A Bangladesh court on Wednesday sentenced 19 people, including two former ministers, to death and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's son Tarique Rahman to life imprisonment for their role in the 2004 grenade attack on a political rally that killed 24 people and injured 500.
Former Minister of State for Home Lutfozzaman Babar and former Deputy Minister for Education Abdus Salam Pintu were among those sentenced to death. Both were the leaders of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) which were then in power, bdnews24.com reported.
The August 2004 attack targeted Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's rally, who was the opposition leader at the time. A series of grenades exploded as she was stepping off a truck, which was used as a dais for the Awami League party rally on Bangabandhu Avenue.
She survived with the partial hearing loss.
Khaleda Zia's son Tarique Rahman, the acting chairman of the current opposition BNP and her former political secretary Harris Chowdhury were among 19 sentenced to life imprisonment. The sentence also included jail terms for 11 other people.
Declaring the verdict in the case, Judge Shahed Nuruddin said a conspiracy was underway to obliterate the Awami League. He linked the attack as part of a conspiracy that led to the killing of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975.
"The conspiracy did not stop with the killing of Bangabandhu. It continued... It was not a mere attack. It was a hateful attempt to make the then opposition party leaderless," the judge said.
The BNP said the court verdict was "dictated" by the government.
"The BNP thinks that the verdict is politically motivated. It is a clear sign of political vengeance by the ruling party. We are rejecting this verdict," said BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir.
To condemn the jailing of its acting chief, the BNP announced a five-day programme, including street protests and black-flag processions.
Meanwhile, Law Minister Anisul Huq said the government will seek scaled-up punishments for Rahman, Chowdhury and BNP leader Kazi Shah Mofazzal Hossain Kaikobad.
"The mastermind of the case is Tarique Rahman. He should have been given the death penalty," said Huq.
(With inputs from agencies.)