Dhaka: A Dhaka court on Wednesday set November 5 as the date for delivering the verdict on the country’s biggest ever criminal case with nearly 850 soldiers, of what was previously called Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), standing accused of murdering 74 people including 57 army officers during a 2009 rebellion.
“The date for delivering the verdict in the BDR mutiny carnage case has been shifted from Wednesday to November 5,” Judge Mohammad Akhtaruzzaman of the Third Additional Metropolitan Sessions Judge’s Court of Dhaka said.
He said some extra days were required for delivering the verdict as the judgement could not be prepared within the stipulated time.
“It is possibly one of the biggest criminal trials in the world in terms of the number of accused, witnesses testified and the people killed ... it is unique they got normal trial under the ordinary law of the country,” chief prosecutor of the case Anisul Huq told Gulf News.
He added: “I hope the justice will be properly meted out when the judgement will be delivered.”
Court officials said out of over 1,300 listed witnesses, 655 prosecution and 27 defence witnesses testified before the court, which wrapped the trial on October 20.
If found guilty, 846 rebel soldiers and several civilians could face the death penalty for the carnage.
Dhaka’s then sessions Judge, Johurul Haque, began the trial proceedings on January 5, 2011 against the ex-soldiers of BDR, which subsequently was renamed as Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) under a massive overhaul designed to overcome the mutiny stigma.
Prime Minister Shaikh Hasina, meanwhile, during a programme at her official Ganobhaban residence said such a big case had never been filed ever in the country’s history and the judge might have required extra time to write the verdicts as “the gravity of the offence was also very serious”.
“(I hope) the verdict will be delivered soon,” she said.
The rebel soldiers staged the mutiny at the BDR’s Pilkhana headquarters, at the heart of the capital, on February 25, 2009. The rebellion, which lasted for two days, quickly spread to sector headquarters and regional units of the frontier force across the country, although the casualties took place at Pilkhana alone.
The rebellion saw paramilitary soldiers turn their guns on their commanders, shooting them from close range or hacking and torturing them to death, hiding their bodies in sewers and hurriedly digging graves. They also allegedly detained and harassed frightened family members in barracks.
The rebels went on a killing spree during the 33-hour revolt at Pilkhana when they also allegedly murdered the then BDR chief Major-General Shakil Ahmad and the border guards Dhaka sector chief Colonel Mojibul Haque and later dumped the army officers bodies in sewers and shallow graves.
The mutiny exposed the new government of Prime Minister Shaikh Hasina, which had been elected only a month earlier, to its worst challenge. It sparked anger among army officers, who lost 57 colleagues that were serving the paramilitary border force on deputation.
On November 20 last year, Bangladesh concluded a major phase of the rebellion trial when 11 paramilitary courts delivered verdicts against the last of the 57 mutinying units, sentencing a total of 6,011 rebel soldiers to different terms up to seven years of imprisonment under the relatively lenient BDR act under a parallel trial process.
Eleven of the units were stationed at Pilkhana, where all the 74 victims were killed and, of the total 6,011 accused, only 112 were freed as the paramilitary courts found them “not guilty” as they were tried on charges of ordinary command breach.
The core suspects of the carnage, however, were singled out and referred to regular sessions judge’s court to be tried under the civil Penal Code in line with a Supreme Court advice obtained through a presidential reference seeking the apex court opinion on the trial procedures for the mutineers.
They all were accused of charges like masterminding the mutiny plots, torturing and killing their officers, looting property and detaining military family members.
Several civilians including a former lawmaker of main opposition BNP, Nasiruddin Ahmad Pintu, and a previously retired junior BDR official and local leader of ruling Awami League, were also accused and tried for allegedly participating in the mutiny and subsequently protecting the rebels.
But the BGB said at least 20 of the suspects were still on the run and were being tried in absentia. Investigators suspect they could be hiding in neighbouring India.
The huge number of accused prompted authorities to set up a makeshift special court complex at a government-run madrasas field near the high security Dhaka Central Jail as such a big number could not be accommodated at the original courtroom.
Bangladesh last year renamed the mutiny-stained force as BGB under a massive reconstruction campaign that also witnessed the changes in the border force’s law, uniform, flag and monogram as part of efforts to rid the force of the rebellion stigma.
The new law or BGB Act suggested death penalty for mutiny in the force compared to seven years prescribed in the previous BDR Act, as authorities apparently could not foresaw possibilities of such rebellion in the paramilitary force when the law was enacted.
The paramilitary force also abolished four mutiny-stained battalions and raised four new battalions with fresh recruitments to replenish the border force’s strength as part of the reforms.
A government committee report said “a certain quarter” staged the mutiny using a sense of deprivation of the ordinary BDR soldiers but only a few BDR men knew about killing plot beforehand.
The rebel soldiers at the time of their mutiny claimed a sense of “deprivation” prompted them to stage the mutiny.
They demanded the frontier force be freed from “military domination” as they also killed eight civilians, eight fellow BDR soldiers and an army soldier apart from the 57 military officers.