Bangladesh has sentenced 152 soldiers to death for playing a part in a mutiny four years ago which killed 74 people, including 57 military commanders. The rebellion broke out in a lush Dhaka compound, where bodies of the dead were tossed into storm sewers and mass graves.
A specially appointed civilian court tried over 800 defendants for crimes committed during a two-day rebellion in February 2009. The uprising was carried out by disgruntled paramilitary border guards known as the Bangladesh Rifles, who demanded higher salaries, better assignments, and better facilities. Their frustrations led them to attack their commanders, many of whom were officers in the regular army.
In addition to death sentences for 152 people, 161 more were sentenced to life in prison, 256 received shorter terms, and 277 people were acquitted. Almost 6000 soldiers who were not accused of murder were also jailed for having played a role in the rebellion.
The mass trial was criticized by human rights groups who said the trials were in violation of fair standards and over 47 suspects died in custody. Human Rights Watch has called for a new trial, arguing that the massive scale of the proceedings made due process impossible, as many of the accused had limited or no access to lawyers.
The military was upset that Prime Minister Sheihk Hasina negotiated with the rebels instead of moving in with force right away. Hasina’s ministers warned her that civil war could erupt if the two military units squabbled.
Amnesty was granted to the rebels, but was later rescinded. The recent verdict may strengthen the strained relationship between Prime Minister Hasina and the army.
“The mark of shame that was associated with this force has now been lifted,” said Major General Aziz Ahmed, commander of the Bangladesh Rifles. The Bangladesh Rifles has recently been renamed Border Guard Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is an impoverished nation that routinely faces violent strikes and protests. The army has tried to overthrow the government on 21 separate occasions, two of them successful.
Fresh clashes have also erupted in Bangladesh today during a strike that was called by the political opposition. Citizens are being told to stay at home to avoid danger in the streets, where police and paramilitary guards are on patrol. Schools, shops, and buses have been shut down.
Activists have clashed with police in the northwestern district of Rajshahi, leaving over 25 people injured. Police have fired rubber bullets on opposition supporters in the central Munshiganj district, injuring many as well.
Monday was the first day of a 60-hour strike. Demonstrators torched cars and threw homemade bombs. Bangladeshi newspapers featured photos of people who have been burned during these protests, denouncing the violence.
The strike aims to oust Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and replace her with a caretaker government that will oversee upcoming elections. Hasina has been Prime Minister since 2009, and also served in the same position from 1996 to 2001.
The 152 soldiers sentenced to death in Bangladesh comes at a time when tensions seem ready to tear the country asunder, including garment workers being upset over working in unsafe conditions and receiving the lowest wages in the world.
By K. Elsner