A Bangladesh court sentenced 152 people to death Tuesday for a 2009 mutiny by disgruntled border guards who killed dozens of military commanders during a brutal, two-day uprising.
The sentences followed a mass trial involving 846 defendants — a process criticized by a human rights group who said it was not credible and that at least 47 suspects died in custody.
The border guards, known at the time of the mutiny as the Bangladesh Rifles, say they revolted over demands for salaries in line with their commanders' in the army; assignments on UN peacekeeping missions, which come with generous perks; and better facilities.
'Trying hundreds of people en masse in one giant courtroom, where the accused have little or no access to lawyers is an affront to international legal standards.' - Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch
The mutiny broke out on the border guards' leafy Dhaka compound, an oasis inside the city complete with its own rose garden and a small zoo.
By the time the insurrection ended, 74 people were dead, including 57 military commanders. Corpses were found stuffed inside manholes and buried in mass graves.
The case exposed deep tensions between the government and the military. The military was furious with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for negotiating with the mutineers instead of allowing the army to attack. In Bangladesh, a desperately poor South Asian nation with a history of catastrophe, army leaders have attempted to overthrow the government 21 times, twice successfully.
Dhaka's Metropolitan Sessions Court Judge Md Akhtaruzzaman announced the verdicts in a packed courtroom under tight security.
Besides the death sentences, 161 people were sentenced to life in prison; 256 people received prison terms between three and 10 years; and 277 people were acquitted.
Maj. Gen. Aziz Ahmed, director general of the Bangladesh Border Guards, said he was satisfied with the outcome.
"It was a huge massacre. We are glad that justice has been delivered," he said.
The defence vowed to appeal.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has criticized the legal proceedings and called for a new trial. The group said at least 47 suspects have died in custody while the suspects have had limited access to lawyers.
"Trying hundreds of people en masse in one giant courtroom, where the accused have little or no access to lawyers is an affront to international legal standards," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement on Oct. 29.