DHAKA,Bangladesh (AP) — A Bangladesh court sentenced five former police officials to death Monday for opening fire on a motorcade of then opposition leader Sheikh Hasina 31 years ago, killing 24 of her supporters during an anti-government rally.
Judge Mohammed Ismail Hossain in southeastern Bangladesh’s Chittagong city announced the verdict with four defendants present, said prosecution lawyer Shibu Prakash Biswas. One defendant has fled, he said.
Hasina is now prime minister of the South Asian nation. On Jan. 24, 1988, police started shooting as Hasina’s motorcade surrounded by her supporters was approaching the rally against then military dictator H.M. Ershad. He ruled the country for nearly nine years until 1990, when he was overthrown in an uprising.
The prosecution said the target was to kill Hasina, but her supporters formed “a human shield,” surrounding her when the shooting started.
After the killings took place, the bodies were taken to a local crematorium and cremated regardless of religious identities, without giving their families any chance to see them.
Political bickering delayed the legal proceedings.
A case was filed in 1992 when former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia came to power, but it was shelved for years because Hasina is her arch rival. Hasina took office when Zia’s five-year term ended in 1996 and began the investigation into the killings. The country’s Criminal Investigations Department charged eight policemen with murder. Three of the defendants have died.
Bangladesh has gone through numerous political upheavals since its independence from Pakistan in 1971, involving killings, military coups and counter-coups.