DHAKA: A court in Bangladesh has sentenced nine members of the opposition party to death and 25 others to life in prison for an attack on a train carrying political leader Sheikh Hasina 24 years ago. Thirteen people were also jailed for 10 years by Paban district trial court under the Explosives Substances Act of 1908. The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by Hasina's archrival and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, rejected the verdict, calling it politically motivated.
The current prime minister and then-opposition leader, Hasina was leading a nationwide campaign by rail when she was attacked at Pakshi Rail Station on Sept 23, 1994. The attackers fired shots and hurled bombs at the train, injuring scores of people. However, Hasina survived the assault carried out during Zia's first term as prime minister.
The prosecution and local Awami League leaders voiced satisfaction that the offenders had been convicted even after the completion of the trial that took 24 years. 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. 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.