Arrested and killed: inside the Bangladesh prime minister's war on drugs

  13 August 2018    Read: 929
Arrested and killed: inside the Bangladesh prime minister

Bangladesh police arrested Riazul Islam as he was walking home from his in-laws’ house. At 3:15 a.m., he was shot dead in a sandy field beside a set of railroad tracks north of Dhaka.

Police say he was killed in a gunfight with other drug dealers, and they recovered 20 kg of marijuana from the site. His parents say the officers extorted money from them and then killed him.

“I knew my son was in police custody. All of a sudden my son was dead. I couldn’t believe it. The police took money and they still killed him,” said his mother, Rina Begum.

Bangladesh is the newest frontline in state-backed drug crackdowns in Asia, and Islam is one of more than 200 people shot dead by police in Bangladesh since May, when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced the campaign.

Critics say the crackdown reflects Hasina’s increasingly authoritarian rule ahead of a general election, due by December. That was also shown in its response to recent student demonstrations over road traffic deaths, including the use of rubber bullets and the arrest of a prominent photographer.

Hasina emphasized that the police and intelligence agencies would now tackle the drug problem in the same tough way they had countered violent extremism in recent years.

Such campaigns can be popular with voters as has been shown by President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody drug war in the Philippines.

Hasina’s office did not respond to questions about whether the drugs campaign was a populist ploy.

MOUNTING DEATH TOLL

The bodies appeared rapidly after Hasina’s pronouncement. And, just like the Philippines, the killings appeared to follow a script: suspects died in “gunfights”, typically at night, and weapons and drugs were found nearby.

In more than a third of the 211 killings recorded by Dhaka-based human rights group Odhikar since mid-May, the suspects were arrested before they were killed.

The police are overseen by Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan, who denied the police were executing suspects.

“Our law enforcement people don’t kill, they don’t execute anyone. It is impossible. If they do so they will be fired at that moment,” he told Reuters. “It is not a lawless country.”

After Islam was arrested, according to the police report, officers took the “top terror” of the neighborhood to the field beside the railroad tracks to draw in and arrest other drug dealers. The other dealers “sensed” the officers’ presence and began firing randomly, and “to save life and government property”, the officers fired back.


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