Assassination of Ziaur Rahman

Coordinates: 22°20′54″N 91°49′26″E / 22.3482°N 91.8239°E / 22.3482; 91.8239
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Assassination of Ziaur Rahman
Zia Museum 001.JPG
Old Circuit House, Chittagong
LocationCircuit House, Chittagong, Bangladesh
Date30 May 1981
4:00 p.m. (Bangladesh Standard Time)
TargetZiaur Rahman
Attack type
Military coup
Weapons11 sub machine guns
3 rocket launchers
3 grenade firing rifles
Deaths1 person (Ziaur Rahman)[citation needed]

Ziaur Rahman, the 7th president of Bangladesh, was assassinated by a faction of officers of Bangladesh Army, on 30 May 1981, in the south-eastern port city of Chittagong. Rahman went to Chittagong to arbitrate in a clash between the local leaders of his political party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. On the night of 30 May, a group of officers commandeered the Chittagong Circuit House, a government residence where Rahman was staying, shooting him and several others.


Zia's presidency[edit]

Ziaur Rahman's tenure as the President of Bangladesh began on 21 April 1977 by taking over the presidency from Abu Sadat Mohammad Sayem. He said with a hint of creating competition in the country's politics,

"I will make politics difficult for the politicians."

Less than 24 hours after taking office as president of Bangladesh, Zia announced a confidence referendum to gauge public views on his rule.

Referendum and presidential election[edit]

The referendum held on 30 May 1977 shocked political commentators and observers. According to the Election Commission of Bangladesh, Zia received 98.87% of the vote, with only 1% of voters opposing his views, raising serious questions about the process.

With the plebiscite moot, Zia announced presidential elections the following year. It was the first presidential election held in Bangladesh after the political revolution.

Zia, a war hero, entered the election race as the candidate of the Nationalist Front, a six-party coalition that included Islamist parties like the Muslim League on one side and minority-led parties like the Federation of Scheduled Castes on the other. His main rival was General MAG Osmani, the commander-in-chief of the Bangladesh Liberation Army in 1971, who was supported by the Democratic Alliance, a platform of the Awami League and some left-wing parties.

Allegations of election rigging[edit]

In the presidential election held in 1978, Zia got about 76% of the votes and General Osmani got 21% according to the figures shared by the authorities. Osmani's supporters have claimed that the election was rigged and ballot boxes were stuffed across the country. However, an analysis of the results shows that the election was largely fair and in some Awami League-dominated districts like Gopalganj, Ziaur Rahman got as low as 16% of the total votes.

The election gave Zia a kind of legitimacy to run Bangladesh as president.

National anthem debate[edit]

Prime Minister Shah Azizur Rahman said in a secret letter to the Cabinet Department,

A song written by Rabindranath Tagore is the Indian national anthem. He is not a citizen of Bangladesh. The Muslim Ummah is worried that a song written by a poet from the Hindu community is the national anthem. National Anthem needs to be changed as this song is against the spirit of our culture.

In the Prime Minister's letter, instead of 'Amar Sonar Bangla', 'Prothom Bangladesh, Amar shesh Bangladesh' was proposed as the national anthem. After receiving this letter from the Prime Minister, the Cabinet Department issued instructions to broadcast the 'Prothom Bangladesh' song on radio, television and all government programs. Zia himself was in favor of changing the national flag and national anthem, whe BNP leader Dr. Yusuf asked Zia in a session to change the national flag, Zia replied,

It will be, it will be, everything will be. Let the national anthem written by a Hindu be changed first. Then I will think about the national flag.

Meanwhile, the Prothom Bangladesh song started singing along with the National Anthem at the President's function. But after Zia's death in 1981, the initiative stalled.

Attempts to change the national flag[edit]

On December 16, 1978, on Bangladesh's Victory Day, an orange circle flag was ordered to be hoisted on government buildings instead of a red circle flag on a green ground. But in the face of protests, Zia had to withdraw from this plan.

Suppression of coups and rebellions[edit]

More than 20 military coups are reported to have taken place during the rule of General Ziaur Rahman.

On October 2, 1977, members of the army and air force were sentenced to death by a special military tribunal formed on the orders of the then army chief General Ziaur Rahman for their involvement in the coup d'état of a section of the military in Dhaka.

Between 1,100 and 1,400 soldiers were executed by hanging or firing squad in the two months following the coup. At that time soldiers were executed only in Dhaka and Comilla Central Jails. 121 people were sentenced to death in Dhaka and 72 people in Comilla. Apart from this, more than five hundred soldiers were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment for their involvement in the incident.

Regarding the October coup, the famous journalist Anthony Mascarenhas mentioned in his book A Legacy of Blood,

During the next two months, 1143 soldiers were executed according to the official records of Bangladesh. In Bangladesh at that time, almost all prisons were hanged. Almost all the progressive organizations of the country, including the international human rights organization Amnesty International, protested it at that time. Allegations were made that extrajudicial executions were being carried out without regard to any law.

A report titled 'Bangladesh Executions: A Discrepancy' in the Washington Post on February 10, 1978 said,

In a secret cable sent to the State Department on January 19, 1978, the Charge d'Affaires of the American Embassy in Dhaka stated that according to his information, 217 military personnel were killed in the aftermath of the coup attempt.

Alfred E. Bergensen noted in the report,

"We think maybe 30-34 of them were executed before the military court was set up."

A report in The Sunday Times of London on March 5, 1978 said,

About 600 soldiers have been executed since last October. This blood vessel is only partially uncovered. In a report last week by Amnesty International... a former senior Air Force officer told The Sunday Times that more than 800 army personnel had been convicted in military tribunals following the coups in Bogra on 30 September and in Dhaka on 2 October. Kangaroo court is not much different from military court in some respects. About 600 army personnel have been executed by firing squad or hanging in Dhaka.

A report in the Mumbai Economic and Political Weekly on March 25, 1978 said,

Although Amnesty is only prepared to say that at least 130 people and possibly several thousand have been executed, some well-informed sources in Dhaka say the number could be as high as 700.

The then Log Area Commander Colonel MA Hamid in his book 'Tinti sena obbhutthan o kichu na bola kotha (Three Army Coups and Unsaid Things)' mentions,

"Every night from 3rd to 5th October, soldiers were taken from Army and Air Force barracks to torture camps, they never came back. All over the cantonment wails. Rolls of tears. How many soldiers, Air Force hanged, how many lives were lost, 'secret murders'." There is no account of the victims....Moreover, many soldiers died in inhumane torture after being arrested....According to official accounts, 1,143 soldiers were hanged in just two months, including 561 airmen. Even the dead bodies of the unfortunate soldiers were not given to their relatives.... Their relatives still find the dead bodies of their loved ones. No one heard their pleas, they did not get justice.... Where so many bodies were hidden is also a mystery. . Whether it was a planned assassination or a coup d'état has yet to be determined. Many believe it was a pre-planned massacre."

Conflict and discontent in the army[edit]

After Ziaur Rahman's ascension to power, there was dissatisfaction in the army due to extrajudicial firing, sentencing, killing or disappearance of army personnel, military and civilian officials in the name of suppressing coups and rebellions. Also the provision of more privileges and promotion to Pakistan-returned officers in the army, created conflict among the freedom fighter officers.

Rezaul Karim Reza, the then major of the army, said,

Ziaur Rahman gave more privileges or promotions to non-freedom fighters and army officers returning to Pakistan and appointed General Hussain Muhammad Ershad, who had returned from Pakistan, as the army chief.

As a result, anger arose among the freedom fighter army officers including General Manzur and Colonel Matiur Rahman.

They were demanding to remove General Ershad from the post of army chief and appoint General Manzur or any other freedom fighter officer to that position and simultaneously remove the officers who were Pakistan returnees or non-freedom fighters who were in various high positions of the army and bring freedom fighter officers to those positions.[1]

General Ibrahim also reported receiving similar information from the accused in the military court.

However, Major Reza also said that "there were demands to remove 'pro-Pakistan' ministers including Prime Minister Shah Azizur Rahman from Ziaur Rahman's cabinet."[2]


At 4 am on 30 May 1981, three teams of army officers attacked the Chittagong Circuit House where Rahman was asleep. In all there were 16 officers, as enlisted soldiers refused to participate. They had eleven submachine guns, three Rocket Launchers and three grenade firing rifles.

The main leaders of this attacking team were Lt. Colonel Matiur Rahman, Lt. Colonel Mahbub and Major Khaled. Lieutenant Colonel Fazle Hossain started the attack by launching two rockets towards the circuit house which created two large holes in the building.[3] The officers then searched room by room for Rahman. Major Mojaffar and Captain Moslehdudin found the president first. Moslehuddin informed Rahman that they would take him to the cantonment. Shortly afterwards, however, Colonel Matiur Rahman arrived with another team and shot him from close range with a submachine gun.

Among the attackers, Lt. Col. Matiur Rahman and Col. Mahbub were killed while trying to escape, Major Khaled and Major Mojaffar escaped, and Captain Moslehuddin was caught and sentenced to life in prison. However, as of 2010, he is in the United States.[clarification needed]


After the assassination of Rahman on 30 May 1981, Hussain Muhammad Ershad, the Chief of Army Staff, remained loyal[4] to the government and ordered the army to suppress the coup attempt of Rahman's associates led by Major General Abul Manzoor.

Government ordered the rebel force to surrender and gave them a time limit. Most soldiers including officers who took part in the mission to attack in Chittagong Circuit House did surrender and so the leading officer including GOC Manjoor were trying to escape towards Chittagong Hill Tracts. On the way they were intervened by government-sent force. Colonel Matiur Rahman and Lt Colonel Mahub (chief of 21st East Bengal, nephew of Manjoor) were shot to death by Major Mannan (a Pakistan return officer, 2IC of 12 Engineer Battalion).

General Manjoor was caught at Fatikchhari by both Police and Army force while Manjoor and his wife were feeding their children inside a tea garden. However, he surrendered to Police and he was taken to Hathazari thana. General Manjoor requested a lawyer, which he was refused. He then asked to be sent to Chittagong jail, otherwise he said, the army would kill him. But when he got on the police van, an army squad arrived at the prison and after some debate a certain Nayeb Subadar caught General Manjoor's hand and forced him towards the army vehicle. He was then blinded and hands were tightened. However, what happened afterwards was never released by the Government and was classified. The government later announced that General Manjoor has been killed by unruly soldiers who were enraged after knowing that General Manjoor was the key conspirator of the assassination.

Manzoor's death – at first described as having been at the hands of an "enraged mob", but later shown in an autopsy report to have been via a gunshot to the back of the head – added to the mystery. The rest of the conspirators were tried in military court, and given sentences ranging from the death penalty to imprisonment[citation needed].

Following Rahman's death, Vice President of Bangladesh Justice Abdus Sattar became Acting President. He was elected in a popular vote in December 1981 but was deposed on 24 March 1982 by a bloodless coup by Ershad.

One of the accused of Rahman's murder case, captain (Rtd.) Giasuddin Ahmed is now an Awami League member of Jatiya Sangshad from Gaffargaon Upazila, Mymensingh District.

Twelve officers, mostly veterans, were hanged for their alleged involvement in the killing of President Rahman after a hasty trial in a military court that was completed in only 18 days. The 13th officer was hanged two years later as he was being treated for bullet wounds he had received during the assassination.


Eighteen officers were brought before a military tribunal. Thirteen were sentenced to death whilst five were given varying prison sentences. The officers were arrested between 1 and 3 June 1981 and a court martial, chaired by Major General Abdur Rahman began at Chittagong Central Jail on 10 July 1981 and ended on 28 July 1981. Twelve officers were executed. Major General Abdur Rahman, a Pakistan returned officer, was later sent to France in 1983/84 as ambassador, dying there mysteriously; his family claimed General Rahman was killed by the government of Bangladesh.[5]

Executed officers[edit]

  1. Brigadier Mohsin Uddin Ahmed
  2. Colonel Nawajesh Uddin
  3. Colonel M Abdur Rashid
  4. Lt Colonel AYM Mahfuzur Rahman
  5. Lt Colonel M Delwar Hossain
  6. Lt Colonel Shah Md Fazle Hossain
  7. Major AZ Giashuddin Ahmed
  8. Major Rawshan Yazdani Bhuiyan
  9. Major Kazi Mominul Haque
  10. Major Mujibur Rahman
  11. Captain Mohammad Abdus Sattar
  12. Captain Jamil Haque
  13. Lieutenant Mohammad Rafiqul Hassan Khan

(Rafiq later claimed he was on a mission under orders from his superior officer, without knowledge of the mission.) The army prosecutors, who were appointed to defend these thirteen suspected officers later called the trial a 'farcical trial' as they all were denied the minimal opportunity to defend themselves.

Sentenced to prison[edit]

  1. Lt Mosleh Uddin. (life sentence, as of 2010 was living in the USA)

Uddin was the younger brother of Brigadier Mohsin Uddin Ahmed, who was sentenced to be executed. As the elder brother was sentenced to die, the younger brother was not given a death sentence.

Expelled officers[edit]

The following officers were removed from the army.[6]

  1. Brigadier Abu Said Matiul Hannan Shah
  2. Brigadier AKM Azizul Islam
  3. Brigadier Gias Uddin Ahmed Chowdhury (Bir Bikram)
  4. Brigadier Abu Jafar Aminul Huque (Bir Bikram)
  5. Colonel Md. Bajlul Goni Patwari (Bir Protik)
  6. Lt. Colonel AS Enamul Huque
  7. Lt. Colonel Md. Jainul Abedin
  8. Lt. Colonel Md. Abdul Hannan (Bir Protik)
  9. Major Manjur Ahmed (Bir Protik)
  10. Major Wakar Hassan (Bir Protik)
  11. Major Md. Abdul Jalil
  12. Major Rafiqul Islam
  13. Major Md. Abdus Salam
  14. Major AKM Rezaul Islam (Bir Protik)
  15. Major Md. Asaduzzaman
  16. Captain Jahirul Huque Khan (Bir Protik)
  17. Captain Majharul Huque
  18. Captain ASM Abdul Hai
  19. Captain Ilyas (was in Rajshahi jail with Brig. Mohsin)
  20. Lt. Abul Hashem

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "জিয়াউর রহমান: হত্যাকাণ্ডে জড়িতদের উদ্দেশ্য নিয়ে এখনো কেন প্রশ্ন উঠছে". বিবিসি বাংলা. Retrieved 4 September 2022.
  2. ^ "জিয়াউর রহমান: হত্যাকাণ্ডে জড়িতদের উদ্দেশ্য নিয়ে এখনো কেন প্রশ্ন উঠছে". বিবিসি বাংলা. Retrieved 4 September 2022.
  3. ^ Lifschultz, Lawrence (23 February 2014). "The murder of Major General Abul Manzur, Bir Uttam". The Daily Star. Retrieved 14 March 2023.
  4. ^ "On This Day | 30 | 1981: Bangladeshi president assassinated". BBC News. 30 May 1981. Retrieved 15 January 2009.
  5. ^ "Death anniversary of 13 executed army officers observed". 23 September 2009.
  6. ^ "". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 7 February 2012.

External links[edit]

  • Mascarenhas, Anthony. Bangladesh: A Legacy of Blood. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1986.
22°20′54″N 91°49′26″E / 22.3482°N 91.8239°E / 22.3482; 91.8239