Gunfight, harassment, disappearance–behind the scenes

Sheikh Sabiha Alam, back from Teknaf | Update:

Hamida Begum, Abdur Rahman, Md Hossain and Md Kashem (clockwise).Policemen at Teknaf police station detained eighth grader Md Mostafa on 27 May. Three days into the detention, the policemen returned to his home at Satghariapara of Whaikhyang to look for yaba and arms, but they found nothing.

While carrying out a raid at his home on the fourth day, police claimed Mostafa unearthed yaba and arms he kept hidden under the bed of a neighbour, Mafiz Alam.

At least 16 residents of Satghariapara said several policemen from Whaikhyang police outpost came to their locality and drove them away and cordoned off the home of Mafiz Alam. Later police along with Mostafa arrived here. After some time police gave arms and yaba tablets to Mostafa and called newsmen and took photos.

Police filed cases with Teknaf police station against Mostafa, Mafiz and a local farmer Md Hossain on charges of yaba trade and illegal arms trade. Police produced Mostafa before the court on 1 June. He is now in jail. Hossain was killed in an alleged gunfight with police on 20 July. Mafiz is now on the run.

Teknaf upazila of Cox’s Bazar has turned into a critical region during this ongoing countrywide anti-drug drives. The home ministry prepared a list of 73 yaba godfathers of the district. On 16 February, some 102 yaba traders including 29 godfathers from that list surrendered to police. Almost all of them are from Teknaf.

The region was panic-stricken in the last week of July. Since the incident of surrender, a total of 55 suspected drug traders have been killed in alleged gunfights with police, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) in six months. Only one of them was in the list of godfathers.

Officials said the deceased are mainly drug carriers. According to police station, a total of 550 cases relating to yaba trade were filed in this period.

Prothom Alo talked to over 100 people including representatives of local government and ruling party leaders and activists in Cox’s Bazar, Teknaf municipality and Sadar upazila.

They alleged many innocent people are being harassed. Some officials are collecting money threatening ‘crossfire’ and implicating in forged cases. Incidents of ‘gunfights’ are being staged, they added.

Superintendent of police in Cox’s Bazar ABM Masud Hossain, however, denied the allegation. “Genuine gunfights took place in hundred per cent cases,” he told Prothom Alo.

Teknaf-Ukhia constituency MP Shahin Akter said she did not receive any allegation of police excesses. Shahin Akter is the wife of former MP Abdur Rahman alias Badi.

Fear grips Satghariapara villagers 

On 23 July, the Prothom Alo correspondent talked to some people at a small shop in Sathghariapara of Whaikhyang union in Teknaf. Many of them have recently been sued in drug smuggling cases. Whenever they see any vehicle without license plate or any unknown person in the area, they hide into the hilly jungle.

A certain Md Hossain of the village was killed in a gunfight on 20 July. Hossain’s younger brother Md Kashem was also killed in gunfight in April.

While Hossain’s wife Sanzida Begum was talking to this correspondent in front of their dilapidated home, an old woman was crying nearby, “My sons! My sons…”

The family has nothing but a broken small bed and a chopped mattress on it. Pointing at the ransacked stuff, Sanzida said police have vandalised those during a drive.

The widow said her husband was a farmer. He just had started taking lunch at his uncle’s home after finishing farm works on the day he was picked up by plainclothesmen.

In the next morning, the guard of the village phoned the family and said Hossain's body is at Cox’s Bazar Hospital.

A neighbour of the family told Prothom Alo that the local people along with the family members brought the body from the hospital collecting money from people.

Three months ago, the same village guard informed the family about the death of Hossain’s younger brother Md Kashem in the same way.

Earlier on 31 March, an alleged drug peddler Mahmudur Rahman was killed in a reported gunfight with police. Following Mahmudur’s death, police filed four cases against 28 people. Kashem was one of the accused in the cases.

Relatives and locals said Kashem-Hossain’s family had an altercation with Md Alam alias Babul and his brother Bangladesh Awami Olama League’s leader Maulbhi Badiul Alam over a piece of land.

They alleged police worked in favour of Babul’s family.

This correspondent tried to contact Babul, but to no avail. The correspondent even went to Babul’s house, but he was not there.

However, Md Hossain was earlier sued in a violence case. He was on bail in the case.

Hossain’s lawyer Abdus Shukkur at Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST) said, “I used to pay his (Hossain’s) transport cost. He had to live from hand-to-mouth. Hossain was a farmer and his brother a forest guard.”

Following Kashem’s murder, three cases were filed. A certain Firoz Alam among 19 people was sued in the cases filed for killing, and possession of arms and narcotics.

Firoz told Prothom Alo that seven years ago, he went to Malaysia by trawler. In November of 2017, he returned home with some money and built a small house and got married. But, he is now on the run.

“If I was really involved with yaba trade, either shoot me or investigate into the matter. I’ll help. I can’t take this anymore.”

Another accused in the case is an eighth grader, who is also a fugitive now.

According to the statement of the case, police was informed that on 11 April, ‘a fugitive accused in many cases and yaba trader Md Kashem was waiting to trade a huge haul of yaba pills at the Whaikhyang Nayabazar area.’ Police detained Kashem from the spot.

He then said, the statement added, they used to smuggle in yaba from Myanmar through river route and stocked those at Ishak Master’s fish enclosure in Satgharia. Later they send those to other parts of the country.

The case statement also said when the law enforcement went to recover the stocked yaba pills, Kashem’s associates opened fire on the police. Kashem was shot during the ’gunfight’. As he was taken to hospital, physicians declared him dead.

However, Prothom Alo inquiry found most of the descriptions of ‘gunfight’ cases nearly the same.

An 18-year-old man Abdur Rahim was also killed in gunfight with police on 11 March. He was just admitted into Class-VII after finishing his study at the Hifjul Quran Adarsha Forkania Madrasa.

His mother, Shamsunnahar, has already left the area on security reason. Prothom Alo found out her. She said Rahman went to Hnila Bazar with one of his friends 12 days ago. That friend told her over phone that Rahman was taken to police station.

Police denied the detention of his son, Shamsunnahar added.

Later, the guard of the village informed her that Rahman was killed in a ‘gunfight’.

Shamsunnahar said she had no knowledge of any case against her son. However, she later heard that two of her in-laws were held with yaba pills. Police showed Rahman a fugitive in the case.

Kanjarpara village is adjacent to Satghariapara. A certain Ziaur Rahman from the village, his wife Baby Akter, and their daughter, who is an eighth grader, have recently been sent to jail in an alleged narcotics case.

When the correspondent went to the vacant house of Ziaur, friends of the girl and relatives of the family gathered around. They said on 13 July police came to detain Ziaur Rahman. When his daughter protested at the move, police picked her up and detained her mother, too.

The case statement said the girl is 19-year-old and she with her mother involved in drug smuggling.

During the drive, the police seized 10 packets of yaba from the girl’s possession. Each of the packets contained 200 yaba pills.

Harassment and killing 

Examining 10 case statements of alleged gunfights, it was found that police have filed three to four cases in each instances of gunfight. The cases were filed on charges of killing, narcotics and arms trading and attack on police. Some 12 to 28 people are made accused in a case while unidentified people are also sued.

Teknaf police station records show, a total of 13 members of the police station were injured in alleged gunfights in April, May and June. But the types of injuries were not mentioned in any case.

On 19 March, suspected hundi trader Yasin Arafat was killed in alleged gunfight with police. Police sued 21 people including two siblings.

Family members said someone identifying himself a policeman demanded money over phone to save lives of the two brothers. They had given the person a big amount of money.

A top leader of an associate body of ruling Awami League in Cox’s Bazar said relatives of such arrested persons in three such incidents sought his help to halt probable incident of ‘gunfight’. He had negotiated with Teknaf police over the amount of money.

Teknaf police station officer-in-charge Pradip Kumar Das, however, claimed that they are not operating any drive resorting to any irregularities or favouritism. His station is free from corruption. Policemen are not carrying out attacks on houses of yaba traders, the OC claimed.

Name of Saiful Karim is next to former MP Badi in the list of 73 yaba godfathers. Police arrested his two brothers -- Mahbubul Karim and Rashedul Karim -- on 2 May. At that time Saiful returned from Myanmar to surrender. But he was killed in an alleged gunfight on 31 May.

Later police took his two brothers in remand. Their relatives said they had given Tk 150,000 to police to save their lives.

Mahbubul Karim was engaged in export-import business including bamboo and timber at Teknaf land port. His younger brother was an official at a NGO, Care Bangladesh. Their names are not in the list of narcotic traders prepared by the home ministry and police. Still they were arrested. Before his arrest, a news portal report claimed Rashedul is involved in yaba trade. On 29 April, Care in a statement said they are certain that Rashedul is not involved in any kind of drug trading.

While visiting the house of Saiful Karim’s parents on 21 July, the evidences of vandalism were seen everywhere. No male members were at the house on the day. Several people gathered there. They said plainclothesmen, who came to arrest Saiful’s brothers, vandalised the place. Later uniformed policemen came and seized yaba pills digging earth.

‘Gunfight’ after three days

Hamida Begum, 32, was killed in an alleged gunfight on 17 July. Police filed a case against her with Teknaf police station on the day. The case statement said ‘it is widely known in the locality’ that she procured yaba pills from Teknaf and smuggled across the country.

Hamida was killed in a reportedly gunfight with her rival group centring sharing of yaba pills at Jadimura, Hnila. Police learnt she was sued in Narcotics Control Act on 13 July.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, her mother Dildar Begum, however, claimed a group of plainclothesmen took her daughter (Hamida) on that night. Hamida’s father Sona Ali saw her daughter at Teknaf police station on the following morning but police told them that Hamida was not at police lock-up.

In the early morning of 17 July, a village guard told Hamida’s parents over phone that her dead body was at Cox’s Bazar Sadar Hospital.

Hamida along with her three children lived in a small shanty adjacent to her parent’s home. Dildar Begum said her daughter took a card identifying herself as a Rohingya in order to get basic food grains.

"Why did my daughter face extrajudicial killing despite there’s the law and the court in the country?" Dildar Begum asked.

Wishing not to be named, a high official in the law enforcing agency said it has become necessary to evaluate the effectiveness of the strategy, taken to eliminate narcotics by creating fear.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, former Inspector General of Police (IGP) Nurul Huda said the patronisation of illegal ‘gunfight’ suggests the failure to prevent crimes legally. The reaction may turn dreadful once an attempt is taken to control the situation illegally.

*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam and Toriqul Islam.

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