Bangladesh military court jails 657 border guards for mutiny

Bangladesh military court jails 657 border guards for mutiny

"The court convicts and hands you down the imprisonment reviewing the witnesses testimonies and evidence and considering the other related issues. You will serve the terms in non-military jails," judge of the court and Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) chief Major General Mohammad Rafiqul Islam said pronouncing the verdict.

"In Bangladesh's history, we have never had a case where this many people have been convicted at once," state prosecutor Shahnewaz Tipu newsmen after the judgement.
The court, however, relieved nine of the suspects for want of proof of their involvement in the February 25-26 rebellion, when 74 people including 57 army officers serving the paramilitary force, then known as Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) were killed.

According to the verdict 108 of the convicts were awarded the highest seven years of imprisonment while 89 received the minimum four months of jail.

The court also fined each of the convicts, all belong to Pilkhana-based 24 BGB Battalion, an amount of Taka 100 while the accused appeared before the special court in shackles and in barefoot under tight security escorts from the Dhaka Central Jail.

The judge said he had taken into consideration the service records and the contributions of the suspects to the 1971 Liberation War in relevant cases while handing down the judgement.

With this sentencing, total number of soldiers imprisoned has gone to nearly 3,000.
BGB officials said highest number of accused in a particular unit of the frontier force was awarded the punishments as the trial of several thousand suspected rebels were underway in 11 BGB courts under the relatively lenient BDR Act, which prescribes the maximum seven years of imprisonment.

The rebel soldiers staged the rebellion at Pilkhana at the heart of the capital city on February 25 two years ago but the mutiny quickly spread at sector headquarters and regional units of the frontier force across the country but the casualties took place only at the Pilkhana.

A BGB spokesman said the 11 paramilitary courts so far jailed to different terms up to seven years of imprisonments on mutiny charges 2,855 rebel soldiers belonging to different units and of them 961 were at their Pilkhana headquarters as the rebellion took place.

He said members of BDR 57 units were exposed to trial on mutiny charges while the paramilitary courts completed the trial of 50 while 3,109 suspected mutineers still await the trial.

The BDR Act allows defendants to consult lawyers but they have to defend themselves on their own in the court while the convicts do not have rights to appeal before a superior court.

The today's development came as an ordinary Dhaka court is expected to indict on July 5 nearly 850 "core culprits" of the mutiny on charges of murdering the 74 people under a plot, taking to hostages and torturing their family members, lootings and arsons.

Twenty three of the suspects to face the trial under the civil Penal Code suggesting the death penalty for their crimes were civilians while the rests were BGB soldiers and all the suspects were now in jail.

The civilian suspects included former lawmaker of ex-prime minister Khaleda Zia's main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) Nasiruddin Ahmed Pintu and a former BDR soldier and Torab Ali, a local leader of ruling Awami League of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Officials could not predict how long it might take the court to dispose the case but the prosecution lawyers said in no case they expected it to be completed in less than one and half years to deliver the verdict at the lower court level.

In line with a Supreme Court directive, the government earlier decided that the BDR soldiers who were directly linked to the killings, lootings and arsons at Pilkhana headquarters in Dhaka would be tried in a civil court under the civil Penal Code.

After the mutiny, the worst in Bangladesh's history, the frontier force witnessed a massive reconstruction campaign with its already changed name as Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), laws, uniform and monogram, all aimed at freeing it of the mutiny stigma.

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