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Bangladesh Court Issues 152 Death Sentences for Mutiny

A court in Bangladesh has sentenced 152 people to death for participating in a border guard mutiny in which 74 people died, including more than 50 military commanders.

Dhaka's Metropolitan Sessions Court handed down the sentences on Tuesday, along with sentences of life in prison for 157 other participants. Acquittals were handed down for 271 others.

The case over the two-day mutiny of February 25-26, 2009, involves 846 defendants charged with such crimes as murder and arson.

The case has sparked criticism both within Bangladesh and among outside observers.

Defense analyst and former election commissioner, retired Brigadier Shakhawat Hossain told VOA's Bangla service the trial exposed serious flaws within the country's intelligence infrastructure.

"What it seems is that in Bangladesh the so many intelligence organizations which have no coordination and there's no ethics body who would coordinate within the various intelligence organizations. And that is what the biggest problem and that is what observed by the court."

Hossain says that Bangladesh's intelligence services failed to head off the massacre is even more glaring given the number of high profile officials who were visiting the border guard headquarters around the time the mutiny took place, which coincided with a week of festivities celebrating the border guards.

"What my view is that the government should give it a serious sort of part of having an umbrella organization under which would be all of the intelligence organizations reporting through a channel."

But Hossain warns fixing the intelligence gaps may not be so easy.

"All the intelligence agencies be it civil or military, has been to larger extent been politicized and used for political purpose. And that saps the professionalism within the intelligence community. And this is definitely one of the greatest anxiety being seen in this country and it must be corrected."

Bangladesh has also come under heavy criticism from human rights groups ahead of Tuesday's verdict.

New York-based Human Rights Watch called for a retrial, citing evidence torture and abuse were used to extract confessions.

Human Rights Watch Asia Director Brad Adams also said, "Trying hundreds of people en masse in one giant courtroom, where the accused have little or no access to lawyers is an affront to international legal standards."

Human Rights Watch also alleged that at least 47 suspects died in custody.

The border guards rebelled in 2009 after unsuccessfully demanding a raise in pay and other changes.

Tuesday's court ruling comes as Bangladesh undergoes a three-day strike by the political opposition, aimed at forcing Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to step down.

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