The killings that never see justice

Nur Alam Babu (26) was slain 11 years ago in a “gunfight,” a word employed by the country's law enforcement to justify killings. However, human rights organizations labeled it extrajudicial killing. The deceased was the only son of Akkas Ali, a wounded liberation war hero.

A year after the incident, the home ministry's inquiry committee found that eight members of the Bangladesh Police's elite anti-crime and anti-terrorism squad, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), were involved in the youth's death. The ministry instructed the police to press charges against the RAB members as soon as possible. However, the directions are yet to be implemented.

The 71-year-old war veteran Akkas Ali, who now resides in a rehabilitation center for freedom fighters in the capital, meticulously kept the inquiry report in his steel cabinet, along with the names of the accused, in the hopes of one day getting justice for his only son.

According to the country's constitution, every citizen of Bangladesh has the right to go to court. Unfortunately, there are few examples of bereaved families gaining justice within the existing legal framework after their loved ones were killed in extrajudicial killings. Instead, they are faced with obstacles at every turn in their search for justice, including threats to their lives.

Over 4,000 people have been killed extrajudicially since 2000, according to human rights organizations. People have died while being held in jail. Forced disappearance victims have been discovered dead. However, most of these murders have occurred in so-called “gunfights” or, more commonly, “crossfires”.

When the Awami League took power in 2009, they promised to stop “crossfires”, but this is yet to happen.

Seven cases of so-called crossfire have been investigated by Prothom Alo, involving nine people killed. The families of the deceased have tried to get justice from the police, the courts, and the National Human Rights Commission, but in vain. RAB and the police, on the other hand, have been unable to prove the validity of their gunfight accounts.

In these seven occurrences, the police did not file any of the charges brought forward by the victims’ relatives. Even though only one complaint was filed with the court, the case was investigated for 11 years by five agencies. RAB was exonerated of all accusations in the final reports of all the investigations.

Eleven police officers were arrested after a judicial inquiry into another incident. A member of the victim’s family who was in charge of the investigation was murdered in the same way 12 years later.

According to the Code of Criminal Procedure, whenever charges are filed against a member of the law enforcement agency for committing a crime while on official duty, the case must first be approved by the Home Ministry. In one case, the court requested the license of the home ministry but has not received a response in nine years.

The victims’ families went to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) but were denied justice. The home ministry investigated two cases, including the case of freedom fighter Akkas' son, based on the Commission's recommendations. The reports of gunfights or crossfire were proven to be erroneous by investigations. The state, on the other hand, did nothing.

Meanwhile, the RAB and the police have filed various cases in connection with the seven occurrences, stating that some were gunfights and others were crossfires between two criminal gangs. However, no criminal organizations were identified in the investigations. The cases are closed with the final report.

When a gunfight occurs, police laws require a thorough inquiry to determine if the use of guns was justified and used according to the guidelines. These investigations occurred in all of the incidents, but nothing contradicted RAB and police accounts.

Every government in Bangladesh has accepted extrajudicial executions in the name of reducing crime. There have been numerous claims of people being picked up and killed in crossfire or gunfights for illicit activities such as drug peddling and rape. There are also allegations that law enforcement officers carry out extrajudicial killings for personal or political gain. In 2014, it was revealed in court that 17 RAB members working for hire in Narayanganj abducted and executed seven people.

During the BNP government's rule from 2001 to 2006, the human rights organization Odhikar documented 1,199 extrajudicial deaths by police enforcement. During 'Operation Clean Heart' in 2002-2003, joint forces killed at least 46 persons in 85 days. The then BNP-Jamaat administration gave these atrocities legal cover by adopting a statute under the pretext of combating terrorism.

We do not agree with the word crossfire. NGOs use this term
Benazir Ahmed, Inspector General of Police

According to Odhikar, during the military-backed caretaker government's 2007-2008 term, law enforcement carried out 333 extrajudicial killings. According to the organization's findings, 2,470 people were killed in extrajudicial executions between 2009 and June of this year. This number is 2,503, according to the records of another human rights organization, Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK).

The Awami League committed to abolish extrajudicial killings in its 2008 election manifesto. After taking office in February 2009, the administration declared 'zero tolerance' for such killings at the United Nations Human Rights Council. Three organizations, including ASK, filed a writ with the High Court in June of that year, demanding an end to extrajudicial executions. The case and a hearing on another similar petition filed in 2006 are still pending. Extrajudicial executions continue unabated.

"I don't see any crossfire," Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan told Prothom Alo on Friday. When attacked, police enforcement agencies open fire to defend themselves. "They're all trigger-happy criminals."

Former Inspector General of Police (IGP) Nurul Huda believes that the home ministry sets the police policy. And, because politics influence the ministry, extrajudicial killings must be examined in light of this.

"Extrajudicial executions have become ingrained in our culture. The government cannot allow anything illegal. Legal issues concerning law and order must be resolved. That is the only option, no matter how long it takes," Huda stated.

Sinha Md Rashed Khan, a retired army major, was slain on 31 July in Teknaf, Cox's Bazar. Retired army officers held a press conference following the incident, asking for an end to extrajudicial killings. The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) section of Bangladesh's armed forces then released a press release indicating that the police had assured them that similar instances would not happen again. "We do not agree with the word 'crossfire'. This is a word used by non-governmental organizations, " IGP Benazir Ahmed stated at a joint press conference of the army and police on 5 August.

It is worth noting that it has been 28 days since Sinha was killed, and there have been no reports of crossfire in the country since then.

Staged drama

Akkas Ali's son, who was killed 11 years ago, used to manage a tea stall. His bullet-riddled body was discovered in the capital city's Sabujbagh on 15 May, 2009. The body of Salahuddin Sohel, president of Mirpur Ward 7 Prajanma League (a local wing of Awami League), was lying next to his.

Both of them, according to RAB-3, were criminals. They were killed the night before in a gunfight with RAB on patrol. However, the incident was described as a "manufactured drama" in a 2010 report by the Home Ministry's investigating commission. The people that were killed were not involved in any criminal activities. RAB members had 'picked them up' before the incident. According to the report, they were murdered in the ‘same side firing’ rather than an ‘encounter’.

The inquiry committee included Kamrun Nahar Khanam, the then Deputy Secretary of the Home Ministry, Md Sayedur Rahman, the Dhaka Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner, and Mirza Ashraful Islam, the Human Rights Review Society's Additional Executive Director. According to the report, two members of RAB-3 must be prosecuted to discover those responsible for the “inhumane and violent” act. The officers who carried out the operation and ordered firing were patrolling team DAD Md Zakir Hossain and company commander Major Mustafizur Rahman.

NHRC recommended the home ministry to take urgent action to file criminal charges against the eight officials of RAB and their accomplices. On 11 November 2012, the home ministry issued directives to the police headquarters to do the same. Last week, freedom fighter Akkas Ali told Prothom Alo that if the persons were arrested according to the investigating report, the entire matter would be clear.

When asked about the police's failure to carry out the ministry's directions, Assistant Inspector General (media and public relations) Sohel Rana of the police headquarters told this correspondent that he would notify him later after he had a response from the concerned office.

All ends with inquiry

Kaiser Mahmud, a model, and actor, was recovered dead at the city's East Rampura Bazar on 9 October, 2009. RAB-1 reported the incident to the Rampura police station.

The case stated that Kaiser Mahmud had held a meeting with around 10 of his associates about carrying out criminal activities with huge amounts of arms and explosives.

Acting on a tip-off, RAB went there. The criminals started the fire, and RAB retaliated with a volley of bullets. After that, they discovered Kaiser's body on the ground.

According to the charges, the RAB-1 team was led by assistant superintendent of police Sarker Omar Faruk. He was accompanied by 9 others. Their names are included in the case statement. Investigating the case the following year, an inquiry committee of the home ministry said that Kaiser Mahmud lost his life in ‘crossfire’ due to incorrect information given by the RAB informant. There was no case against him. There were criminal allegations against Kamrul Islam. He and Kaiser both had the same nickname ‘Bappi’. RAB killed the wrong person in ‘crossfire’.

Smriti Rani Gharami, then Home Ministry Deputy Secretary (legal), DMP Deputy Commissioner Krishna Pada Roy, and Odhikar (NGO) Secretary Adilur Rahman Khan were on the inquiry committee.

Md Manzurul Alam, the actor's brother-in-law, informed Prothom Alo that there had never been a lawsuit against him when he was alive. A criminal complaint was made against 'Kaiser Mahmud alias Kamruzzaman alias Bappi alias Miah Bhai' with the Rampura station only after he died. They went to the then NHRC chairman Mizanur Rahman after seeing the probe report in the newspapers, according to Manzurul. The chairman promised that the commission would file a complaint, but it never did.

Mizanur Rahman now claims he has no idea why no charges were brought. Farhana Sayeed, the commission's public relations officer, informed Prothom Alo that the computer containing the records from that time had been damaged.

Lawyer Shahdeen Malik said that extrajudicial killing was being carried out year after year with direct approval of the government. But in all countries, the truth of these incidents comes to light and legal proceedings commence. He said, these proceeding have commenced with the killing of Sinha by police in Teknaf. Gradually more incidents will come to light.

Compromise and crossfire

On 26 July, 2008, the body of fertilizer trader Ansar Ali (35) was discovered in the Kakian forest near Shingra, Natore. He was killed in a crossfire, according to the authorities. Rajab Ali, the victim's father, filed charges in court against 23 people, including 14 police officers. There was no crossfire, according to judicial investigations. Ansar Ali was assassinated in a premeditated manner, and then the story was concocted.

The investigations named 12 policemen, including the officer-in-charge (OC) of the Shingra police station at the time, Abu Bakar Siddiq, and seven of his associates. Eleven policemen and others surrendered in court and were sentenced to prison.

The matter, however, took a dramatic turn later on. Rajab Ali informed Prothom Alo that he reached an agreement with the accused after being approached by influential people in the neighborhood. The witnesses gave their testimony during the hearing by this agreement. The accused were released in 2015. Then on 7 August 2019, the bullet-ridden body of Ansar Ali’s brother Afzal Hossain (45) was found near the Bhabanipur Bazar in Sherpur, Bogura. District police said he was the regional leader of the banned outfit, Purbo Bangla Sarbahara Party, and was killed in a gunfight of this extremist group.

Afzal’s son Enamul Huq filed a case with the Shingra subordinate court, saying that a day before the incident, a group of persons, identifying themselves as Detective Branch (DB) police, had picked up his father in a black microbus from a place called Bandar along the Natore-Bogura highway. Afzal’s father, Rajab Ali, speaking to Prothom Alo, said Afzal would look after the case about his brother’s death. Now they were being threatened to file a case about Afzal’s death in various ways. They are too scared to stay at home. Under court order, the police’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID) is investigating the killing case. Natore CID inspector Aminul Islam told Prothom Alo that investigations are at the final stages.

Ministry silent

The bullet-ridden bodies of Azad Hossain alias Pappu (22) and Abdus Sattar (25) were found on 28 February 2010 in Mirerbagh, South Keraniganj. Both of them were scrap dealers in the area.

RAB-10 DAD at the time, Kamrul Hasan, filed a case in this connection. He said they went to the spot upon hearing of clashes between two groups and came under fire. They fired back to protect themselves and government property. The miscreants fled, leaving behind the two bodies.

The victims' relatives filed cases against 19 police officers with the Dhaka chief judicial magistrate. They complained that they two were picked up and killed in an act of personal vengeance. Mashiur Rahman, the case's lawyer, informed Prothom Alo that the inquest report showed that bodies of Azad Hossain and Abdus Sattar had marks of injury. The court requested permission from the home ministry to investigate this.

The court records show that the court has asked for this permission on 3 April 2011, but the ministry has not replied till date.

Azad Hossain’s mother Shahina Begun, speaking to Prothom Alo on 19 August, said her son had provoked certain persons of the locality. Out of fear, they had taken shelter at her brother’s house in Mirpur. On the day before the incident, a Hiace vehicle with black windows drove up in front of the house. RAB members brandished their guns at the people in the area and then took Azad away in the vehicle. An hour or two after the incident, Azad spoke to his mother over cell phone, saying an ‘uncle ‘of RAB-10 had taken him in for questioning. The following day people in Keraniganj informed them about finding her son’s dead body.

After filing the case, Azad’s mother faced several threats, and so continues to live in Mirpur. Sattar’s family could not be contacted.

All in vain

On February 15, 2014, the body of water trader Jewel was discovered in Jatrabari's Balurmath. Jewel’s wife Shireen Akhter claimed that officers from the police station had tracked him down, apprehended him, and then killed him in the guise of a gunfight.

Shireen Akhter filed a written complaint with the NHRC, and the commission responded by sending this letter to the home ministry, requesting that the necessary measures be taken. Five years have gone by, but the ministry is yet to respond. Shireen told Prothom Alo that the Jatrabari police station did not take the complaint following the incident. The police threatened her mother-in-law to kill her grandchild (Jewel's son) if a complaint was filed.

SM Biplob Kabir, a teacher at a college in Satkhira's Tala thana, served as the general secretary of the BNP's Jalalpur union. He died on July 18, 2014, while receiving treatment at the Satkhira Sadar hospital. He had a bullet wound in his right thigh. The Tala police station was notified of the incident. Biplob was recognized as an active member of the Purbo Bangla Communist Party by the police, who claimed he was murdered in a gunfight with a gang of militants.

Biplob’s mother, Halima Begum, submitted a written complaint describing the details of her son’s abduction. Although the commission asked the home ministry to take action, it did not.

At the commission's request, the home ministry constituted an investigating committee for only two occurrences, according to a top official source in the commission who requested anonymity. Since 2013, the commission has asked for action in at least 14 cases, but the government has done nothing.

Nasima Begum, the commission's current chairman, said she had met with the public protection division secretary of the home ministry and obtained a favorable reaction. In a general response, the home minister stated that magistrates conduct investigations and follow the law after every event. But only one of the seven events investigated by Prothom Alo resulted in a case being filed after a judicial inquiry.

Police investigation only produce final report

Sub-inspector (SI) of the Sherpur police station, Atiqur Rahman, was the plaintiff in the case of Ansar Ali's brother Afzal who was killed in a so-called gunfight. The inquiry is nearly complete, according to OC Mizanur Rahman, and the final report is being prepared.

According to RAB, Nur Alam, the son of Akkas Ali, and Salahuddin Sohel, the leader of the Prajanmo League, were murdered in gunfights. In this case, the police have also presented their final reports.

There are also numerous final reports in the cases filed by the victims' sides. RAB shot and killed two Dhaka Polytechnic Institute students, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Mohsin Sheikh, on Manik Miah Avenue in the capital city on 27 May, 2009. RAB-2 announced in a news release that a checkpoint had been established to prevent snatching and mugging. They opened fire as they were being checked. The two were killed when RAB opened fire in retaliation.

Md Jasim Uddin, a nephew of the murdered Jinnah, filed a petition in court with a student from the institute as plaintiff, charging 11 people, including RAB-2's DAD at the time, Md Furzal Hossain.

Jasim Uddin bemoaned that the police, DB, CID, and PBI all conducted investigations and issued final reports one after the other. Executive investigations were also conducted, but these, too, favored RAB. However, there was not a single complaint leveled against him during Jinnah's lifetime.

According to Kamal Hossain, the lawyer for this case, the case statement provided by RAB claimed that the two were shot while fleeing, yet all seven rounds of bullets struck them up front.

The members of the seven families spoke to this correspondent, and they all praised the government's quick response to the killing of retired army official, Major Sinha. They felt that because Sinha was a former army officer, his case was handled with the utmost care and that if their accusations were reviewed, they would receive justice as well.

Extrajudicial killings are carried out year after year with the government's direct approval, according to Supreme Court counsel Shahdeen Malik. However, the truth about these instances eventually comes to light in all countries, and legal actions begin.

He told Prothom Alo, these proceeding have commenced with the killing of Sinha by police in Teknaf. Gradually more incidents will come to light.