[JURIST] A Bangladesh court on Monday sentenced eight people to death and six others to life in prison for their roles in a bombing that took place at a New Year’s celebration concert 13 years ago. Leader of banned Islamic group Harkatul Jihad al-Islami (HuJI) [SATP backgrounder], Mufti Abdul Hannan, and a younger brother of former prime minister Khaleda Zia [Forbes profile; JURIST news archive] are among those facing the death penalty [AP report]. Before he announced the verdicts [AFP report], Judge Rahul Amin said that the attack was meant to cause panic and destabilization and that the Bengali New Year celebration is not tied to any religious or political group. Prosecutor Abdullah Abu told reporters that he was satisfied with the eight death sentences, but was not pleased with the six life sentences and plans to appeal. The bombing, which took place in downtown Dhaka during the Bengali New Year celebration in April 2001, left 10 people dead and many others wounded. According to HuJI, the celebrations, which involve concerts, dance festivals and rallies, are anti-Islamic. Defense lawyer Faruque Ahmed has expressed his intention to appeal, calling the verdicts politically motivated.
The political situation in Bangladesh has been tense in recent months following the Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s boycott of January elections that were marked by considerable violence and returned Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to power. In May the International Crimes Tribunal Bangladesh (ICTB) [official website; JURIST news archive] officially charged [JURIST report] Abdul Jabbar, a former Jatiya Party lawmaker, with war crimes. In April Bangladesh’s High Court ruled that former prime minister Khaleda Zia must stand trial on corruption charges for allegedly embezzling funds [JURIST reports] from a charitable trust named after her deceased husband, former president Ziaur Rahman. In March investigators moved [JURIST report] the Bangladesh government to ban Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami [party website; Global Security backgrounder] for its alleged involvement in war crimes occurring during the nation’s 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War from Pakistan.