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A Bangladesh court sentenced a former air force chief and an ex-minister to prison Thursday in the latest conviction of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s political opponents ahead of elections next month. Altaf Hossain Chowdhury headed the air force until 1995 and later joined the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the main opposition to Hasina’s ruling Awami League. He and former BNP water minister Hafizuddin Ahmed were among eight people jailed and sentenced at a Dhaka court for inciting violent protests in 2011 that saw BNP supporters set fire to cars. “They were sentenced to jail for 21 months each,” chief prosecutor Abdullah Abu told AFP. The opposition has rejected the case as “baseless, false and fabricated”, accusing the courts of following government instructions to imprison Hasina’s opponents ahead of the January 7 poll. The BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s largest Islamist party, are boycotting the vote along with dozens of smaller parties, saying it will be neither free nor fair. Both parties have staged huge protests this year demanding Hasina resign and appoint a neutral caretaker government to oversee the election. At least 11 people have died in the demonstrations. The BNP says that more than 25,000 members of opposition parties have been arrested since September including its entire senior leadership in Bangladesh. Hasina’s government disputes those figures, saying only 11,000 had been detained. “So far the lower courts have convicted and sentenced at least 1,561 BNP activists and leaders in the past three months,” Kayser Kamal, the BNP’s legal affairs chief, told AFP. “Some of these courts are delivering politically motivated judgements targeting opposition leaders and activists at the order of the government,” he added. Abu rejected Kamal’s accusation, saying there was clear evidence against the people who were tried and sentenced. “They committed crimes. That’s why they were sentenced,” he said. Hasina has presided over phenomenal economic growth since returning to the premiership in 2009 on the back of a booming garment export industry. But her opponents say she has ruled with an iron fist and her security forces have been accused of rampant human rights abuses. Two years ago, Washington sanctioned the elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) police unit and several of its top officers over allegations of rampant human rights abuses. The RAB has been accused of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances — charges denied by Hasina’s government.

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