Extra-judicial killing is rising alarmingly day-by-day in Bangladesh during the countrywide ongoing anti-narcotics crackdown, a Philippines-style war on drugs. The opposition political leaders have termed the drive as government’s unlawful motive of cleansing political rivalry ahead of the upcoming general election likely to be held no later than 28 January 2019 as per country’s existing constitutional obligation while analysts are considering the deadly move as gross violation of human rights.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina approved the anti-narcotics campaign in early May to tackle the spread of Yaba, as methamphetamine, worth an estimated $3 bn (£2.25 bn) annually, according to government officials’ estimation. Despite mass upsurge against violation of fundamental rights of self defence, Hasina claims the drive as relief of the people from the danger of drugs and popular demand of the countrymen.
Media reports and reliable sources of the law enforcing agencies have confirmed that at least 147 suspected ‘drug peddlers’ had been killed in so-called gunfights in the anti-drug drive across the country in the past 26 days until 10 June amid continued national and international fury. Besides, at least 21,694 suspected drug peddlers or abusers had been arrested countrywide by the police and elite force the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) during the drives.
Tens of thousands opposition political leaders and activists have reportedly gone hide in fear of being victims of political conspiracy in the guise of anti-drug drive. Thousands of families are empty of male members across the country. Mostly of those families are known to be the opposition supporters including the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the biggest Islamic Party Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami.
A local BNP leader in Chittagong, country’s main business city, said in condition of anonymity that he is out of home since the beginning of the anti-drug drive on May 15 as he is in doubt that local leaders of ruling party may pressurize the law enforcers to detain him during the drive and he may be the victim of enforced disappearance or crossfire. Some days back the residence of one of his uncles was wildly ransacked by the activists of Bangladesh Chattra Leadue (BCL), student wing of the ruling Awami League, he accused adding that in this holy Ramadan he is out of his family members and passing an uncertain life.
Meanwhile, thousands of leaders and activists of Jamaat-e Islami have been hiding for the last couple of years since the beginning of the controversial trial of the crimes against humanity during the liberation war in 1971. Already five topmost leaders of the party including its president (Ameer) Maulana Motiur Rahman Nizami and general secretary (secretary general) Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid have been served capital punishment while two other leaders including former Ameer of the party Professor Golam Azam died in custody.
In reply to a quarry by this correspondent a top leader of Jamaat informed that until 31 May 2018 at least 551 leaders and workers of the party were in jail. Besides, there are 13,682 pending political cases against the leaders and activists of Jamaat, he confirms adding that during the tenure of the incumbent Awami League government 30 leaders and workers have been killed by the law enforcers in the name of crossfire while 5 others are still in enforced disappearance.
On the other hand, reliable sources of BNP said this correspondent that about 55 thousand cases are pending against more than one million leaders and activists of the party while at least 4.5 thousand leaders and activists of the party are currently in jail across the country. The death penalty of one of the top leaders of this opposition party Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury has also been executed while the trial is on pending against some other leaders.
According to media reports based on the documents of the Police Headquarter and annual reports of two noted human rights bodies of Bangladesh — Ain O Salish Kendra and Odhikar– since 2013 to 2017 at least 726 people were the victims of extrajudicial killings in the name of ‘crossfire’, ‘gunfight’, exchange of bullets’ and in custody. Moreover, rights group Odhikar records that between January 2009 and December 2017, at least 414 persons became victims of enforced disappearance in Bangladesh.
Panic spreads on new drive
Most of the victims of crossfire and enforced disappearances are reportedly the opposition leaders and activists. Panic has been multiplied due to the recent deterioration of the situation centering the ongoing deadly anti-narcotics drive. Tens of thousands of leaders and activists across the country of both BNP and Jamaat are in hide, party sources confirm adding that government is trying to hold another one sided election keeping opposition party out of the election race.
A top Jamaat leader seeking anonymity said this correspondent that despite all hostility of the government Jamaat will vie for the election with independent candidates in coalition with the main opposition BNP. But it will be settled after the final decision in the highest level meeting of the opposition alliance whether they would go for election keeping BNP Chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia, the three terms premier, in custody in a contentious corruption case or not.
However, BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir vehemently said in different public addresses that the party will not participate in the upcoming parliament election without its Chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia though the high ups of the ruling party including its general secretary Obaidul Quader, also Road Transport and Bridges Minister, countered Fakhrul as saying election would not be postponed for Khaleda Zia, it would be held as per constitution.
Demand for Investigation
Meanwhile, the government has yet to take any effective measures to close the source of drugs and has not taken any exemplary punishment against the police officials and political leaders involved in drug peddling. It is also alleged that the government was trying to save the ‘godfathers’ by killing petty sellers or drug addicts in the name of anti-drug drive just to create panic among the opposition political leaders and activists ahead of the election.
Human Rights bodies of both national and international are repeatedly urging the government to put an end to the extrajudicial killing and do independent investigation of all deaths in crossfire during the crackdown.
Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), a noted rights organization of Bangladesh, issued a statement last June 3 demanding judicial enquiry into all the so-called gunfight incidents including the killing of Teknaf ward councillor Akramul Haque and immediate end to the “gunfights” being conducted in the name of anti-narcotics drives.
International graft watchdog’s Bangladesh chapter the Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) expressed concern over the death of more than a hundred people in “gunfights” in the ongoing nationwide anti-narcotics drives. The body demanded explanation of the law enforcement agencies of Bangladesh on the death of alleged drug peddlers in “gunfights”.
While talking a press conference in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka on 31 May, TIB Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman said, “The way ‘listed’ criminals are being killed in ‘gunfights’ instead of being convicted for their crimes through proper trials is unconstitutional,” he said adding that mostly low-profile field-level drug peddlers and users were becoming victims of ‘gunfight’, who could have instead provided valuable information to solve the drug menace. Such killing would prevent the true scenario from being revealed and the high-profile names associated with the illegal drug trade might remain unidentified, he cautioned.
The New York based rights body the Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement on June 6 that the Bangladesh government should order an independent investigation into allegations of extrajudicial killings during its new “war on drugs”. “It should be suspended until proper training and procedures are put in place to ensure that security forces act in conformity with Bangladesh and international legal standards”.
The Asia Director of the body Brad Adams said that while drugs are a serious problem in Bangladesh, any campaign against them should be conducted within the rule of law and avoid the use of unnecessary force. “Until this spate of killings is independently investigated and proper procedures are put in place to protect the public, the campaign should be suspended.”
On the same date the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein urged the authorities in Bangladesh to immediately halt the serious human rights violations like alleged extrajudicial killings and perpetrators brought to justice.“I’m gravely concerned that such a large number of people have been killed, and that the government reaction has been to assure the public that none of these individuals were ‘innocent’ but mistakes can occur in an anti-narcotics drive,” he said.
“Of course I express concern about the number of people dying,” said U.S. ambassador, Marcia Bernicat, in Dhaka on 31 May at a crowded media briefing after talks with Bangladeshi Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan. She addes, “Everyone in a democracy has a right to due process.”
On June 4, the European Union said: “We expect the authorities to ensure that all incidents involving the deaths of alleged criminal suspects are investigated fully and in accordance with due processes… Bangladesh has committed to uphold the rule of law and ensure that all law-enforcement actions are carried out in accordance with the law and in adherence to international standards and norms, including with appropriate safeguards over the use of force.”
Overlooking by Bangladeshi authorities
Meanwhile, Bangladeshi authorities are continuously overlooking the issue of human rights violations and extrajudicial killing despite worldwide concerns. Home Minister Khan is repeatedly claiming before media that these aren’t extra-judicial killings. “Our forces are bound to use arms only to save themselves,” Khan has argued many times.
Not only the home boss but Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also said that it would go on until Bangladesh was free of the drug menace. No drug “godfathers” would be spared, she said adding that no innocent people were being harassed or targeted, but if any such incidents happened it would be addressed through proper investigation. Almost all other powerful ministers are also echoing the same on the issue.
Meanwhile, it is also reported that only some petty drug peddlers along with political opponents are being killed during the anti-narcotics drive while the godfathers are most often remain untouched as they either maintain connection with the power holders or they are from within the ruling force. The main route of Yaba smuggling from Myanmar into Bangladesh is Tekhnaf point. According to police report, Border Guard of Bangladesh (BGB), police and Coast Guards have so far recovered more than 17.2 million pieces of Yaba in the area between January and May this year while the volume of smuggled Yaba is many times higher.
The detectives of Cox’s Bazar district have made a list of 1,151 Yaba smugglers including 52 godfathers. Of them some 30 Yaba smugglers on the list are relatives of Abdur Rahman Badi, a ruling Awami League’s Member of Parliament from Cox’s Bazar and also an accused of Akram murder incident.
Last May 27, Akramul Haque, a ward councillor of Teknaf municipality and local Awami League leader was killed in what RAB claimed was a “gunfight” between the elite force and drug peddlers.
But, Speaking at a press conference at Cox’s Bazar Press Club on 31 May, Akramul’s wife Ayesha Begum produced four unverified audio clippings to the media claiming that her husband was killed in cold-blood. In one of the clips, a female voice is heard continuously screaming over a mobile phone hearing gunshots during a phone call. Ayesha claimed that the female voice was hers and the gunshots were fired at her husband.
Even, the latest report of the Department of Narcotics Control mentioned the Awami League Lawmaker from Cox’s Bazar-4, Abdur Rahman Badi, as a patron of Yaba trade in Ukhia-Teknaf, the gateway of smuggling the crazy drug into Bangladesh. Bodi fled to Saudi Arabia in the name of performing Umrah while his cousin Mong Mong Sen fled to Myanmar. Some other family members of him have also been appeared in multiple intelligence reports as Yaba godfathers. But they all have left Teknaf, according to locals and law enforcement sources.
Moreover, some 12/15-member gang led by Badi’s younger brother Mujibur Rahman controls a few kilometres of area on the bank of Naf river’s Chowdhurypara, Jaliapara and Naithangpara. On the other hand, Badi’s nephews – Sahedur Rahman and Mufizur Rahman – helped deliver the Yaba consignment from Myanmar in the coastal areas of Sabrang union in the upazila. All these listed godfathers have fled the drive and are reportedly staying now in India, Malaysia and Dubai.
It is predicted that just after finishing the drive, the godfathers will return home and start the business again in full swing. But in the meantime some accused petty drug offenders along with opposition supporters have been killed in the name of crossfire.
According to police headquarter sources, in the beginning of this year, action was taken against 67 police officers for their involvement in drug trade. But this punitive measure means minor actions like closing to barrack temporarily or transfer from one station to another and the like. It has little impact on the menace. Moreover, real involvement of police in drug trade is much higher. It is also alleged that drug traders throughout the whole country regularly pay a monthly fixed-up amount to almost all police stations and smoothly run the devastating trade.
Demand to nab godfathers
Noted woman rights activists and president of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad (Bangladesh Woman Council) Ayesha Khanam asked the government to bring the masterminds and the drug peddlers to the legal process for giving the exemplary punishments. Expressing ‘deep concern’ over the prevailing situation she advised the authorities to seal the routes through which drugs were smuggled into the country mainly from the neighbouring Myanmar.
Even, at a crowded press conference at her official Ganabhaban residence on 30 May Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was questioned about drug godfathers. She was categorically asked about the role of high ranking police officials and ruling party leaders who are reportedly playing role as the masterminds of illegal drug trading. Hasina replied, “I can only say that we’re not considering who are ‘godfathers’ or who are ‘dons’. Actions are being taken against those who are involved in drugs dealing, trading and have such allegations against them.”
Misuse of the drive
There is also huge allegation from different parts of the country that the law enforcers are also using the drive as a tool of extortion. The law enforcers including police, RAB and Detective Branch (DB) police are demanding tolls from people having the identity of opposition politics. Otherwise, they would be included in the anti-drug drive list, they law enforcers threating them.
Even, many members of the ruling party are also in threat to be the victim of deadly drive in the name of war on drug due to intra-party conflict ahead of the election. It is almost clear now that the main opposition alliance leading by the BNP will remain abstain from the upcoming general election and a 5-January like one-sided election is going to be held. In every constituency, ruling party members are in serious rivalry over the nomination. One faction is trying to destroy its rival faction, no matter whether mean it uses- anti drug drive or anything else.
Appeal by Experts
According to a source of the Department of Narcotics Control (DNC) of Bangladesh government, about 8 million people in the country are currently taking drug while the number is rapidly increasing. Director General of DNC Md Jamal Uddin Ahmed, however, said Bangladesh has at least 7 million drug addicts and 5 million of them are hooked on Yaba pills.
He adds that the department does not have its own statistics but according to those who work on these issues, the number of drug addicts is about 7 million though inner source of the department seeking anonymity says that the real figure is higher.
Meanwhile, concerns have also been expressed regarding the efficacy of such drives. So far, the campaign has largely netted low level peddlers. The bigwigs of drug trade and their patrons in the political quarters, civil administration and Law Enforcement Agencies have remained unscathed.
Police sources have claimed that a list of names of 554 drug dealers were prepared as early as 2012. The revised list compiled in 2014 included 1,200 names. Question has been raised despite the existence of such lists what precluded the law enforcers in taking action against the alleged dealers for so long?
Analysts have termed the drive as devastating and urged the government to stop it ahead of the election. Professor of the international relations at the University of Dhaka and noted political analyst CR Abrar said this correspondent that all should speak up more actively on such human rights violations. The civil society should work to make the government understand the reality that this is not the proper way to fight against drugs.