19 death sentences handed down over political bombingTwo former Bangladeshi ministers among those punished for 2004 grenade attack on opposition rally
Police escort Lutfuzzaman Babar, former home affairs minister, after he was sentenced to death Oct. 10 by a Dhaka Court for his role in grenade attack on a political rally of then opposition leader and current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in 2004. (ucanews.com photo)
A Bangladesh court has handed down the death sentence to 19 people — including two former government ministers — over a deadly 2004 grenade attack on an opposition political rally that killed 24 people.
The Dhaka court sentenced another 19 to life imprisonment over the Aug. 21 attack on the rally of then opposition leader and now prime minister, Sheikh Hasina. Hundreds of people, most of them activists and supporters of Hasina's Awami League, were also injured.
Special Tribunal Judge Shahed Nuruddin delivered the verdict in a packed court on Oct. 10 amid tight security around the building and across the capital.
Members of Harkat-ul-Jihad (HUJI), a banned Islamic extremist outfit, carried out the attack with backing from top government and state security officials, the judge noted while delivering the verdict.
The aim was to annihilate the Awami League leadership, including Hasina, the judge said.
Of the 49 convicted over the attack, 18 were sentenced in absentia and a further three, including HUJI chief, Mufti Hannan, were earlier executed in relation to other cases.
Among those given the death sentences are Lutfuzzaman Babar, former home affairs minister, and Abus Salam, former deputy minister for industry. Both are from the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the country's second largest political party which held power at the time of the attacks.
Tarique Rahman, acting chairperson of the BNP and the eldest son of jailed former prime minister Khaleda Zia, was given a life sentence for his part in two conspiracy cases stemming from the attack.
Rahman has lived in exile in London since 2008, and was once considered a major player in Bangladesh politics until he fell from grace after BNP lost the 2008 election. He has also been convicted of corruption charges relating to abuse of power during the 2001-2006 tenure of the BNP.
Security officials escort prison vans carrying the sentenced bombers out of a Dhaka Court on Oct. 10. (ucanews.com photo)
Holy Cross Father Liton H. Rozario, secretary of Catholic Bishops' Justice and Peace Commission said the verdict should be seen as a catalyst for ending vindictive power struggles.
"The Church stands for justice, but not for capital punishment. The verdict should not be seen as a political agenda or vendetta but as criminal justice. We want to see an end to the politics of vengeance and instead politics for public welfare. This verdict must be a lesson for all," the priest told ucanews.com.
The Awami League was ambivalent about the sentences.
"Justice was delayed for 14 years and finally it came. We are neither unhappy nor satisfied. We expected capital punishment for all masterminds and plotters of the gruesome attack," Obaidul Kader, Awami League secretary, told journalists after the verdict.
BNP expressed anger over the sentences and said they were directed by the government.
"This verdict is stage-managed and a disgrace for the nation," Mirza Fakhrul Islam, BNP secretary, said.
"BNP leaders have been sentenced on false and fabricated charges, and it means there is no rule of law and no hope for justice in this country."
Islam warned that BNP would stage nationwide protests to condemn the sentences and appeal against the verdicts in the High Court.
Dhaka-based political analyst Rasheda Rawnak Khan says the verdicts were long overdue but they wouldn't change the country's bitter political culture.
"The grenade attack became a serious cause of political rivalry and bitterness between two major parties. I think the verdict won't change the existing political scenario and political bitterness is likely to continue," Khan told ucanews.com.
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