HRW asks for new trials of BDR mutiny

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(UNB) – The Bangladesh government should agree to new trials meeting international standards for members of the former Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) accused of mutiny and murder including 139, whose death sentences were upheld by the High Court, said the Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“We have long said that the atrocities that took place during the mutiny need to be investigated and prosecuted, but this should not be done through unfair mass trials after the use of torture,” said Brad Adams, HRW Asia Director.

“Particularly when the death penalty is involved, expediency cannot take priority over justice,” he said.

The court also upheld life sentences for another 146 people.

On February 25 and 26, 2009, members of the BDR mutinied against their commanding officers at the central Dhaka headquarters, killing 74 people, including 57 army officers.

A number of women relatives of the officers were sexually assaulted.

HRW’s research has found that many of the accused were tortured in custody and most were denied access to proper representation.

The BDR mutiny took place soon after the new Awami League government led by Sheikh Hasina won elections in December 2008.

HRW documented how the mass trials of hundreds of the accused left most without adequate counsel, adequate time to prepare a defense, or notice of the charges or evidence against them.

The chief prosecutor claimed that no confession obtained under duress would be used in court, but legal teams eventually assigned to some of the cases showed Human Rights Watch documentation demonstrating that coerced confessions had been used as evidence.

“Families of those killed and injured in the mutiny need justice and closure, but the answer is not through flawed trials,” Adams said.

“True justice comes only through sound procedures that comply with the rule of law, and the families of the victims deserve better answers than this mass roundup.”

The HRW said Bangladeshi authorities should establish an independent investigative and prosecutorial task force with sufficient expertise, authority, and resources to rigorously investigate allegations of human rights abuses after the mutiny.

All those subject to unfair trials should be given a new trial.

“The death penalty is a cruel and irreversible punishment that should never be used,” Adams said.

“Bangladesh should join the international movement to abolish it, particularly in cases like these in which suspects were tortured, nearly 50 died in custody, and due process failed.”

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