Bangladesh jails 657 border guards for mutiny

Special military court hands out mass prison sentences to security guards for killing commanding officers.

    Monday's hearing has increased the total number of detained mutineers to nearly 3,000, according to officials [AFP]

    Bangladesh military court has jailed more than 650 border guards for their role in a 2009 mutiny that killed 74 people, mostly commanding officers.

    Major-General Rafiqul Islam, chief of the border forces who heads the court, read out the sentences for 657 guards in a specially built courtroom in central Dhaka, the Bangladesh capital, on Monday.

    One person had died during the hearing and nine others were acquitted, bringing the total of 667 who were charged, down by 10 people, Shahnewaz Tipu, a state prosecutor, told AFP the news agency on Monday.

    "In Bangladesh's history, this verdict is unprecedented - we have never had a case where this many people have been convicted at once," Tipu said.

    The guards, known as the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), revolted two years ago in a 33-hour uprising over long-standing demands for parity in pay and other perks enjoyed by army officers who commanded the border forces.

    The mutiny spread to BDR posts across the country, with thousands of guards taking up arms against their commanding officers in the worst military rebellion in Bangladesh's history.

    Special courts

    Dozens of special courts - run by the military using a mix of martial and civil law - were set up to prosecute mutineers, with the first verdict convicting 29 soldiers issued in April 2010.

    More than 2,000 guards have been accused of mutiny and killing at least 57 senior army officers, and were given sentences ranging from four months to seven years.

    Monday's hearing has increased the total number of detained mutineers to nearly 3,000, Mohsin Reza, the border forces spokesman, told AFP.

    The BDR has since changed its name to the Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) in an effort to distance itself from the mutiny.

    Islam, the BGB chief, said 108 guards were jailed for the maximum seven years as they were found guilty of taking part in the mutiy in the force's headquarters in Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital.

    The courts do not allow defendants to have lawyers and have the power to hand down maximum sentences of seven years in jail. There is no right of appeal.

    Coups and instability

    The mainly Muslim but secular country of 144 million, formerly known as East Pakistan, has a history of instability, coups and countercoups since winning independence from Pakistan in 1971.

    It experienced credible democracy for a while. But faced with serious economic and social crises, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the country's founding president, assumed authoritarian powers. Shortly afterwards, in 1975, soldiers mounted a coup, killing Rahman and wiping out his family as well as his cabinet.

    After years of rule by army generals in and out of uniform, Sheikh Hasina, daughter of the founding president, and Khaleda Zia, the widow of another president, alternated as prime ministers over a 15-year period that ended in late 2006.

    Those times were marked by chaos, boycotts of parliament by losing parties, lack of compromise, bad faith and mudslinging, and deadly violence inflicted by and on political partisans.

    Special courts were widely seen as a compromise by Hasina's then-newly elected government, which wanted to try all mutineers in civilian courts.

    The army had argued for martial law in all cases.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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