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Bangladesh Supreme Court Upholds Assassins' Death Sentences

  • Anjana Pasricha

Five former army officers convicted of the 1975 killing of the country's independence leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, could face the death penalty after the supreme court rejected their appeals. Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina - who is the daughter of the slain leader - had vowed to complete the politically sensitive trial when she took power, earlier this year.

In Bangladesh, five former army officers convicted of the 1975 killing of the country's independence leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, could face the death penalty after the supreme court rejected their appeals. Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina - who is the daughter of the slain leader - had vowed to complete the politically sensitive trial when she took power, earlier this year.

A jury in Bangladesh's Supreme Court Thursday dismissed the plea by five men to commute death sentences handed to them for killing the independence leader in a military coup.

Thousands of police stood guard in Dhaka as the ruling was pronounced to a packed courtroom.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was gunned down at his home, four years after he led Bangladesh to independence following a bloody war against Pakistan. Most of his close family and aides were also killed.

The coup leaders were given indemnity by subsequent military rulers. They only faced trial two decades later after the assassinated leader's daughter, Sheikh Hasina, became prime minister, following the restoration of democracy.

The men were sentenced to death in 1998. But the court proceedings slowed down after Sheikh Hasina lost power to a rival party which had benefited from the coup.

After Sheikh Hasina returned to power, earlier this year, she vowed to conclude the long-drawn out trial.

Prime Minister's Hasina's spokesman says she wept and was overwhelmed with emotion after the ruling was delivered.

A senior leader of the ruling Awami League Party, Abdul Jalil, says people have welcomed the ruling because they want to see the law upheld.

"They are very happy seeing that long-delayed justice has been done, he said. "People wanted to see that the criminals who killed the father of the nation should be punished in this country. "

Hundreds of supporters of the ruling party shouted slogans in the streets of Dhaka, following the verdict.

The government had beefed up security, fearing that supporters of those facing the death sentence could create disturbances. The assassination still raises political passions in the country.

The five army officers on the death row can ask the supreme court for a review and plead to the president for mercy. They had argued that they should be tried under martial law, not under civilian law.

Along with them, 10 other people had been charged in playing a role in Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's death. Three of them were acquitted, one is believed to have died and six have fled the country. The government is now likely to focus on finding these six, believed to be living overseas.

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