Joj Mia – a petty criminal – never in his wildest dreams could foresee his unwitting role in a deeply woven conspiracy centring the August 21 grenade attack in 2004.
The gruesome attack on the Awami League rally left 24 people, including late President Zillur Rahman’s wife Ivy Rahman, dead and more than 300 others injured.
Incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who was the opposition leader back then, narrowly survived the attack.
Falsely implicated in the August 21 grenade attack case, Joj Mia gained infamy seemingly overnight after his arrest by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) from his home on June 10, 2005.
Joj Mia’s mother, Jobeda Khatun, went to Kashimpur jail around two months after her son's arrest from their Senbagh home in Noakhali. Setting up a meeting was not easy, but she persevered and managed to get a court order.
Jobeda became confused after learning that the police would offer her money to cover some of her family’s living expenses.
Speaking to her son at the prison, a clueless Jobeda said: “If police pick someone up, the arrestee has to pay them to escape from trouble. But why do law enforcers offer us money?”
In his reply, Joj, who was put behind bars as part of the CID's scheme to implicate him in the case, said he did not understand that either.
He then told his mother that three senior CID officers – Ruhul Amin, Rashid and Munshi Atikur Rahman – had offered to make him a state witness in the case.
Joj Mia then asked his mother not to be worried and to meet Ruhul Amin and Abdur Rashid at the CID office.
“They will provide you with money. You use it to meet the needs of the family," Joj told his mother.
He further said there would be no problem if he was made a state witness. “I will be sent abroad if other defendants try to do any harm to me.”
Conspirators in high places
Accompanied by her daughter, Jobeda Khatun visited the CID office in the capital’s Malibagh the very same day. As she entered CID officer Ruhul's office, he asked her to sit on the sofa. Rashid came to Ruhul's office shortly after.
“Why are you so late to be here?” Ruhul asked Jobeda, who in reply said: “I knew nothing. Joj Mia asked me to meet you. So, I came.”
Ruhul ordered lunch for Jobeda and her daughter, and then gave her Tk 2,000. He also assured her that they would help arrange her daughter’s marriage.
Jobeda then began visiting either Ruhul or Rashid every month and the men gave her Tk 2,000-2,500 every month. The CID officers also asked Jobeda to keep the ‘deal’ a secret.
Then Divisional Inspector General of Police, Mohammad Shamsul Islam, who was in charge of the CID starkly objected to paying money to Joj Mia's mother.
When Ruhul talked to Shamsul about providing Jobeda with financial assistance, Shamsul said: “This is not lawful.”
"Someone needs to provide his mother with some financial assistance," said Ruhul, adding that Joj Mia was a poor man and his mother was in financial straits.
Assuring Shamsul of maintaining the maximum secrecy, he said the then state minister for home Lutfozzaman Babar had ordered that arrangement.
Following Joj's arrest, Ruhul and Rashid maintained direct contact with Babar and kept him posted about the interrogation of Joj. They also fed him information about the progress in having recorded Joj’s statement confessing his involvement in carrying out the grenade attack.
A pack of lies
Joj Mia – along with his friend Feroz – was earlier arrested in a bachelor pad in the capital’s Sutrapur with a revolver and bombs. He later secured bail and walked out of jail after two years.
Coming out of the prison, he began selling posters and cassettes in Gulistan. Early in August 2004, he went to his village home as he fell ill.
Joj Mia initially had no idea why he was picked up on the morning of June 10, 2005.
He was first taken to Senbagh Police Station where Rashid arrived at noon.
“You hurled grenades at the Awami League rally,” CID officer Ruhul told a mortified Joj Mia, who then said he had nothing to do with the attack.
Joj Mia said he was at his Senbagh home on the day of the attack. “I saw it on television.”
Rashid then hit Joj in the head.
He was then put on a microbus and taken to the CID office, where he was kept in custody.
At midnight, he was taken to Rashid's office, who accused Joj: “You hurled the grenades.”
A clueless Joj defended him, saying he knew nothing about it.
“If you do not confess, you have to face crossfire,” Rashid warned Joj Mia and took him to the office of his supervising officer Ruhul who then enquired about Joj's family.
"See, there are a number of cases filed against you. There is an order from the high-ups. You will benefit if you do as we say,” Ruhul told Joj Mia, adding: “We will also be saved."
At one stage, Joj Mia asked: “What do I need to do?”
“You have to memorise what we say and do what we teach you. Then you will tell us [from your memory],” Ruhul told Joj, who only studied up to the second grade.
After June 10, Joj was kept at the CID office for a week. He was then produced in court and placed on remand twice.
CID officers Ruhul, Rashid and Atiq interrogated him on several occasions and asked him to memorise different stories about the grenade attack.
Rashid also tortured Joj Mia, threatened to put him on crossfire, and kill his mother and sister. He then agreed to make a confessional statement under prolonged duress.
After Joj Mia stopped resisting, the CID officials trained him every day on what to say before the magistrate. Joj memorised the fabricated tale he was told and repeated it before them.
For then span of the next two weeks, the CID officials corrected any mistake Joj Mia had made while retelling the fabricated story.
On the fateful day of June 26, 2005, petty criminal Joj Mia made a confessional statement before a magistrate alleging that the underworld gang Seven-Star Group led by one of the most wanted criminals, Subrata Bain Shuvro, had carried out the attack.
Joj admitted that he had been one of the attackers, following the instructions he had earlier been given by the CID officials.
He told the magistrate that all 14 members of the group had met at Robin's house at Maghbazar several days before the attack.
Like a parrot, Joj narrated what he had been taught: “Shuvro, Masud and Joy instructed us on how to carry out the attack and assigned specific duties to each of us. The group met again on Baitul Mukarram Mosque premises on the evening of August 20.
“But Shuvro was not present in that meeting. Joy and Masud grouped us into four teams and gave us the final instructions. The two then gave us Tk5,000 each in advance, which was half the contract money.”
Munshi Atiq and several other CID officials were present in the magistrate's room during the confession, which was in violation of the Criminal Procedure Code. Joj Mia was then sent to Kashimpur jail.
No hiding the truth
The CID officials paid Joj Mia's mother for around six months, but his sister Khorsheda Khatun made a slip-up a few months later.
She told a journalist of a private television channel that the CID officials gave the family money every month since her brother’s arrest.
The jig was up. Wide media coverage blew the lid open of the administration’s machinations in attempting to deny justice to the victims of August 21 massacre.
The CID officials declined to provide further monetary assistance to Joj Mia's mother after the deception came to light.
It became clear that on instructions from Lutfozzaman Babar, then minister of state for home affairs, the CID officials fabricated the tale of Joj Mia to mislead the investigation into the case.
Justice remained on hold until the end of the BNP regime. Later, investigations revealed that the brutal attack was not carried out by petty criminal Joj Mia and the Seven Star Group.
The vile attack was a coordinated effort of the militant outfit Huji (Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami), influential leaders of the then ruling BNP and the Jamaat-e-Islami, and a band of senior BNP officials.
Also, the Home Ministry, the police, the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), the National Security Intelligence (NSI) and the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) were all involved in the conspiracy to eradicate democracy from Bangladesh.
Joj Mia was later found innocent and released from jail after around three years.
[The report was prepared quoting statements from Joj Mia, his mother, sister and other witnesses of the August 21 grenade attack, along with the supplementary charge sheet on the case]