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152 to die for murders

Pintu, Torab, 159 others get life in jail, 277 acquitted

Muktadir Rashid

A mutineer of the 2009 BDR carnage reacts while being taken to jail after the verdict in the case was announced on Tuesday. — Indrajit Ghosh A mutineer of the 2009 BDR carnage reacts while being taken to jail after the verdict in the case was announced on Tuesday. — Indrajit Ghosh

A sessions court in Dhaka on Tuesday sentenced to death 152 former riflemen and their officers for killing 74 people, including 57 army officers, and committing other criminal offences during a bloody rebellion in the border force’s Peelkhana headquarters in February 25-26, 2009.
On the 233th working day, the third additional metropolitan sessions court judge, Md Akhtaruzzaman, also handed life-term imprisonment to 161 accused and jailed 256 others for different terms – from three years to ten years -- with fine.
Amid tight security, the court started pronouncing the verdict at 12:35am and completed it at 2:20pm at the makeshift courtroom set up at the capital’s Bakhsibazar-Alia Madrasa playground to hold trials of the 850 border guards and civilians. 
Border Guard Bangladesh director general Major General Aziz Ahmed in his reaction to the verdict said the verdict had ‘cleaned’ the image of the force.
Former Bangladesh Nationalist Party lawmaker Nasiruddin Ahmed Pintu and local Awami League leader Torab Ali, also a former Bangladesh Rifles member, were awarded life term and fined Tk five lakh each for their involvement in the killings. In default, Pintu and Torab will have to serve five more years.
During the trial, two witnesses had told the court
that Pintu had instigated the mutineers by clapping hands and a held conspiratorial meeting near his house in Hazaribagh, close to the Peelkhana. 
As soon as the court pronounced their punishment, the convicts started shouting in the dock which was fenced with iron rods.
An elderly convict was heard shouting, ‘Many culprits got acquitted but I got punishment despite being innocent.’
Another convict, Rezaul Karim, who was sentenced to death, shouted seeking help from the BGB director general Major General Aziz Ahmed and its Dhaka Sector Commander Ehiya Azam, who were present in the court. ‘Sir, please tell the court that I am not the Rezaul that the court is convicting…please help me, sir…’        
The court asked the police on duty to calm the convict. 
As many accused could not hear the verdict and many others were confused, the court later twice delivered the verdict for a group of accused till 4:15pm.
The court identified former deputy assistant director Syed Tawhidul Alam, who was sentenced to death, as the ‘mastermind’ of the mutiny.  The court convicted all the DADs and the senior riflemen who had approached Awami League lawmakers and leaders, and cabinet members with their demands before the mutiny broke out.
At least three women, from whom the looted valuables were recovered, were jailed while a local BNP leader Suraiya Begum was acquitted.
Most of the convicts had already been jailed for various terms up to seven years in jail by the then BDR special courts comprising military officers on deputation to try the border guard under the Bangladesh Rifles act for organising rebellion. 
The judge, Akhtaruzzaman, who was given charge of the case in mid-September for its quick disposal, also acquitted 277 others.
‘…the prosecution failed to prove charges against them ‘beyond reasonable doubt,’ the court said.
The prosecutor, Musharraf Hossain Kajol, told New Age that they would move to the higher court against the acquittal after examining the full judgement.
Before delivering the verdict, the court said, ‘I am not the final court …The higher court will decide further,’ and made his observations.
The court said that the mutiny had taken place and before that leaflets had been distributed containing their demands.
Some of the demands mentioned in the leaflets were reasonable but most of them were not, the court said.
The rebellion broke out from the Durbar Hall during the annual gathering 2009 in the headquarters of the then BDR, later renamed as Border Guard Bangladesh, on February 25 and spilled over to its all but five installations across the country.
The rebellion continued for two days and 75 people, including 57 army officers deputed to the paramilitary force, even its director general Major General Shakil Ahmed and his wife, were killed.
On the day, the judge read out the operative part of the judgment, announced names or serial numbers of the convicts and pronounced the verdict in the carnage case, one of the two cases, filed after killings.
Some of the convicts in fetters reacted angrily to the verdicts while their counsels said they would move the higher court for ‘justice’.
One of the defence counsels, Aminul Islam, said they would move the higher court against the verdict.
Many members of the families of the victims of the bloody mutiny also witnessed the deliberation of the verdict but the family members of the accused were not allowed in the court due to security reasons.
Meherun Mujib, the widow of the slain Colonel Mujibul Haque, said she would be happy after the verdict was executed.
Jharna Akhter, the wife of convict Lablu Gazi, who was given life term, said, ‘My dream is shattered.’
A total 823 accused – 812 from jail, one from hospital and 10 who obtained bail -- were produced before the court while three civilians did not appear.
The rebellion broke out two months after the Awami League-led government had assumed office. Many agencies conducted inquiries none of which were made public.
At least 47 suspects died in custody during the police investigation, said Human Rights Watch, the New York-based rights watchdog.
The police later filed two cases – one for the killings and criminal offences and the other for other crimes under the Explosive Substances Act – with the nearby New Market police.
A 350-member Criminal Investigation Department team led by special superintendent Abdul Kahar Akand investigated the cases for 16 months before charge-sheet submission.
The CID in two phases pressed charge against 850 people, mostly officers and soldiers, on charge of dozens of criminal offences such as killing, arson, conspiracy and other crimes.
Of the accused, four already died and the trial of 20 BDR personnel was held in their absence while 761 were riflemen, 41 civilian BDR staff, one Ansar member and 23 civilians, including former BNP lawmaker Nasiruddin Ahmed Pintu.
The trials in both the cases had commenced on January 5, 2011. The other case is still pending.
The prosecution relied on testimonies of 654 out of 1,345 prosecution witnesses, statements given by the victims, DNA samples and medical records of the victims’ bodies.
A number of ministers, lawmakers, the then chiefs of the navy and the air force, and the then inspector general of police, among others, gave depositions in the case while army officers deputed to the BDR at that time, family members of the victims or victims themselves and BGB personnel also were testified against the accused.
The metropolitan sessions court Judge Jahurul Haque had tried the case until mid-September in 2013 when had transferred the case documents to the judge, Akhtaruzzaman, for its quick disposal.
The accused, during the trial, repeatedly had alleged that they were tortured in custody.
The court had earlier set October 30 for pronouncing the verdict on the completion of the final arguments by the prosecution and the defence on October 20 but deferred the date to November 5 due to unavoidable circumstances.
The Human Rights Watch in a statement recently said that murders and atrocities demanded credible investigation.
‘The government owes both the victims and the accused a proper investigation and trial to uncover the truth about the events of February 2009,’ said Brad Adams, Asia director at the HRW.
Apart from the verdict, a number of special courts of the border force led by army officers deputed to the BGB had already sentenced 5,926 soldiers to imprisonment for various terms – from four months to seven years – in 57 cases, including 11 in Dhaka on charges of taking up arms against their officers.
According to the government, 18,520 personnel of the border force have been tried for taking part in the rebellion.
The border force was renamed BGB and its uniform and other formations were changed after the rebellion. 

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152 to die for murders

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