800 soldiers face Bangladesh mutiny hearing

Some 800 Bangladeshi soldiers were due in court on Wednesday accused of murder and other serious offences during a bloody 2009 mutiny in which scores of army officers were massacred.

During the uprising, which lasted about 30 hours, 74 people — including 57 senior army officers — were killed at a military base in the capital Dhaka.

The Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) soldiers turned on their commanders, hacking them to death, torturing them and burning them alive before hiding their bodies in sewers.

The mutineers stole an estimated 2,500 weapons and broke into an annual meeting of top BDR officers before shooting them at point blank range. The BDR’s head, Major General Shakil Ahmed, was among those killed.

They also stormed Ahmed’s house on the base and killed his wife, domestic staff and guests, before setting fire to the building and stealing valuables including gold jewellery.

Wednesday’s pre-trial hearing came after hundreds of other BDR soldiers involved in the nationwide rebellion were earlier convicted on minor charges in special military-run courts.

As the mutiny in February 2009 spread to BDR bases across Bangladesh, it briefly threatened the new government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, which had been elected only one month previously.

The cause of the violence is uncertain but resentment by soldiers against BDR senior officers — who do not come from within the BDR — is widely seen as the main factor.

All accused, 800 soldiers plus 20 civilians, were due to appear at a specially-built temporary court in Dhaka.

The charges range from murder to conspiracy, looting military weapons and arson. Those accused of murder face the death penalty if convicted.

The trial is expected to last up to a year, though no start date for the prosecution case has been set.

“The trial process is to start on Wednesday,” state prosecutor Mosharaf Hossain told AFP, adding that of the 824 people charged in July, two had since died and 21 were on the run.

The charges against the accused will be read out in the courtroom, he added.

The case is the country’s single largest criminal probe ever, with police interviewing 9,500 BDR soldiers and civilians and detaining 2,307 suspects.

Investigators have cleared Bangladesh’s main political parties of involvement in the mutiny, but more than 1,200 people are likely to be called to testify, including government ministers and senior army officers.

The BDR are responsible for patrolling the country’s borders.
Earlier trials of mutineers on lesser charges were held in military courts, but Wednesday’s trial is a civil case.