A Bangladeshi court convicted several hundred soldiers on Tuesday at the start of a mass verdict and sentencing over a 2009 military mutiny in which scores of officers were massacred.
The first 200 soldiers were found guilty and sentenced to jail terms of up to 14 years for their role in the mutiny in which 74 people were hacked to death, tortured and burnt alive before their bodies were dumped in sewers and shallow graves.
“The atrocities were so heinous that even the dead bodies were not given their rights,” Judge Mohammad Akhtaruzzaman told the packed court in the capital Dhaka as he started to read out the verdicts.
Some 823 shackled soldiers were earlier crammed into the specially built court room, sitting silently on long rows of benches before sessions judge Akhtaruzzaman to hear the long-awaited verdict.
Families of 10 of the officers slain in the mutiny were also in court.
Prosecutors have sought the death penalty for many of the 823 soldiers who are charged with murder, torture, conspiracy and other offences over the 30-hour uprising that started at the Bangladeshi Rifles (BDR) headquarters in Dhaka.
An official probe into the mutiny blamed years of pent-up anger over ignored pleas for pay rises and improved treatment of the ordinary troops, who resented their better-paid superiors.
Security was tight at the court, with hundreds of police and elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) officers deployed outside as a precaution.
“We have deployed around 2,000 police and RAB officers in and around the court compound,” deputy police commissioner for Dhaka Harunur Rashid told AFP.
Lead prosector Baharul Islam said the case was the largest of its type in the world with hundreds of witnesses taking part in the trial that started in January 2011 and finished in October this year.
“So far as we know it’s the largest case in the world’s history. There were 654 prosecution witnesses,” Islam said ahead of the verdict.
During the uprising, 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.
As the mutiny spread, it briefly threatened the new government of Prime Minister Hasina, which had been elected only one month previously.
Nearly 6,000 soldiers have already been convicted by dozens of special courts over the mutiny that spread to other BDR bases around the country and left 74 people including left 57 top army officers dead.
The 823 soldiers were singled out for prosecution in a civilian court for leading the mutiny at the BDR headquarters, after earlier being found guilty in military courts over their role. Twenty-three civilians have also been charged with criminal conspiracy.
The BDR, which since the event has changed its name, is responsible for patrolling the country’s borders. The case comes as Bangladesh reels from a political crisis that has left some 20 people dead as the opposition campaigns to force Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to quit.
The opposition was Tuesday enforcing the second day of a nationwide strike as part of the campaign that started on October 25 and seen deadly clashes between opposition and ruling party activists and police.