At the early hours of around 2:30am Sunday, 38-year-old Altab Hossain was killed in a so-called gunfight with police at the Pipulbaria grounds on the Daultatpur-Pipulbaria road of Daulatpur, Kushtia. The media treated the incident as just another death in a gunfight, a phenomenon that has become all too common. Then on Sunday afternoon, a certain Aslam died in police custody of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police’s Detective Branch (DB). Such deaths in ‘gunfights’ and in ‘safe custody’ have become regular features over the years and the state machinery remains impervious.
There was a time when the people would be curious about the identity of the persons who died in ‘gunfights’. They wanted to know if they were drug dealers, criminals or involved in any sort of underhand business. If the person was indeed a criminal, the public wasn’t too sympathetic about the death. If fact, the death of hardened criminals was often a matter of relief for the public. The public would only protest against such killings if the victim was an innocent, helpless good man.
The law enforcement agencies and the authorities who approved of such gunfights were well aware of such public sentiment. The manner in which the law enforcement carries out such killings through crossfire, gunfights, encounters or under whatever name, has become a regular and accepted and institutionalised form of controlling crime. The government and the law enforcement agencies, of course, do not admit that there is any such thing as extrajudicial killings. They say that these deaths take place in gunfights, armed encounters. The people are not duped by these explanations.
Nowadays there are a lot of reports of innocent persons being killed in such gunfights. Many leaders and activists of the political opposition have also been killed in this manner, according to the families of the victims. Abductions and enforced disappearances as well as death in custody have also become regular occurrences. He alarming matter is that the government not only denies any involvement in such incidents, but has taken on a totally unconcerned attitude towards these. This could lead to a section of the law enforcement using such encounters for unscrupulous purposes, as in the Narayanganj seven-murder case.
According to the legal rights organisation Ain O Salish Kendra, 46 persons have died in gunfights and in safe custody during the three months of January to March this year. Most of them (28) died in gunfights with the police (including DB). The police is our main law enforcement agency. They are expected to follow due process in law enforcement. Such extrajudicial processes much be halted at once.