DHAKA: A Bangladesh court on Wednesday sentenced eight students from the ruling party to death for the brutal murder of a young Hindu that was captured live on television in the capital.
The special fast-track court found the Awami League (AL) activists guilty of chasing down Biswajit Das, 24, and hacking him with machetes while police stood by, in a crime that shocked the nation after its airing on TV.
A further 13 activists from the AL’s student wing were sentenced to life in prison for murdering Das, whom prosecutors said they mistook for a supporter of opposition strikes that took place last December.
Prosecutor S.M Rafiqul Islam confirmed eight students were handed a death sentence while “13 were given life in prison.”
Only eight of the accused were present in the packed court to hear judge A.B.M Nizamul Huq read out the verdict. The rest, including two of those handed the death penalty, are still on the run and were tried in absentia.
The victim’s elder brother Uttam Das said the family was happy with the verdict and called for the executions to be swiftly carried out.
“We have got the justice and now we want quick execution of these criminals,” Das said.
The trial was a major test for the secular AL amid allegations at the time that police, who are closely linked with the AL government, tried to cover up the identities of the activists.
The sentences are likely to boost the AL’s popularity among the minority Hindu community ahead of January 5 general elections. Hindus make up around 10 percent of Bangladesh’s 153 million people and traditionally form a key AL support base.
The AL students chased down Das after a small bomb exploded outside a state-run university, where they attended, during the strikes which they opposed.
The mob suspected Das of planting the bomb, mistaking him for a protester from the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the trial heard.
Defense lawyer Mizanur Rahman Molla said he would appeal the conviction in a higher court.
The verdicts came as the impoverished country reels from political turmoil ahead of the polls, with the main opposition and its allies boycotting the vote and holding deadly strikes and street protests.
At least 112 people have been killed since late October when an opposition alliance launched protests demanding Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina step aside and make way for a neutral caretaker government to oversee the election.