Bangladesh sentences 152 to death for 2009 mutiny

November 5, 2013

A Bangladesh court sentenced 152 people to death Tuesday for a 2009 mutiny by disgruntled border guards who killed dozens of military commanders over two days.

The sentences followed a mass trial involving 846 defendants — a process that an international human rights group has said was not credible.

The border guards, who belonged to a paramilitary unit known as the Bangladesh Rifles, say they revolted over demands for salaries to be in line with their commanders’ pay in the army; assignments on U.N. peacekeeping missions, which come with generous perks; and better facilities.

The mutiny broke out at the border guards’ leafy Dhaka compound, an oasis inside the capital with its own rose garden and a small zoo.

By the time the insurrection ended, 74 people were dead, including 57 military commanders. Corpses were found stuffed inside manholes and buried in mass graves.

The case exposed deep tensions between the government and the military. The military was furious with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for negotiating with the mutineers instead of allowing the army to attack. In Bangladesh, a desperately poor South Asian nation with a history marked by turmoil and catastrophe, army leaders have attempted to overthrow the government 21 times, twice successfully.

A judge in Dhaka’s Metropolitan Sessions Court announced the verdicts Tuesday in a packed courtroom under tight security.

Besides those who were given death sentences, 161 people were sentenced to life in prison, 256 people received prison terms between three and 10 years, and 277 people were acquitted.

Maj. Gen. Aziz Ahmed, director general of the Bangladesh Border Guards, said he was satisfied with the outcome.

“It was a huge massacre,” he said. “We are glad that justice has been delivered.”

The defense vowed to appeal.

In Bangladesh, the death penalty is frequently carried out for crimes such as murder.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has criticized the legal proceedings and called for a new trial. The group says that at least 47 suspects died in custody and that defendants had inadequate legal representation.

“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,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement Oct. 29.

— Associated Press

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