Bangladesh to execute 152 soldiers for mutiny crimes
A court in Bangladesh has sentenced at least 152 soldiers to death over a bloody border guard mutiny in 2009.
More than 150 others, mostly border guards, were given life sentences.
Most of the 800 soldiers who packed the civilian court had already been jailed over the mutiny, but had not been tried for murder, torture and other charges.
The 30-hour revolt began over pay and other grievances and spread from Dhaka to bases around the country. It left 74 people dead, 57 of them officers.
While the army courts investigated breaches of military law - jailing nearly 6,000 troops - the maximum sentence they could pass was seven years. The civilian court could try people for much more serious crimes carrying the death penalty.
Some out of a group of 23 civilians were also found guilty of conspiracy charges.
Those convicted have the right to appeal, a process which could take many months given the number of cases. The prosecution said that it too would appeal in the cases of those who were acquitted.
BBC Bengali editor Sabir Mustafa says it will be very difficult for the authorities not to carry out the death sentences - to do otherwise would anger the army and send the wrong message to future would-be mutineers.
Our correspondent says public sentiment was initially sympathetic towards the mutineers, but turned against them once the mass killings became apparent.Murder and torture
The mutiny began on 25 February, 2009 at the Bangladeshi Rifles headquarters in the capital.
Senior officers were killed and their bodies dumped in sewers and shallow graves before the mutineers surrendered.
"The atrocities were so heinous that even the dead bodies were not given their rights," Judge Mohammad Akhtaruzzaman said as he read out the verdicts over several hours by using the serial numbers of defendants and their corresponding sentences.
The Bangladesh mutiny of 2009
- Began principally because of resentment over pay and conditions - the average border guard at the time of the mutiny earned about $70 (£50) a month, equivalent to the wages of a low-ranking government clerk
- Exactly why it became so violent - with senior officers and their family members shot in cold blood - is unclear. One theory is that resentment against the officer-class had reached boiling point
- The mutineers stole around 2,500 weapons and broke into an annual meeting of top border defence officers before shooting them
- The case is believed to be one of the largest of its type in the world, with hundreds of witnesses called for the trial that started in January 2011
- The uprising briefly threatened to overthrow the newly-elected government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in a country with a history of military-backed coups
- Soon after the uprising was crushed, the government announced it was changing the law to allow mutiny to be a capital offence
The judge said that the soldiers should have been given better pay and privileges to defuse resentment, adding they could not afford to send their children to military-owned schools.
Several of those convicted screamed at the judge in rage, with one elderly soldier crying out: "I am innocent. You will face Allah's wrath."
"I don't need a life term. Hang me, hang me," another shouted.
The trial of the mutineers on Tuesday has been one of the biggest in Bangladesh's history.
It has also been one of the most sensitive, rivalled only by verdicts throughout this year by a tribunal investigating war crimes committed during the 1971 war of independence.
Of those being tried at the special makeshift courthouse, some 152 were sentenced to death, 159 given life sentences and the remainder received sentences of between three to 10 years. About 277 were acquitted.
But correspondents say that few of those acquitted will actually be able to walk free because their convictions by the military court still stand.
The trial process has been criticised by a human rights groups which says it was not credible - at least 50 suspects died in custody. A handful have also either escaped from custody or are on the run.
Members of the BDR, since renamed as Border Guards Bangladesh, say they revolted over demands for salaries in line with their army commanders. They also wanted to be deployed on lucrative UN peacekeeping missions, which come with generous benefits.
But the revolt over pay and conditions descended into an orgy of violence against their superiors.
The case exposed deep tensions between the government and the powerful military, who were angered over Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's decision to negotiate with the mutineers instead of allowing the army to attack.
Among those jailed for life are former Bangladesh Nationalist Party lawmaker Nasiruddin Ahmed Pintu and regional Awami League leader Torab Ali, local media reported.