Bangladesh elite police to hang for murders

Bangladeshi Commander in the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) Tarek Sayeed (centre) is escorted by police at Narayanganj court in Narayanganj on January 16, 2017. Image copyright AFP
Image caption One of the unit commanders, Tarek Sayeed (centre) is the son-in-law of a government minister

A court in Bangladesh has sentenced 26 people, three of them officers of an elite police unit, to death for seven politically-motivated murders in 2014.

The victims were abducted outside a cricket stadium in Narayanganj during a power struggle in the city.

Their bodies were found three days later floating in a river, their bellies sliced open.

Local politician Nur Hossain was among those sentenced to hang for paying the police unit to kill political rivals.

It's thought to be the first time members of the notorious Rapid Action Battalion have received the death penalty. One of the three officers, Tarek Sayeed, is the son-in-law of a government minister.

Many other defendants in the case were regular policemen.

Bodies dumped

Witnesses saw the murdered men, who included local government officials, being bundled into an unmarked van in Narayanganj in April 2014.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Rapid Action Battalion was formed in 2004 and is in the forefront of the battle against militancy

A lawyer who filmed the abductions was himself seized, along with his driver. Their bodies were later found with the others in the river.

Among those killed was local councillor Nazrul Islam, a political rival of Nur Hossain.

Hossain, an Awami League politician, was last week repatriated to Bangladesh from India. He was found guilty of paying senior RAB members cash to carry out the abductions and killings.

Twelve of those found guilty were convicted in absentia. Nine others received prison sentences.

The killings caused nationwide shock and sparked a wave of protests.

The Bangladesh Daily Star has quoted the main prosecuting lawyer in the case as welcoming the death penalties and calling for them to be implemented as speedily as possible.

It could be many years before the men exhaust the legal appeals process, the BBC's Waliur Rahman in Dhaka says.

What is the Rapid Action Battalion?

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The elite Rapid Action Battalion has been accused of numerous human rights abuses

It was formed in 2004 to take the lead in crime fighting in Bangladesh and recruits its personnel from the army, navy, police and other forces.

The unit has been implicated in hundreds of killings in recent years.

Successive governments have argued it is in the forefront of the fight against militants and criminals, and faces dangerous gunmen.

Human rights campaigners want the government to investigate more than 300 cases of people who have gone missing in RAB custody since 2009.

It is not clear how many RAB members are among the 25 policemen sentenced to death in the case.

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