Bangladesh’s Supreme Court has opined that the Army Act could not be applied to try the accused in the BDR mutiny as it responded to a presidential reference seeking the apex court’s opinion about the trial mode, media reports said today.

Several newspapers including the mass circulated Prothom Alo quoting officials familiar with the situation, said the apex court of the country felt the Army Act could not be applied to try those accused of mutiny in February which claimed 74 lives including those of 57 army officers.

The comments came as Supreme Court registrar Shawkat Hossain on Thursday handed the highest court’s reply in a sealed cover marked “top secret” to President Zillur Rahman at the Bangabhaban presidential palace.

No formal Bangabhaban or the law ministry statement was available on the reply of the presidential reference while State Minister for Law Quamrul Islam told reporters “We are yet to know what opinion the Appellate Division has rendered on the reference as the ministry is yet to receive the document“.

“If the Appellate Division opines the BDR mutiny cases cannot be tried under the Army Act 1952, we will make a decision on the mode of the trial after holding a meeting with BDR and army officials, the chief prosecutor and officials of the ministries concerned,” he added.

But, Mr. Islam said, whatever the apex court’s opinion was the government would complete the trial in a very short time.

Majority of legal experts engaged by the apex court for opinion in regard to the reference opposed the idea of trying the suspected mutineers or massacre culprits under Army Act.

Seven out of 10 “amici curiae” or “friend of the court” suggested the mutineers could not be tried under the army act while only two others categorically favoured the idea of trying rebels under the act as the 11-member bench headed by Chief Justice MM Ruhul Amin heard for six days their opinions.

The amici curiae, including the draftsman of the Bangladesh’s original 1972 constitution Kamal Hossain, told the court that the mutineers could be tried under the Army Act since the BDR personnel were not guided by the law while a notification with retrospective effect to try the mutineers would be defiance of the spirit of law.

President Zilllur Rahman last month sent the reference to the highest court asking if the trial could be held under the Army Act as the government was in a virtual dilemma with the trial mode as existing BDR Act provided no scope for trial of such massacres or mutinies in the paramilitary force.

Several experts as well as the BDR authorities earlier suggested the trial be held under the Army Act as both the suspects and victims belonged to disciplined forces while the highest punishment prescribed in the BDR Act is seven years of imprisonment for offenses like breach of command chain or indiscipline.

But others, however, feared that the trial under the Army Act could be challenged in the Supreme Court eventually lingering the prosecution process and frustrating the very objective of quick trial of the culprits and proposed the trail be held under the civil Penal Code.

Apart from the army officers, the mutineers also killed eight civilians, eight fellow BDR soldiers and an army soldier as the two-day rebellion shattered the country exposing the less than two-month-old government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to its worst crisis.

Criminal Investigation Department (CID), which was tasked to carry out the routine police investigation in the case, earlier said over 1,800 BDR soldiers who were stationed at their Pilkhana headquarters on February 25-26 were arrested for their suspected involvement in the mutiny or massacre and most of them were quizzed in custody.

Nearly 30 civilians including a former lawmaker of ex-prime minister Khalida Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) were also arrested for their suspected involvement in the mutiny or support to the rebellion.

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