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DHAKA (Reuters) - A Bangladesh court on Tuesday upheld death sentences on a leading politician and 14 members of an elite military force, including a senior officer, for the abduction and murder of seven people in 2014.
Politician Nur Hossain, at the time a member of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's Awami League, had paid members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) to kill a political rival and four of his aides in the city of Narayanganj, just outside the capital Dhaka.
A lawyer who filmed the abductions and his driver were also kidnapped and then killed.
In January, a trial court handed death sentences to 26 people, 16 of them Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) members, for the murders. An RAB officer, Lieutenant Colonel Tarek Sayeed, son-in-law of a minister in Hasina's government, and Hossain were among those whose death sentences were upheld. Sayeed was sacked after the incident.
Death penalties handed down by the trial court to 11 other convicts have been commuted to life in prison.
"When the duty of the law enforcers is to protect us, they are the ones who took part in the killing," Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told reporters after the verdict, calling it a "milestone".
Alam also said the whole force could not be held liable for the illegal activities of a few of its members.
International human rights groups have accused Bangladeshi security forces of carrying out extra-judicial killings, abductions and detentions of suspects without charge. RAB denies the allegations, saying it follows the law.
Opposition parties also say hundreds of their activists have disappeared during Hasina's eight-year rule. The government says it was not behind the disappearances and denies that security forces were involved.
Witnesses reported seeing the victims being bundled into an unmarked van. The victims' bodies, their bellies slashed, were later found floating in a river.
The rift between the ruling party and mainly Islamist opposition in Bangladesh is widely seen as contributing to militant violence that has targeted foreigners, free thinkers and members of religious minorities.
The authorities lay most of the blame on local insurgents, although Islamic State and al Qaeda have claimed responsibility for some of the deadly attacks carried out over the past few years.
(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Angus MacSwan)