September, finally a month free of 'gunfights'

September this year saw no one being killed in 'crossfire' or 'gunfights'. The law enforcement agencies have confirmed that there were no incidents of crossfire or gunfights anywhere in the country throughout September. That means Bangladesh, after 11 and a half years since March 2009, has finally had a month free of 'crossfire' or 'gunfights'.

The law enforcement agencies themselves have said that there have been no incidents of gunfights. There are also no reports that this has led to any deterioration in the law and order situation.

According to human rights organisations, extrajudicial killings began in 2002 in the name of Operation Clean Heart. Then from 2004 there were continued gunfights with the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and the police. Records of the human rights organisation Odhikar show that from 2001 to June 2020, a total of 3,044 persons were victims of extrajudicial killing by law enforcement agencies.

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Deaths in 'gunfights' escalated when the anti-drug drive began in 2018.

Prior to September, the last two victims of extrajudicial killing in the name of gunfights or crossfire were retired army major Rashed Md Sinha Khan (36) and Abdul Mannan alias Munna Ahmed (35). Rashed Md Sinha Khan was shot dead by police on 31 July in Teknaf Cox's Bazar. Two days after that, Abdul Mannan was killed on 2 August in Ajagram of Sultanpur, Sylhet.

After Awami League formed the government in January 2009, it informed the United Nations Human Rights Commission that it would have 'zero tolerance' towards extrajudicial killing. But it was only in March that year that there were no extrajudicial killings.

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The human rights organisation Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) maintains records of extrajudicial killings. ASK's senior coordinator Abu Ahmed Faizul Kabir said, before September this year, the last time there was no extrajudicial killings was in March 2009.

Speaking at the ninth session of the 11th Jatiya Sangsad (National Parliament) on 10 September, prime minister Sheikh Hasina said, "Extrajudicial killings began during the rule of Ziaur Rahman. And this was institutionalised during the rule of Khaleda Zia. We (Awami League) are trying to bring this to an end."

When questioned in this regard, RAB's legal and media wing director Ashik Billah told Prothom Alo, RAB has always been vehemently opposed to extrajudicial killing. When law and order is being brought under control, shots are only fired when it is imperative to do so in order to save lives. He also said RAB was more successful than ever before in the anti-drug drive, but this had no connection with extrajudicial killing.

No official statement in this regard was available from the police spokesman and assistant inspector general of police Md Sohel Rana.

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September in the past four years

A review of the Septembers from 2016 till 2019, shows that 37 persons were killed in 30 incidents in September last year. Of these gunfights, 14 were with the police, 8 with the detective branch (DB) of police, 7 with RAB and 1 with Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB).

In September 2018, there were 31 incidents of gunfights in which 37 were killed. In 7 of the incidents, the killed persons had been earlier arrested or picked up by persons identifying themselves and members of the law enforcement. Of the gunfights, 17 were with the police, 12 with RAB and 2 with DB.

In September 2017, there were five incidents of extrajudicial killing in the name of gunfights. In the case of 3 incidents, the families alleged that the victims first picked up, taken away and killed.

In September 2016, a total of 13 gunfights took place.

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After the killing of retired major Sinha, a notice issued on 6 August by the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) directorate regarding the directives issued in Cox's Bazar by the army chief and the inspector general of police to their respective forces, stated that, "The police has assured that this is the last incident. There will be no repetition of any such incident in the future."

Former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission and Dhaka University law department professor, Mizanur Rahman, told Prothom Alo, it is good news for everyone that a month has passed without any extrajudicial killing. The state machinery has finally realised that this shortcut to dealing with law and order is not effective. The detrimental effect of the strategy taken up by the law enforcement agencies to sidestep the judiciary, had become very clear. He said, it is imperative to establish the rule of law. It is not possible to establish good governance while extrajudicial killing continues.

* This report appeared in the print edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir