DEATH sentences have been passed on 152 former Bangladesh Rifles border guards found guilty of taking part in a murderous mutiny over pay and conditions in 2009.
Some 850 guards were accused of going on a bloody rampage which started at the force’s headquarters in the Pilkhana district of the capital, Dhaka, and spread to a dozen towns. Seventy-four people were killed, most of them army officers.
Prosecutor Mosharraf Hossain Kajol confirmed the death sentences yesterday.
He said: “The court announced the death sentence to them for the heinous killing of the country’s brave sons.”
Amid tight security yesterday, the court also sentenced 160 mutineers to life in jail, including a former MP of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), and acquitted 171 soldiers. The rest got jail terms of up to ten years and fines.
Grievances over different pay levels and facilities for guards and the army sparked the mutiny, Judge Mohammad Akhtaruzzaman said in comments accompanying the verdict. “It also aimed to tarnish the image of the army in the outside world, where it has built up a reputation in performing United Nations’ peacekeeping duties,” he added.
The mutiny shook the stability of prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s newly elected government, which ended the revolt by negotiating a deal. The guards regiment has also since been renamed Border Guard Bangladesh. The then chief of the roughly 48,000-strong paramilitary force was among those murdered in the 33-hour rampage. Others included 57 army officers deputed to the force, as well as several civilians. Corpses were found stuffed inside manholes and buried in mass graves.
Major General Aziz Ahmed, director-general of the Border Guard Bangladesh, said he welcomed the verdicts.
“It was a huge massacre. We are glad that justice has been delivered,” he said.
The judgment came nearly five years after the event. Four of the accused died in jail during the trial, with 20 more on the run and 13 freed on bail while 813 remained in jail.
Bangladesh’s handling of the trials has drawn criticism from rights groups such as New York-based Human Rights Watch, which has said the use of torture and other abuse to extract statements while in custody violated standards for fair trials.
“Trying hundreds of people en masse in one giant courtroom, where the accused have little or no access to lawyers is an affront to international legal standards,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
The government has previously denied such accusations.
Political grievances were behind the life term given to one leader of the opposition BNP, party official Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said, though he declined to comment on the verdicts.
Defence lawyer Aminul Islam vowed to appeal. “The verdict is nothing but a bid to gain political benefit,” he said.
Prosecutor Kajol said the government would also appeal against yesterday’s 171 acquittals.
The trial began in August 2011, with 801 border guards and 23 civilians among those charged in 2010 after a year-long investigation.
About 4,000 people have already been found guilty of involvement in the mutiny, all in mass military trials. They have been jailed for up to seven years.
Junior law minister Kamrul Islam also welcomed the death sentences.
“It was a plot to overthrow the newly elected government and also to assassinate the prime minister,” Mr Islan declared.
Premier Hasina, daughter of Bangladesh’s founding leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, narrowly escaped the brutal fate of her father and other family members, who were killed on 15 August, 1975, by army officers while she and her only sister were abroad.