Bangladesh convicts 139 opposition officials, activists: lawyers

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AFP)— Bangladesh has convicted 139 senior opposition party officials and activists in the past two days, prosecutors and lawyers said Monday, as a crackdown on anti-government protesters intensifies ahead of elections.

Those convicted included scores of activists from the country's main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), including on historic charges over protest violence, arson and obstructing the police, with convictions ranging from a few months to up to three-and-a-half years.

Bangladesh goes to a general election on January 7, with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina eyeing her fourth consecutive term in power, despite concerns voiced by the United States and other countries over whether the vote will be free and fair.

The BNP has staged a series of major rallies and marches since last year in a bid to force Hasina to quit power and let a neutral government run the polls.

But since late last month, the police have cracked down on the opposition, arresting almost the entire top leadership of the BNP and arresting thousands of its activists and supporters.

Two prosecutors told AFP at least 132 BNP activists and senior officials were jailed by two magistrate courts in the country's capital Dhaka on Sunday and Monday.

"Judge Md (Mohammed) Ataullah sentenced 70 BNP activists and leaders in four different cases Monday," prosecutor Shahid Uddin told AFP.

"They were found guilty of arson and obstructing police duty".

Uddin said the sentenced BNP men included its influential youth wing chief Sultan Salahuddin Tuku, two former student wing chiefs and a district wing chief.

"These cases are from 2013-2018 when opposition enforced strikes and blockades", Uddin said. "They got jail terms ranging from six months to two years".

Judge Mohammad Sheikh Sadi sentenced an additional 62 BNP activists to three-and-a-half years in jail each over a 2018 case, the chief public prosecutor of Dhaka, Abdullah Abu, told AFP.

Seven more BNP activists were also jailed by Judge Sadi, lawyer Nazrul Islam told AFP, adding that they included Saiful Alam Nirob, a former BNP youth wing chief who the New York Times reported was facing more than 300 court cases.

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