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Bangladesh: Five ex-cops get death for shooting 24 people at PM Hasina rally in 1988

Bangladesh: Five ex-cops get death for shooting 24 people at PM Hasina rally in 1988
Hasina, who survived the attack unhurt, had led a protest against long-time military dictator HM Ershad.(source:Imago Images/UIG)

A Bangladesh court sentenced to death five former police officials on Monday for shooting dead 24 people in an anti-government protest, led by then-opposition leader and current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, 31 years ago.

A special court in Bangladesh’s southeastern city of Chattogram sentenced the punishment to the officers for their involvement in the 1988 Chattogram massacre, officials confirmed Monday.

Bangladesh’s Criminal Investigations Department had charged eight policemen with murder but three of the defendants died during the trial.

Judge Mohammed Ismail Hossain announced the verdict with four of the defendants present, prosecution lawyer Shibu Prakash Biswas said. One defendant was on the run, he added. The court cross-examined a total of 56 witnesses.

1988 massacre

Hasina’s Awami League party organized a rally on January 24, 1988, against then-military dictator Hussain Muhammad Ershad. She had been touring Chattogram to mobilize support against Ershad.

From her truck, Hasina led a procession surrounded by her supporters. According to the prosecution, the target was to assassinate Hasina, but she was saved by her supporters’ “human shield” when the shooting began.

At least 24 people were killed and more than 200 others injured as police opened fired at the rally.

After the shootings, the bodies were cremated at a local crematorium regardless of their religious identities. The families of the dead were not permitted to see them.

Hasina survived the attack unharmed.

Ershad ruled Bangladesh for almost nine years until he was overthrown in an uprising in 1990.

Political bickering

Political disputes delayed the legal proceedings of the decadeslong case.

A case was filed in 1992 when former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia took office. The case, however, was shelved for several years because Hasina is her political rival.

Hasina rose to power in 1996 when Zia’s five-year term ended and a probe began into the Chattogram massacre.

According to Hasina’s Awami League party, the now-prime minister has survived at least 19 attempts on her life since her return from exile in 1981, following the assassination of her father and Bangladesh’s founding president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975.