Convictions of security force members are rare in Bangladesh. Rights activists say they frequently carry out unlawful killings and are effectively able to operate in a climate of impunity.

Members of Bangladesh Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) stand guard. (File photo)
Members of Bangladesh Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) stand guard. (File photo)

A Bangladesh court on Monday sentenced 26 people to death after hearing how a politician from the ruling Awami League hired members of the country's elite security unit to assassinate political rivals.

Judge Syed Enayet Hossain ordered 26 of the defendants to hang, while the other nine were handed prison sentences ranging from seven to 17 years for their involvement in the abduction and murder of seven people in the central city of Narayanganj in April 2014.

"Of the 26 who have been sentenced to hang,16 were members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB)," prosecutor S.M. Wazed Ali said.

The bodies of the victims were found floating in a river, three days after witnesses reported seeing a group of people being bundled into the back of an unmarked van outside the city's international cricket stadium.

Prosecutors described during the trial how Nur Hossain, a local councillor in Narayanganj and at the time a member of Hasina's Awami League, hired RAB officers to kill his arch-rival Nazrul Islam and four of his aides.

"We're satisfied. We finally got justice," Shakhawat Hossain Khan, a lawyer for the victims, told reporters outside the heavily guarded courtroom on Monday morning.

Local rights groups say at least 326 people have disappeared in Bangladesh since January 2009, many of whom were members or supporters of opposition parties.

Source: AFP