A Cox's Bazar court on Wednesday awarded 101 drug dealers one and a half years in prison and fined Tk20,000 each.
The narcos include eight individuals from the family of Abdur Rahman Bodi, a former Awami League lawmaker from Cox's Bazar-4 (Ukhiya and Teknaf).
The court said the state had failed to prove both the narcotics and arms charges against the 101 drug dealers though they surrendered to police in 2019 with 3.5 lakh pieces of yaba pills and 30 firearms.
"Even if the accused are eligible for acquittal in these cases, the clearing will send a wrong message to the society since all of them are self-proclaimed drug dealers and yaba godfathers," said the court.
"Therefore, they were acquitted in the arms case but sentenced and fined in the drug case," Cox's Bazar District and Sessions Judge Mohammad Ismail said in his observation.
Among the convicts, only 17 were present at the courtroom while 84 others were tried in absentia, said Public Prosecutor Md Faridul Alam.
Since each of the accused has already served around two years in jail, they will not have to serve fresh sentences, according to the public prosecutor.
The convicts include ex-MP Bodi's brother Abdur Sukkur, Aminur Rahman alias Abdul Amin, Shafiqul Islam alias Shafiq, Faisal Rahman, newphew Md Shaheed Rahman Nipu, brother-in-law Shahid Kamal, cousin Kamrul Hasan Russell and Mong Aung Thein alias Momchi.
The public prosecutor said the verdict will deliver a warning to the drug dealers in Cox's Bazar as the district – being the gateway to the crazy medicine yaba – has steadily earned a reputation as the crime capital of the country.
However, civil society members of the southernmost district were critical of the judgement as they argued that the minimal punishment would encourage others to continue narco trade.
Farhad Iqbal, general secretary of Cox's Bazar People's Forum, said the punishment is minimal as the court labelled it "symbolic".
Attorney General AM Amin Uddin told The Business Standard that there is no scope for acquittal in the arms case. If the court finds that the prosecution had failed to present proper evidence and adequate witnesses in the case, the prosecution would appeal against the judgement.
A total of 102 drug dealers surrendered before law enforcement agencies at Teknaf Pilot High School field on 16 February 2019.
Later, two cases were filed in this regard by ABMS Doha, then officer-in-charge of Teknaf Model Police Station.
Of the accused, Md Rasel died while undergoing treatment at hospital on 7 August 2019.