Dhaka, Bangladesh – A Dhaka court has handed down death penalty to 19 people, including two former ministers, and sentenced a top opposition leader to life imprisonment over a 2004 attack on the current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
The special court awarded life imprisonment to Tarique Rahman, exiled son of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, who is already languishing inside a Dhaka jail following her conviction in a corruption case.
Zia is already languishing inside a Dhaka jail following her conviction in a corruption case, which came ahead of the country’s general election scheduled to be held by the end of the year.
Rahman, who is the acting chairman of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), was jailed for 10 years in absentia in the same corruption case as her mother. He has been living in exile in London since 2008.
The security in and around the special tribunal in capital, Dhaka, was beefed up anticipating protests from BNP leaders and activists.
Senior BNP leaders, including former State Minister of Home Affairs Lutfuzzaman Babar and former Deputy Minister of Education Abdus Salam Pintu, were given capital punishment for hatching the plot to assassinate Hasina.
The ‘August 21 grenade attack case’, as it is known in Bangladesh, relates to the deadly attack on a rally organised by Hasina’s Awami League (AL) in Dhaka in 2004 when she was the opposition leader.
Hasina narrowly survived the attack after some of her party leaders formed a human shield around her, but up to 20 people were killed, including top AL leader Ivy Rahman, in the attack.
As per the case documents, the attack was a “meticulously designed plot” to assassinate Hasina hatched by the BNP, which is the ruling AL party’s arch rival in Bangladesh’s volatile two-party politics.
Right after the attack, the then ruling coalition of the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami had allegedly made efforts to scuttle the investigation to protect the masterminds.
According to the documents submitted by the prosecution, the attack was carried out by armed group, Harkat-ul-Jihad (HuJI).
Citing the alleged involvement of Mufti Abdul Hannan, the prosecution also alleges the purpose of the attack was to establish “fanatic Islam” in the south Asian country.
Hannan, a senior HuJI leader accused of multiple attacks in Bangladesh, was executed last year.
The BNP alleges that Hasina is crushing dissent and putting rivals behind bars to strengthen her re-election bid.