Killing in gunfights, a new Frankenstein

Sinha Rashed Khan

Killing a notorious gangster in the name of wiping out crime from the society by an honest, patriotic law enforcer may be fascinating and thrilling for a movie, but in reality it is the most bizarre idea of a means to restore law and order.

While the entire world has been grappling with the pandemic, Bangladesh has been seeing an alarming number of reports on extrajudicial killings committed by law enforcers even during the virtual lockdown from March to May.

The recent incident that has been condemned from almost all levels, is the killing of former army major Sinha Md Rashed Khan.

Pradip Kumar Das, officer in charge of Teknaf police station, is widely known for his heroism and media briefings about eradicating drugs from Teknaf. In a recent interview he told the media he would make Teknaf drug-free by 16 December this year. He threatened the drug peddlers with raids, setting fire to their houses and the vehicles they use and so on.

Sinha was killed on 31 July at Shamlapur, Cox’s Bazar. Four shots were fired from the pistol of the outpost in charge, said the police statement after the killing.

According to the OC Pradip Kumar Das’ directives, Sinha’s vehicle was stopped at the Shamlapur checkpost and searched. Retired major Sinha Md Rashed Khan, as identified by the police on duty, was shot several times in his chest before he died.

Pradip Kumar Das, officer in charge of Teknaf police station, is widely known for his heroism and media briefings about eradicating drugs from Teknaf. In a recent interview he told the media he would make Teknaf drug-free by 16 December this year. He threatened the drug peddlers with raids, setting fire to their houses and the vehicles they use and so on. But, he said, everything would be done so covertly that apparently people won’t know who carried out the illegal acts like arson or raiding homes of people whom police identified as drug peddlers. He compared drug with cancer and pledged firm action saying, “we must terminate the cancer-ridden organs of the body.”

What was shocking about the interview clip was the interviewer(s) did not ask him whether the police have the authority to terminate anything from the society by force other than ensuring law and order. Who is entitled to pass a judgement or verdict? Police or the court?

Had this been the ideal and perfect way, Brazil and Venezuela should be the most crime-free countries in the world.

The definition of law enforcement agencies lies in the name of the very organisation. They should enforce the law and order.

According to Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) from January to June this year, at least 158 people were killed by different law enforcement agencies. Among them 108 were killed before arrest which is very disturbing as every person, even criminals, deserve fair trial according to the country’s constitution.

According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights adopted in 1966 which was ratified by Bangladesh in 2000, every human being has the inherent right to life. The covenant states further, “This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.”

Shooting any suspect cannot be a part of a country’s legal system that claims to run by the rule of law. There can be two reasons for such offence. One, it can be the agenda of the state itself that we saw in case of Venezuela where Nicolas Maduro ordered its law enforcement to shoot drug peddlers in the name of curbing crime.

The second reason may be when a country has agencies that recruit hooligans as its members who have no professional ethics and integrity. They believe the government identity card and uniform give them license to kill people arbitrarily.

There is no room for criticism or analysis of whether it was right or wrong. It is time we ask, can the law enforcers kill? An efficient law enforcement agency should stop the consignment and smuggling of drugs. Killing one peddler will only create a vacancy for his position which will soon be replaced by another one. Terminating an organ after the already spreading of the infectious cell will only make the situation worse.

Is it feasible to believe a member of police or RAB shoots in self-defence? Are such versions convincing? If it is in self-defence, why don’t they shoot the suspect or accused in the leg, hand or any part of the body that won’t kill them?

Why does a policeman have to fire four bullets in someone’s chest in self-defence when only one bullet was enough to knock him out?

In 2018, Ekramul Haque, a ward councilor of Teknaf, was killed in an alleged gunfight with the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). The audio clips containing the recorded conversations between Ekram and his daughter and wife before and when he was shot dead by law enforcers, created panic among people over ‘killings' by law enforcers in the name of 'gunfight'. Notably, Ekramul’s case is yet to see the light.

According to UN Code of Conduct for law enforcement officials,law enforcement officials shall not use firearms against persons except in self-defence or defence of others against the imminent threat of death or seriousinjury, to prevent the perpetration of a particularly serious crime involving gravethreat to life, to arrest a person presenting such a danger and resisting their authority, or to prevent his or her escape, and only when less extreme means are insufficient to achieve these objectives.

Each of the above scenarios, however, assumes that firearms are to be discharged, not with the intention to kill, but only to stop a suspect (‘shooting to stop’).

In the context of Bangladesh, such offences have been prevailing and increasing due to lawlessness that ensures these vested law enforcers that they can commit such crimes and get away with it.

This state of lawlessness in our current situation is not entirely created by political parties, ruling government or administration. In many of the cases we the people are responsible too. We do not seek answers and in some cases do not raise questions where needed.

Let’s assume a simple theory. If you appoint a caretaker in your house, what does he do? He takes care of the security so that thieves do not enter the building. It is not his duty to obstruct the mobility of the people living in the house or making any trouble for them just because he opens and closes the gate. He cannot kill any thief or tramp trying to enter the building either. He can catch him and hand him over to the police.

Law enforcers are the guards of the society, the border and people’s lives. It is their duty not power to practice over people who pay taxes for their salaries. Both the parties, people and law enforcers, must realise this fact. Police can arrest any suspect and hand him to the court.

The people should not have to swallow stories of shootout in retaliation. The government must not condone narratives like killing in self-defence or taking an arrestee to any secret place to recover drugs or firearms where the cohorts of the arrestee can shoot at the law enforcers leading to a gunfight. The people have an idea of what has been happening in the name of ‘gunfight’ since 2001.

Unless such action ceases, there will time when people will pass the verdict on who is the Frankenstein, the creator of the ogre. The creature must be defeated before it vows, "I will be with you on your wedding night!” It must be halted before it is too late.