style. One officer even wanted to fire at Bangabandhu, but he was saved due to another officer's intervention. He was held captive at Pakistan's Lyallpur jail a few days after his arrest.
The Pakistani government brought allegations against Sheikh Mujibur Rahman of burning the Pakistani flag, destroying the portrait of the Father of the Nation of Pakistan, armed mutiny and killings of Biharis. The Pakistani government decided to hang him from the very start of the farcical trial. Quoting Radio Australia, The Statesman reported that Yahya Khan had said during private discussions on 26 March night that the 'Sheikh would have to die'. In an interview with the French periodical 'Le Figaro', he identified Bangabandhu as an enemy of the Pakistani people. In the book 'Massacre', journalist and writer Robert Paine narrated Yahya's views in the following fashion, "My generals are putting pressure to arrange the trial and death sentence for Sheikh Mujib in a military court. I have agreed and the trial will be held very soon".
Bangabandhu disclosed in an interview with David Frost that there were 12 charges against him. These included : treason, declaring war against the Pakistani people, opposing the military, and attempt to liberate Bangladesh. Six of the 12 charges carried the death penalty. The Pakistani government declared the commencement of the trial on 11 August through a press release issued on 9 August.
There were storms of protests all over the world after the start of the trial. The global mass media also played a role in forging wider public opinion on the subject. Due to this pressure of global public opinion, Yahya kept the verdict of the trial a secret after holding discussions with his advisers. But when the final phase of the war started on 3 December and Yahya sensed certain defeat, he hurriedly made the verdict of the trial public on 4 December. It sentenced Bangabandhu to death, holding him guilty based on charges brought against him. After that, he was transferred to the Mianwali jail of Islamabad from Lyallpur. A grave was dug just beside his cell. Although a special telegram was supposed to be sent to the jail authority for execution of the verdict, it was not sent due to the surrender by the Pak army in Dhaka.
Although the Bangalis expressed their joy and delight after achieving victory on 16 December 1971, they were saddened by the martyrdom of 3 million people and the absence of their dearest leader. There were many write-ups in the international media on whether Bangabandhu was alive or not. In such a situation, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto clarified Bangabandhu's status to the journalists on 20 December after taking over the responsibility of the president of Pakistan. The global media were very eager for the release of our beloved leader. The New York Times published the announcement of the Pakistani government on Bangabandhu's release on 21 December and reported the next day that he was kept under house-arrest at an undisclosed place. However, he was brought to Rawalpindi on 23 December for discussions with Bhutto. Although Yahya had proposed hanging of Bangabandhu by showing an earlier date while handing over power to Bhutto, seasoned politician Bhutto made a last-ditch attempt to preserve the unity of the 'two wings of Pakistan' by putting pressure on Bangabandhu. News could be gathered from the mass media about the two meetings held between Bangabandhu and Bhutto on 27 and 29 December. The US, British and Japanese periodicals reported about these discussions. Bhutto had urged Bangabandhu to preserve the existence of Pakistan at any price. When Bangabandhu expressed his inability to make any such commitment before talking to the people after returning home, Bhutto put forward the proposal of at least a confederation between the 'two parts of Pakistan'. At the same time, he offered Bangabandhu the posts of the President or the Prime Minister.
After these meetings and while Bangabandhu was still in Pakistan, Bhutto expressed his optimism about the unity of the two wings and a political settlement during an interview with the Voice of America on 1 January 1972. The next day, he decided to release Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at a meeting with policy-makers in Karachi. However, the US periodical 'Time' reported by citing Bhutto that this decision was based on an understanding between the elected representatives of the 'two parts of Pakistan'. Robert Paine, however, clearly wrote that Bhutto decided to free Mujib after failing to obtain any agreement or advantage through his meetings with Sheikh Mujib. He, however, did not announce any date for the release. In interviews given to the mass media on 6 January while Bangabandhu was still in Pakistan, Bhutto declared that he would visit Dhaka soon for the sake of the unity of 'two Pakistan'. Bhutto himself conceded to the newspapers about the pressures exerted by the world leaders and some progressive leaders, politicians, journalists and intellectuals of Pakistan for the release of Sheikh Mujib. At that time, Bangabandhu rejected Bhutto's offer of sending him to Turkey or Iran. The decision to send Bangabandhu to London was taken all of a sudden on 8 January.
Although Bangabandhu was released on 8 January, he had to go to London first. On behalf of Delhi when the British comet aircraft landed in Dhaka's Tejgaon Airport at 1.45 pm on 10 January, there were unprecedented scenes. Crossing a sea of people on a 5 kilometre stretch from the airport to the Racecourse (Suhrawardy) ground, Bangabandhu's motorcade reached the venue after two hours. The Bangali nation received their father figure and greatest son after a long wait of 10 months. The headline of the daily Ittefaq on that day was 'Welcome the Dreamer of Bangla'; the daily Purbodesh wrote "Mother, Your Mujib has Arrived"; the headline of the New York Times was "Sheikh Mujib Home : 500,000 Give him Rousing Welcome".
Translation : Dr. Helal Uddin Ahmed