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Bangladesh jails 124 sportsmen over 2009 mutiny, officer deaths

DHAKA, Bangladesh -- More than 120 Bangladeshi sportsmen including top internationals were jailed Sunday for their role in a bloody 2009 mutiny, a prosecutor said, part of the largest trial in the country's history.

Fifty-seven senior army officers were killed during an uprising that began when soldiers at the Bangladeshi Rifles (BDR) headquarters in the capital Dhaka went on a killing spree, later dumping bodies in sewers and shallow graves.

A special military court in Dhaka found 329 border guards guilty of joining the rebellion, which included 124 soldiers who represented the force as sportsmen, prosecutor Manjur Alam told AFP.

“They included players from the BDR's soccer, volleyball, wrestling, archery, kabaddi, boxing and other teams. Some of them are national champions. At least six of them represented the country in international meets,” Alam said.

“A former Bangladesh national volleyball captain is among those jailed,” he said, referring to Shafizuddin, who uses one name and has in the past won a national award.

At least 37 defendants were jailed for seven years, the highest possible tariff, said Alam, adding that some got shorter jail terms because of their achievements in sport.

The BDR teams for decades dominated Bangladesh's national sports including volleyball, wrestling, boxing and handball. After the mutiny the BDR changed its name to the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB).

The mutiny spread from Dhaka to BDR posts across the country, with thousands of guards taking up arms against their commanding officers in the worst military rebellion in Bangladesh's history.

Dozens of special courts — run by the military using a mix of martial and civilian law — were set up to prosecute mutineers, with the first verdict, convicting 29 soldiers, being handed down in April 2010.

More than 4,000 BDR soldiers have now been convicted, Alam said, in what prosecutors say is the largest case in the country's history. Trials of at least 1,400 more are on-going.

The courts, headed by military officers, do not allow defendants to have lawyers and there is no right of appeal. Seven years in jail is the maximum penalty they can impose.

Soldiers accused of more serious offences — including murder — are being tried separately in civilian courts and could face the death penalty if convicted.

“Of the 329 soldiers convicted today, 66 soldiers face murder charges and are being tried separately,” said Alam.

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A Bangladeshi army soldier, right, stands guard as handcuffed Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) headquarters battalion soldiers walk to a special mutiny court at BDR headquarters in Dhaka in this file photo taken on July 12, 2010. Seventy-four people, including 57 senior army officers, were killed in a 33-hour siege at a military base in the capital Dhaka during a deadly mutiny in February 2009. (AFP)

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