Bangladesh: EXTRA-JUDICIAL KILLINGS, DEATHS IN CUSTODY: No case, probe in most cases

The Daily Star August 08, 2020

More than two years have gone by but Ayesha Begum, wife of slain Teknaf municipality councillor Akramul Haque, still does not know whether there has been any investigation into her husband’s killing.

She said after the killing triggered a huge public outcry, two ministers from the ruling party promised her of arranging a meeting with the prime minister and requested her not to talk to journalists anymore.

But the meeting never happened, nor did the ministers communicate with her ever again.

“None from the authorities came to help us get justice in these two years… I want to know why he [Akramul] became a victim of crossfire. If he was killed at the instructions of some high-ups, then I want to know who gave that order,” a frustrated Ayesha told The Daily Star.

Akramul, also a member of the ruling Awami League, was killed in a “gunfight” with Rab during a nationwide anti-narcotics drive. The incident happened on May 26 in 2018 in Noakhalipara on Teknaf Marine Drive Road.

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.

The Daily Star spoke to her on Thursday after Maj (retd) Sinha Md Rashed Khan was killed in police firing at a checkpost in Teknaf on the night of July 31.

Sinha had served in the Special Security Force (SSF) and took voluntary retirement from the army two years ago. His killing caused a public uproar. The authorities acted promptly and seven accused policemen have already been sent to jail. Three have been placed on remand.

“I heard three committees were formed after the killing [of the former army officer]. Why such steps were not taken when my husband was murdered?” Ayesha asked.

“He [Akramul] was the president of Teknaf Jubo League for 13 years and also a local Awami League leader. Then why wouldn’t he get justice?” she further asked and broke down in tears.

“… I want justice, I want justice from the prime minister,” said Ayesha, who along with her two school-going daughters, now lives on the allowance her brother-in-law Ehatashamul Haque receives as a councillor.

Ehatashamul said the government would act by carrying out an investigation if it really wanted to do so.

“We didn’t get justice. We don’t even know whether any investigation was carried out …,” he said.

Meanwhile, rights defenders said human rights violations in the name of “crossfire” or “shootout” has become a “new normal” with law enforcement agencies dishing out the same old, clichéd crossfire story.

Welcoming the government’s promptness in probing Sinha’s killing, they stressed the need for investigating similar extrajudicial killings, which have been continuing for years. Unfortunately, the authorities seem to have remained indifferent to these issues, they said.

According to rights body Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), at least 196 people became victims of extrajudicial killings and custodial deaths between January and July 28 this year.

Rab was involved in 57 of the incidents, while police in 96, Rab and police in one, Detective Branch (DB) of police in 14 and Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) in 28 incidents.

At least 388 people became victims of extrajudicial killings and custodial deaths last year. Of them, 356 people were killed in so-called shootouts during the anti-narcotics drive, and 14 others died in custody.

The number of killings in so-called shootouts and deaths in custody was a record 466 in 2018, while the figure was 162 in 2017, according to ASK.

Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua, a Supreme Court lawyer who dealt with many cases involving human rights violations, said every person has the right to justice and extrajudicial killings provides for no trial or even investigation.

He claimed more than 160 people fell victims of extrajudicial killings in Teknaf after OC Pradeep Kumar Das took charge of Teknaf police station, but no one except some rights activists had raised any questions about those murders.

“But the killing of a retired army major has triggered this huge discussion. It looks odd,” he said.

“This is actually called selective justice. Law is supposed to eliminate discrimination but here law is being used to create discrimination,” he said.

He also said different quarters have long been demanding formation of an independent commission to inquire into each and every incident of extrajudicial killings or at least judicial inquiry into such incidents, but to no avail.

Law enforcement agencies have no such internal mechanism to deal with the matters independently. Besides, departmental proceedings fall short of expectations to address the issues effectively. Maintaining neutrality remains a major concern till date, he added.

Talking on Akramul’s killing, prominent rights activist Nur Khan Liton said it was a much-discussed issue, but no neutral probe was visible and anyone involved has not been brought to book.

He said whenever any such incident happens, it gets huge media attention and the public becomes outraged, prompting the authorities to take some immediate steps to calm the situation. But no visible step was taken to stop extrajudicial killing altogether.

Rather, in many cases, members of law enforcement agencies, involved in such incidents, were awarded, he said.

“Although law enforcers claim that investigation is carried out after each and every incident, we never saw any neutral investigation … As per the constitution, everybody is equal before the law. But in reality, the way the state responds when an important person becomes the victim is different from when it happens to a common citizen.

“It seems those who are governing the state are not following the constitutional directives in this regard.”

Nur Khan also said, “One thing should be settled first: Whether such incidents can go on years after years without the directives or silent approval from the high-ups. Head of the agencies can’t avoid responsibility for such incidents.”

Asked about trial and justice in other extra-judicial killings, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said, “I have no knowledge [about such incidents]. Besides, no army person got killed this way ever before.”

He asked this correspondent to give an example of any extra-judicial case. Being informed about Akramul’s incident, he said perhaps there was an investigation into the incident.

But when this correspondent informed him about the family’s versions about investigation, the minister said, “Then I cannot say without seeing the documents.”

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