Anyone would think the Marine Drive from Cox’s Bazar to Teknaf was a war zone with such active members of the police, BGB and army at the check posts along the way. People even have to give their names, phone numbers and addresses at some check posts. One can only imagine what would happen if one does not have an identity card.
We began our journey to Marishbunia in Teknaf from Nilima Resort at Pyachar Dwip, some 14 kilometres south of Cox’s Bazar, along this ‘danger fraught’ road. Marishbunia is 45 kilometres away from Nilima Resort. There are nine check posts set up by different forces in the 45-km road.
Retired army major Sinha Mohammad Rashed Khan crossed several check posts on his way to Marishbunia on 31 July. But the check posts could not ensure his security, and he never returned to Nilima Resort. Instead, his bullet-ridden body was sent to a hospital morgue.
After having lunch around 3:00 in the afternoon that day, Sinha left the resort with Shahedul Islam Sifat in his favourite Toyota Allion. We went along that road too, trying to discern how Sinha’s journey was that day and the situation afterwards. We were in a rented car, driving along the Marine Drive at a medium speed, flanked by the Bay of Bengal on one side and hills on the other.
Sinha was admitted to Jahangirnagar University after his SSC from BAF Shaheen College and HSC from RAJUK College in Dhaka. He joined the army in the 51st BMA Long Course. He was commissioned in 2004. After serving in the army for 16 years, Sinha resigned in 2018. His mother Nasima Akhter told Prothom Alo, “He often would say, ‘I’ve learnt everything I could have learnt from the army. I want to do something new’.”
He retired from the army to do something creative.
Police said Sinha met Shipra Debnath while touring Sylhet around a year ago. After that, they travelled to several different places. Shipra told police that they relied on their mental rapport.
Shipra Debnath uploaded a video on YouTube on 12 August. There she said they had planned to do some shooting of a documentary on site at Alta Dighi, Naogaon, in March. She would be the director while Sinha producer. They decided to set up the base camp at Cox’s Bazar because of the sea and hills.
Shahedul Islam Sifat, another member of this team, informed police that he met Sinha while visiting Tanguar Haor in Sunamganj last year. Later, he joined the team as cameraman.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, a fourth member of this team Tahsin Rifat Noor said he met Sinha just 10-15 days before going to Cox’s Bazar. He got the task of editing through Shipra and Sifat. All the three are students of the film and media department at Stamford University. Sifat would get Tk 25,000 and Noor Tk 20,000 every month for their work along with food and living expenses. Sinha would bear expenses.
Project Cox’s Bazar
Sifat told Prothom Alo that they came to Cox’s Bazar for the filming on 3 July. They rented rooms at a hotel at Kalatali first but shifted to Nilima Resort after 7-8 days.
A member of staff at Nilima Resort, Lokman Ali, said they rented a two-room cottage for Tk 70,000 per month. The cottage resembled a cyclone shelter.
Tahsin Rifat Noor said though they were living at the resort for around a month, he did not go out much. He would edit videos at the resort. Shipra was the director of the team. She was the anchor in the video as well. All the videos were shot for YouTube.
Sinha on way to Marishbunia
Team member Tahsin said, on 30 July night they planned to shoot ‘time-lapse’ at Muinyar Pahar (hill), Marishbunia as there would a time-lapse scene in all the clippings. Time-lapse is a photographic technique of taking a sequence of frames at set intervals to record changes that take place slowly over time. The scene was about watching clouds from the top of the hills. The clouds would seem move faster after editing and turning a one-hour video clip about the movement of clouds into one minute. Sinha and Sifat went to shoot such a video to Marishbunia on 31 July.
It took one hour and 15 minutes to reach Marishbunia after crossing nine check posts including the Shamlapur check post, where Sinha was shot dead.
The milepost said Teknaf was kilometres away. The is a walk way 200-300 metres ahead to the left of the milepost. That leads to the hills. The sea is on the right. Leaving the car, we went to Borodail government primary school in 10 minutes. The hill is just by the school where Sinha went.
There are many more hills like this on the side of the Marine Drive. But there was no obvious answer as to why Sinha chose this particular hill. But Sifat told police during quizzing that they had chosen the hill because of its altitude. The people of Marishbunia saw Sinha and Sifat near the hill around 4:30pm on 31 July.
We met Baharchhara union parishad member Farid Ullah at Marishbunia. He said the men of most of the houses left their homes apprehending danger since the death of Sinha. They do not even talk about the incident fearing repercussions.
Lights on hills, rumour of robbers
Nine-year-old Shahidul Islam, son of Jasim Uddin from Mathabhanga village, said he went to madrasa after leading Sinha and Sifat to the hill on that day. He does not know what happened later. A local shopkeeper said there were no trees on the hill. A government-run forestation project is underway here. Sinha and his companion were there until Esha prayers. Small lights were seen from the faraway villages. That’s why many villagers suspected there could be robbers in the hills. The area is known as Hakim Dakat’s (robber’s) area.
Another local shopkeeper said former president of ward 9 of Baharchhara union Awami League Md Ayaz, community police member Nurul Amin and local youth Nizam Uddin came near the mosque around 8:00pm. They said there were robbers in the hill. Hafez Zahir Ahmed said they were not robbers, they were army men but the youth did not pay heed to him.
Nizam Uddin, using the loudspeaker of the mosque, said, “Come down from the hill and prove that you are not robbers otherwise we will inform the police.” Sinha and Sifat climbed down from the hill in a few minutes.
Witnesses say a man shone a torch in Sinha’s face when they came down from the hill. That offended him. Sinha angrily said, “Why are shining the torch into my eyes. Dim it.” Sifat told police that they did not hear the loudspeaker from the hill. Around 10 minutes later, they got into their car and left the place.
Call to police on suspect of robbers
When Sinha and Sifat were getting into their car, Nurul Amin of Marishbunia phoned the Baharchhara investigation centre in charge Liaqat Ali. Police said Nurul Amin phoned Liaqat eight times that day, suspecting them to be robbers. Nurul Amin told Liaqat that they were going towards Cox’s Bazar in a silver vehicle. Liaqat Ali phoned Shamlapur 16 APBn in charge Shahjahan asking him to intercept the silver vehicle and its driver. Baharchhara investigation centre is around 700-800 metres away from the main road. Liaqat took position on the main road on the motorcycle of sub-inspector Nandadulal Rakshit.
Sinha was shot
Shamlapur check post was 11 kms away from the spot Sinha and Sifat got into their car. There is a big market on either side of the check post - a wholesale sea fish market one side and shops on the other. There is a mosque there too. Shamlapur check post was not more than 100 yards away from the market. Sinha and Sifat reached that crowded place around 9:00pm.
Sifat told the police and an intelligence agency, “We were stopped at a BGB check post after we came down from the hill. They allowed us to go ahead when Sinha introduced himself as a retired major. We reached Shamlapur APBn check post after around 10-12 minutes. It was around 9:17 or 9:20pm. A man (APBn member) in a uniform like BDR asked to stop the car. Opening the car door, Sinha introduced himself and the man allowed us to go. When Sinha started to drive, that man again stopped us. Later, another person (Liaqat) asked Sinha his identity. When Sinha introduced himself, the man placed a drum in front of the car. Another 4-5 policemen were there that time. Then Sinha got down the car. Sinha said calm down, calm down, to the man who was aiming a gun towards Sinha. Then I heard gunshots. Coming in front of the car, I saw him lying on the ground. I saw a gun in the car but I didn’t notice whether he had taken the gun out when he got out of the car or not.”
Sifat said there were two vehicles behind their car. Then many people gathered there in a short time.
A witness told Prothom Alo, “Liaqat opened fire, saying 'he has a gun, shoot, shoot'.”
Sinha was kicked in the stomach
Witness Nurul Absar told the police and intelligence agency that the Teknaf police station officer-in-charge Pradeep Kumar Das reached the spot soon after the incident. Sinha was asking for water. The OC said "fake major, fake major". A policeman Rubel, who accompanied the OC, swore at Sinha and kicked him in the stomach. Sinha was still moving then. There were a few vehicles on the road as it was the night before the Eid. When a mini truck came up, police stopped it.
Sinha taken by truck
Mini truck driver Saiful Afsar was returning to Cox’s Bazar after dropping off livestock. He said the police asked him to stop at Shamlapur check post and said you have to carry an injured man. The cashier of Shamlapur check post snatched the keys of his truck that time. He was waiting for a while there. Saiful said Sinha was still alive for 6-7 more minutes of his arrival at the spot. Then four people loaded Sinha onto the truck.
Saiful said a field level intelligence agency member was taking photos of Sinha after he had been loaded on the truck around 9:45pm. Police asked his identity when he was recording a video. When the man introduced himself, police snatched his phone and ID card and shouted at him, ordering him to stop. It took him more than one and a half hours to take Sinha to Cox’s Bazar sadar hospital.
Raid at the resort
A team of 20-25 policemen went to the resort around 12:00am after the death of Sinha. They started searching immediately after going there. Police detained Shipra Debnath and Tahsin and took them to Ramu police station. Police also took away three hard drives (4 terabytes, 2 terabytes and 1 terabyte) that contained everything of the project from the resort.
Police lodged two cases with Teknaf police station on charge of attacking police and under the firearms act while another was a murder case. Another case was filed with Ramu police station under narcotics control act.
Police claimed to have seized a German-made pistol, nine rounds of bullets, 50 yaba pills, two bottles of foreign liquor and four packets of cannabis from Sinha’s car and Nilima Resort.
A secret report of an intelligence agency also mentioned that police found local and foreign liquor and cannabis from cabins of two staying at Nilima Resort.
There was mixed reaction among the members of two forces. Retired army officials held a media briefing about this. To bring the situation under control, the army chief and the IGP on 5 August held a media briefing saying it was an isolated incident.
Later, Sinha’s elder sister Sharmin Shariya Ferdous filed a case with a Cox’s Bazar court for the killing of Sinha in cold blood and in a planned way.
Planned murder or spur of the moment
One side claims Sinha was killed in a planned way while the other says he was killed on spur of the moment. One side claims Sinha made a documentary while he was serving in Cox’s Bazar. Ranjit Kumar Barua was the Teknaf OC then. At the same time, there are questions as to why the police went to the APBn check post. One side said police were supposed go with bullet-proof vests if they were going to detain robbers but they went in simple police uniform. There are allegations of erasing information from the GD book at the police station. There are allegations that the robbery issue was used just as a pretext to cover up the Sinha killing.
Cox’s Bazar district police claimed it to be a sudden incident. There were no reason to kill Sinha in a planned way.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, a lawyer of Cox’s Bazar said no one is held responsible here in the district for police firing. Rather, they are awarded on excuse of curbing yaba trade. There is an administrative compulsion to investigate into any kind of firing from police guns. That investigation was done as well to follow the police rules but none was held responsible.
The lawyer further said the Teknaf OC Pradeep Kumar Das got awards for ‘crossfire’. Maybe Liaqat also shot for that. Maybe he was also sure nothing will happen to him like Pradeep.
Sinha’s sister Sharmin Shariya said, “Everyone’s pain will be erased one day but not ours. We’ll never get back our loving brother. Our brother is just in our tears now.”
* The report, originally published in the print edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Shameem Reza