Bangladesh Rifles revolt
|Bangladesh Rifles revolt|
An array of Army tanks waiting beside Abahani ground on 26 February 2009
| Bangladesh Army
|Mutineers from the Bangladesh Rifles|
|Commanders and leaders|
|General Moeen U Ahmed
|Casualties and losses|
|57 killed, 6 missing||8 killed, 200 captured|
|7 civilians killed|
The Bangladesh Rifles revolt was a mutiny staged on the 25 and 26 February 2009 in Dhaka by a section of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), a paramilitary force mainly associated with guarding the borders of Bangladesh. The rebelling BDR soldiers took over the BDR headquarters in Pilkhana, killing the BDR Director-General and army officers. They also fired on some civilians, held many of their officers hostage, vandalized property and looted valuables. By the second day, unrest had spread to twelve other towns and cities. The mutiny ended as the mutineers surrendered their arms and released the hostages after a series of discussions and negotiations with the government.
On 5 November 2013, Dhaka Metropolitan Sessions Court sentenced 152 people to death and 159 to life imprisonment; another 235 people received sentences between three and ten years for their involvement in the mutiny. The court also acquitted 277 people who had been charged. The trials have been condemned as unfair mass trials without timely access to lawyers and as trials "seem designed to satisfy a desire for cruel revenge." by the Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights
The mutiny started on the second day of the annual event "BDR Week", which was earlier inaugurated by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. As the session began at the "Darbar Hall" auditorium, a number of jawans (privates) spoke against the higher-ranked army officials, while the BDR Director General Shakil Ahmed was making a speech. They demanded the removal of Army officials from the BDR command and equal rights for the BDR soldiers. Soon they took the Director General and other senior officials as hostages inside the auditorium and later fired on them. They also prepared heavy weaponry at the main entrance gates of the headquarters. The Bangladesh Army and the Rapid Action Battalion moved in and took up strong positions surrounding the BDR headquarters.
The Director General of the BDR, Major General Shakil Ahmed, was killed early during the first day of the revolt along with dozens of other senior commanders of the BDR. The rebels also attacked the residences of the officers and killed Ahmed. They also raided Ahmed's house and looted valuables. Additionally, at least six civilians, including a boy, were killed in the crossfire.
The mutineers had produced a 22-point demand including the withdrawal of seconded regular army officers from the BDR. Instead, they wanted the original BDR members to be promoted from the ranks. They demanded that their officials be selected on the basis of the Bangladesh Civil Service examination. While speaking to private television networks, BDR jawans alleged that senior officials of BDR were involved in a conspiracy, accusing the army officers of embezzling soldiers' wage bonuses from the Operation Dal-Bhaat Programme and from extra duties in the general elections held on 29 December 2008. Operation Dal-Bhaat was a welfare programme run by the BDR to provide rice and other daily essentials to the poor. Other demands included 100 percent rationing, introduction of BDR soldiers in peacekeeping missions, and the overall welfare of BDR members.
Home Minister Sahara Khatun convinced some of the mutineers to give up their arms by assuring them that the Army would not go into the BDR headquarters. As a result, the rebels began to surrender their arms and release the hostages. However, as this was happening in Dhaka, revolts by other members of the BDR started in at least 12 other towns and cities. Fighting and takeovers by the BDR was reported in: Chittagong, at Feni, on the eastern border with India, in Rajshahi in the north-west, and Sylhet in the north.
By 26 February, BDR outposts at more than 46 locations were reported to have shown signs of great agitation. BDR jawans had claimed to have taken command of Jessor BDR garrison as well as major BDR establishments in Satkhira, Dinajpur, Naogaon and Netrokona. Army tanks and APCs were brought outside as the Army took position. But they could not move as officers were kept as hostages. BDR headquarters had heavy weapons inside which were controlled by the rebels. The Army was preparing for a final assault as tanks were rolling down the streets of Dhaka. Paratroops and commandos were ready. But the PM tried to solve the case without any casualties.
As per media tickers, the BDR members again started surrendering their arms after the PM addressed the nation and reassured the BDR personnel that no action would be taken against them. But she also warned the mutineers of "harsh actions" if they didn't immediately lay down their arms and cease all hostilities. Following the speech of Sheikh Hasina, the army deployed tanks in front of the BDR headquarters. After that, the mutineers surrendered their arms as described by the media spokesman of the Prime Minister. Following the surrender, Armed Police Battalion took over the BDR headquarters.
On 27 February, about 200 mutineers were arrested while trying to escape from their headquarters at Pilkhana in civilian outfits. Army tanks and troops entered the headquarters of the BDR. Home minister Sahara Khatun had assured that the army had entered under the supervision of the Home Ministry. She also said that the BDR personnel were kept at a safer place inside the headquarters and the army had entered to help with the rescue and search operations. Bangladesh Army tanks rolled throughout Dhaka in a show of force, which persuaded the remaining mutineers to lay down their arms and surrender. It was still unclear whether the mutiny had been aborted in at least 12 BDR bases outside of Dhaka. As searching for the missing personnel continued inside the headquarters, 42 more bodies were found and it was wrongly thought that more than 130 regular army officers had been killed by the rebels. As of 27 February, the official death toll had risen to 54. The body of BDR chief Major General Shakil Ahmed was also found among 41 other army officials. A mass grave was found inside, near the BDR hospital. A total of 42 officers were found buried inside a seven-foot-deep hole. Some officers' bodies had been thrown into drain tunnels. Out of 58 bodies that were found, 52 were army officials. Starting from 27 February, the government declared a three-day period of national mourning.
The body of the BDR chief's wife was recovered as three more mass graves were found. Many of the bodies had badly decomposed and were difficult to identify. Military Intelligence (MI) announced that the body count in the mutiny at BDR headquarters stood at 63 while 72 army officers still remained missing. Of the 63 bodies, 47 were identified. The army postponed the funerals of those who died until all the bodies were found. 31 officers deputed to the paramilitary force survived the revolt by border guards.
Newly appointed BDR Director General Brig Gen Moinul Hossain said their immediate task would be to "regain the command structure" of the paramilitary force.
Lt Gen M A Mubin, the army's second-in-command, said the killers would be punished.
"The BDR troops who took part in these barbaric and grisly acts cannot be pardoned and will not be pardoned", he said in a televised address, AFP reported.
Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) members who were absent from their workplaces without any leave or permission following the mutiny were asked to report to the BDR headquarters or the nearest sector headquarters or battalion headquarters or police stations within 24 hours but only about 100 quickly responded.
On 2 March 2009, a state funeral was held for 49 army officers, who were buried with full military honours; the wife of the Director General, who was also assassinated, was also buried on the same day. The government established an investigation committee to determine the causes behind the rebellion with Home Minister Sahara Khatun as the chair. The committee was later reformed and reinforced after the opposition and pressure groups speculated that the committee may not function impartially as the Home Minister herself is investigating an incident of her own ministry. The Bangladesh Army also formed an investigation committee which started proceedings from 3 March. The Army, with the help of RAB and Police, has started the "Operation Rebel Hunt" to capture the BDR rebels. The government has also undertaken a decision to change the name and framework of Bangladesh Rifles and deployed the army across the country for an indeterminate period of time. The government asked for FBI and Scotland Yard to assist the investigation.
Prime Minister address to Army
On 1 March 2009, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina went to Senakunjo, army community center to brief all army members about the situation. The meeting became sensitive, as army members started to become emotional, having lost longtime friends. A separate inquiry took place and, on 7 June, six officers of the Bangladesh Army and a large number of cadets from the Bangladesh National Cadet Corps (BNCC) were summarily dismissed because of their rough behavior towards the PM and government authorities. The officers dismissed were Lt Cols Shamsul Islam, Mahdi Nasrullah Shahir and Md Shafiul Haque Chowdury, Major Mahsinul Karim, and Captains AKM Annur Hossain and Habiba Islam. Most of the cadets were from Dhaka Air Wing of the BNCC.
Trials and sentencing
Trials soon began after the first arrests. Members of the 37th Rifles Battalion were tried on 13 November 2010. They were charged with looting firearms and ammunition from the armory and firing their weapons, creating panic in the city, desecrating the portrait of BDR DG Major General Shakil Ahmed and giving provocative statements before the media. BDR personnel of the 39th Rifles Battalion were accused of looting firearms, firing shots and siding with the Dhaka mutineers who killed the top ranks of the force in February. As of January 2011, thousands were tried in Bangladesh for the mutiny.
The mutineers were subjected to widespread abuse in custody, including torture, daily beatings, electrocution which resulted in about 50 custodial deaths and many more cases of permanent paralysis. Torture is routinely used by security forces in Bangladesh, even though it is a state party to the United Nations Convention Against Torture. Human Rights Watch and others have long documented the systematic use of torture in Bangladesh by its security forces, including the army, the Rapid Action Battalion, and the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence, the country’s main intelligence agency. 
Around 6000 soldiers were convicted by courts in mass trials and sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging from four months to as much as seven years including fines for participation in the mutiny. 823 soldiers who allegedly killed their senior officers were charged and tried in a civilian court for murder, torture, conspiracy and other offences.
On 5 November 2013, Dhaka Metropolitan Sessions Court sentenced 152 people to death and 159 to life imprisonment; 235 received sentences of between 3 and 10 years, while 277 were acquitted. Lawyers of the convicted have said that they would appeal against the judgement.
A Human Rights Watch spokesperson described the mass trial as "an affront to international legal standards." UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has drawn attention to flaws in the trial, calling it "rife with procedural irregularities, including the lack of adequate and timely access to lawyers". A spokesperson for Amnesty International condemned the sentences, stating that they "seem designed to satisfy a desire for cruel revenge." Some of those accused, more than fifty according to one estimate, are reported to have died while in custody.
With the mutineers being given unfair mass trials that did nothing to determine guilt and being handed out mass death sentences, Human Rights Watch said in a report that "The mass trials of nearly 6,000 suspects raise serious fair trial concerns". "Those responsible for the horrific violence that left 74 dead should be brought to justice, but not with torture and unfair trials," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The government’s initial response to the mutiny was proportionate and saved lives by refusing army demands to use overwhelming force in a heavily populated area. But since then it has essentially given a green light to the security forces to exact revenge through physical abuse and mass trials."
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to 2009 Bangladesh Rifles revolt.|
- Bangladesh's first line of defence BBC News
- Mutiny, bloodshed at BDR HQ The Daily Star
- New Bangladesh graves discovered BBC News
- BDR deserters given 24 hours to rejoin The Daily Star
- 6 army officers missing The Daily Star 3 March 2009