Updated at 12:41 p.m. ET on 2017-01-18
In a rare instance of accountability for an elite police wing, a Bangladesh court on Monday sentenced 26 people to death, including 16 members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), for their roles in killing seven people in Narayanganj city in April 2014.
Nur Hossain, a local Awami League leader, was condemned to the gallows for hiring RAB officers to abduct and kill a political rival, Narayanganj city corporation councilor Nazrul Islam, and six others.
Lt. Col. Tareq Mohammad Sayeed, the RAB commander in Narayanganj at the time, also received a death sentence, as did 15 of his officers.
The sentences are highly unusual because RAB is notorious for alleged extrajudicial killings and disappearances. Convictions of police officers are very rare.
Human rights organizations have long complained about how people branded by authorities as suspected criminals or militants have been killed during shootouts or crossfire incidents involving RAB officers.
“The seven-murder case in Narayanganj was a serious one as we see a RAB commander and his entire force had been involved in the killing of citizens whom they we supposed to protect. It was a typical example of what happens if a force is given the license to kill people on the pretext of crossfire or shootout,” Badiul Alam Majumder, a civil society leader, told BenarNews.
Judge Syed Enayet Hossain issued the verdicts against the 26 as well as nine other RAB officers who were sentenced to prison terms of seven to 10 years for killing Nazrul Islam, his lawyer Chandon Sarker and five others.
“They got exemplary punishment. We are happy with the verdict,” Nazrul Islam’s widow, Selina Islam, told BenarNews.
‘Not human beings’
The seven victims were abducted by the RAB members, with assistance from Nur Hossain’s gang. The killers suffocated their victims, cut their stomachs open, packed them in sacks stuffed with bricks, and threw them into the Shitalakhya River, according to the police charge sheet.
But on April 30, the decomposed bodies started floating in the river.
“These people are not human beings; they must be hanged as soon as possible. This judgment proves that a minister cannot save his son-in-law as the people are united against the perpetrators,” Narayanganj resident Ahmed Hossain told BenarNews.
Sayeed, the former RAB commander, is the son-in-law of Mofazzal Hussain Chowdhury Maya, Bangladesh’s minister of disaster management.
Verdict appeals expected
Under the Bangladeshi legal system, those convicted have the right to appeal a verdict against them to the country’s high court.
“Of course, we will move to the high court against this judgment. My client is innocent,” Nur Hossain’s lawyer, Khokon Saha told BenarNews.
Sayeed’s lawyer, Sultanuzzaman, vowed to appeal as well.
Law Minister Anisul Huq said he was satisfied by the verdicts.
“This is the responsibility of the state to ensure rule of law. The state has discharged its due role to punish the criminals through the legal procedure," he told BenarNews.
Under Bangladeshi law, RAB officials could not comment on the verdict.
Those sentenced to death are 16 law enforcers: Sayeed, Maj. Arif Hossain, Lt. Comm. Masud Rana, Emdadul Hague, Hira Mia, Belal Hossain, Abu Taiyeb, Shihab Uddin, Purnendu Bala, Asaduzzaman Noor, Mokhlesur Rahman (absconding), Mohiuddin Munshi (absconding), Al Amin (absconding), Tajul Islam (absconding), Enamul Kabir (absconding) and Arif Hossain (absconding).
Nine other members of the RAB, who received prison sentences ranging from seven to 10 years were: Ruhul Amin, Nuruzzaman, Babul Hasan, Kamal Hossain (absconding), Abul Kalam Azad, Md Mokhlesur Rahman, Habibur Rahman (absconding), Bazlur Rahman and Nasir Uddin.
Nur Hossain, the Awami League politician, was sentenced to the gallows along with nine of his political accomplices: Mohammad Ali, Mizanur Rahman Dipu, Rohom Ali, Abul Bashar, Mortuiza Zaman Churchill, Selim (now in an Indian jail), Sanaullah Sana (absconding), Shahjahan (absconding), and Jamal Uddin (absconding).
An earlier version contained incorrect information about the number of people who were sentenced in this case.