Nine sentenced to death for attacking Sheikh Hasina 25 years ago

DHAKA: A court in Bangladesh on Wednesday sentenced to death nine opposition activists over an attack on a train carrying current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina 25 years ago, a prosecutor said.

A further 25 activists from the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) were jailed for life and 13 other members jailed for 10 years by the court in Pabna, prosecutor Akhtaruzzaman Mukta said.

“Thirty-four of the convicts were present when the judge delivered the verdict. Others have been fugitive for years,” Mukta said.

The BNP, whose leader Khaleda Zia was jailed last year for corruption in a case that her supporters say is politically motivated, said the new verdicts were aimed at crippling the party.

“It is a fabricated case and the verdict is a farce,” BNP spokesman Rizvi Ahmed said, adding the judgement was “stage-managed” by the government to inject fear among the opposition.

The prosecutor said BNP activists shot at a train carrying the then opposition leader Hasina and attacked it with molotov cocktails in September 1994 when it reached Iswardi Rail Station where Hasina was scheduled to address a rally.

At least half a dozen people including a minister now in Hasina’s current cabinet were injured, prompting police to open fire to bring the situation under control, he said.

Hasina returned to power in 2009 and has since led the country for more than a decade. In December she won a third consecutive term in a vote observers said was flawed. Hasina insists she won fairly.

In recent years the prime minister has been accused of increasing authoritarianism and overseeing a crackdown on the opposition and dissent, with tens of thousands of BNP officials and activists and their allies detained by police.

Scores of opposition activists have also gone missing — feared abducted by security forces — and top journalists have been detained for criticising the government.

Hasina’s administration has been accused of suppressing dissent and jailing critics, including supporters of the BNP. Zia is in jail on corruption charges that she said were politically motivated.

Rivalry between Hasina and Zia, both relatives of former rulers, has dominated politics in Bangladesh for years.

Masud Khandaker, a lawyer for some of the defendants, said that all of them would appeal the sentences.

Hasina was also targeted in 2004, when attackers threw grenades at rally in Dhaka, killing 24 people and wounding more than 500.

In 2018, a court sentenced 19 people to death and 19 to life imprisonment for that attack. Those defendants have appealed to a higher court.

Published in Dawn, July 4th, 2019

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