[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Wednesday urged [press release] the government of Bangladesh to ensure that those accused of being involved in a February 2009 mutiny [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] are given fair trials. Members of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) [official website], a Bangladeshi paramilitary force, have been tried en masse for the mutiny, which left 74 dead. HRW’s call comes in response to the mass sentencing of 657 border guards for their part in the mutiny [JURIST report] by a Bangladesh military court, bringing the total number of soldiers jailed for the mutiny to more than 3,000. Asia Director at HRW Brad Adams said that the mass trials are not fair and that the individuals responsible for the mutiny are not being held accountable:
It is impossible to try hundreds of people at the same time and expect anything resembling a fair trial. The massacre shocked Bangladesh, but each of the accused should only be found guilty if the government provides specific evidence against them. The BDR mutiny was ugly and brutal, but the current approach appears to be a witch hunt against a group rather than an attempt to identify the individuals responsible for specific crimes. The government should rethink its approach to make sure the masterminds and perpetrators of serious offenses are brought to fair trial, but end the prosecutions of the rank-and-file who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
HRW also contends that the trials are being conducted in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Bangladesh is obligated to uphold. In addition to due process breaches, many of the detainees have been held without charge and without access to legal counsel.
A judge in the Court of Metropolitan Sessions, a criminal court in Bangladesh, indicted 430 people [JURIST report] last week for their roles in the mutiny. Last January, the civilian trial of 800 soldiers charged [JURIST report] with crimes stemming from their roles in the 2009 mutiny began in the capital city of Dhaka. The trial involves some of the most serious charges with those found guilty facing the death penalty. The trial is expected to last over a year and to include the testimonies of more than 1,000 individuals. In August 2010, a special Bangladeshi military court sentenced [JURIST report] 14 members of the BDR for their roles in the mutiny. The tribunal, led by BDR head Maj. Gen. Mainul Islam, fined each of the men Tk 100 and sentenced [BDNews24 report] them to prison terms ranging from four months to six years, one year short of the maximum possible sentence for rebellion under Bangladeshi law. About 3,500 other soldiers will face lesser charges in military courts.