DHAKA, Bangladesh — Bangladesh’s High Court has upheld a verdict by a trial court sentencing 139 border guards to death for their actions in a 2009 mutiny in which 74 people, including 57 military commanders, were killed.
The trial court sentenced 152 people to death in 2013, but in response to an appeal, the High Court commuted the sentences for eight of them to life in prison and acquitted four others. Another man died during the 370 days of proceedings before Monday’s High Court verdict. A total of 846 people, mostly border guards, are facing trial.
The border guard mutiny on Feb. 25-26, 2009, took place two months after the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, took office. Hasina returned to power in 2014.
A three-member panel of High Court judges said in issuing its verdict that the border guards were “most brutal” and “cold-blooded” murderers.
Attorney General Mahbubey Alam said after the verdict that the defendants can appeal to the Supreme Court.
Defense lawyer Aminul Islam said he would advise his clients on whether to appeal after seeing the full text of the judgment.
The mutiny was an acid test for Hasina’s then-government, with the influential military unhappy over the government’s decision not to make a counter-assault in fear of more casualties. The border guard headquarters were closely surrounded by homes and businesses in the capital, Dhaka.
Hasina had offered an amnesty to quell the revolt, but rescinded the offer when dozens of bodies were found in sewers and mass graves.
The amnesty offer and the government’s overall handling of the case strained the military’s relationship with Hasina, but she vowed to punish those responsible.
Human rights groups earlier criticized Bangladesh for the mass trial, saying it would not aid justice. New York-based Human Rights Watch has said at least 47 suspects have died in custody. It also has said the suspects have had limited access to lawyers, and little knowledge of the charges and evidence against them. Bangladeshi authorities have denied the allegations.