Bangladesh begins trial of rebel troopers

Thursday, January 6, 2011

DHAKA - Bangladesh’s biggest trial to date has begun with a court admitting cases against over 800 rebel troopers of the country’s border guard who had killed 74 people in a mutiny they staged in February 2009.

A total of 824 people were presented before the court of the metropolitan sessions judge at Dhaka, and 72 of them were denied bail, media reports said Thursday.

Thousands of troopers had stormed the Darbar Hall (conference room) Feb 25, 2009, killing Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) director general Major General Shakil Ahmed and scores of Bangladesh Army officers who were in a meeting.

Fifty-seven army officers on deputation to the BDR were killed. The mutiny lasted two days and spread to other centres along the border with India and Myanmar. The troopers deserted their posts and some of them joined the mutiny. The rebel troopers are being tried in various special courts and many have been convicted.

The BDR is since renamed Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), with new insignia and logo and stricter rules. For the Wednesday proceedings, all detenues were brought in a van amidst tight security at a make-shift court set up near the Dhaka Central Jail.

The court witnessed hundreds of lawyers come to defend the detenues, while the mutinous troopers’ relatives waited outside the court to have a glimpse of their loved ones.

To meet requirements of the law, specially amended after protests from human rights groups, the authorities concerned needed to make about 16 million copies of all documents, Judge Mohammad Zohurul Haque was quoted as saying in the courtroom by the Daily Star.

“We have to keep in mind that this kind of case is the first in the world,” said the judge in his inaugural speech. “It is such a case which can get a place in the Guinness Book of World Records,” he commented later.

Considering the huge number of accused, there was special type of dock instead of traditional wooden dock in the court. There were three parts in the 270 feet long and 53 feet wide courtroom and every part was separated by iron grill. The first part is for the judge’s bench and lawyers, the second part, the largest, for the accused, and the third part for the visitors.

Sound system was used to cover the large courtroom and the judge and lawyers used microphones, the first ever at a sessions judge’s court in the country.

Saying that the proceedings would be “a hundred percent neutral”, the judge allowed every lawyer to deliver on over four dozens separate bail prayers. But at one stage, he had to ask the lawyers only to mention their clients’ names, saying he gave the opportunity to ensure and make their clients happy that they moved for them.

The case has been adjourned to Feb 3.

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