DHAKA: A Bangladesh military court jailed more than 650 border guards Monday for their role in a 2009 mutiny, bringing the total number of soldiers imprisoned for the unrest to nearly 3,000.
“In Bangladesh’s history, this verdict is unprecedented, we have never had a case where this many people have been convicted at once,” state prosecutor Shahnewaz Tipu said.
“A total of 667 guards of the 24th battalion were charged. One died during the trial and nine were acquitted. Among the 657 who were jailed, 108 guards got the highest prison term of seven years,” Tipu told AFP.
At least 57 senior army officers were killed in the 33-hour uprising that began when soldiers at the Bangladeshi Rifles (BDR) headquarters in Dhaka went on a killing spree, later dumping the bodies in sewers and shallow graves.
The mutiny swiftly 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.
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 being handed down in April 2010.
The courts, which do not allow defendants to have lawyers, can hand down maximum sentences of seven years in jail. There is no right of appeal.
The guards were brought to the Dhaka-based special court in 30 prison vans amid tight security, a police officer said, adding that the accused were all handcuffed and had their legs shackled.
The BDR has since changed its name to the Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) in an effort to distance itself from the mutiny.
Monday’s hearing brought the total number of incarcerated mutineers to nearly 3000, BGB spokesman Mohsin Reza told AFP.
Soldiers accused of more serious offences, including murder, looting and arson, are being tried separately in Bangladesh’s civilian courts, and can face the death penalty if convicted.