DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A court in Bangladesh has sentenced nine opposition activists to death and 25 others to life in prison for an attack on a train carrying political leader Sheikh Hasina 24 years ago.
The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by Hasina’s archrival and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, rejected Wednesday’s verdict, calling it politically motivated.
The current prime minister and then-opposition leader, Hasina was riding a passenger train attacked at Pakshi Rail Station on Sept. 23, 1994. The attackers fired shots and hurled bombs at the train, injuring scores of people, though Hasina was unhurt.
The Paban district trial court also Wednesday sentenced 13 other people to 10 years in jail in a case filed under the Explosives Substances Act of 1908.
The prosecution and local Awami League leaders voiced satisfaction the offenders had been convicted even after the completion of the trial took 24 years.
BNP’s Pabna unit office secretary Jahirul Islam said all of the convicts are leaders and activists of the party and its associate bodies.
In a statement, BNP Secretary-General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir alleged the verdict was “dictated” and “cruel” and alleged the train attack had been staged to create a political issue. “The verdict is part of the government’s policy to eliminate BNP using the court,” the BNP leader added.
Hasina won her fourth term and her third straight with an overwhelming victory in Bangladesh’s last election in late December. Amid worry that the dominating victory would allow her to become more authoritarian, she vowed when Parliament opened that she would allow criticism from the opposition.
The main opposition alliance received only seven of the 300 seats in Parliament. Zia’s party is the main partner of the alliance.
Hasina and Zia have ruled the country alternately since 1991, when democracy returned after nine years of military rule. Zia is serving two corruption sentences in cases she says are politically motivated.
At least 19 attacks or assassination attempts have been made against Hasina, the eldest daughter of the country’s founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who was brutally killed along with several family members in a coup by an army cabal in 1975.