Saturday, January 9, 2010

143 crossfire under Awami government

By Jahangir Alam Akash, Elite force of Bangladesh called Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). We had hoped that after the intervene of the highest court of Bangladesh (Supreme Court), RAB and police would be changed. But, still they haven’t changed. Still they have been doing extra judicial killings. Though, the matter of extra judicial killings is now under the court. Actually, RAB don’t bother to anybody, even court order. At least 12 people were killed in custody since its November 17 suo-moto rule upon the government for an explanation on the matter.
According to the English national newspaper of Bangladesh, the daily Star, an attempt to extra judicial killing has happened in the capital of Dhaka. The newspaper writes that, a so called gunfight between the members of Rapid Action Battalion and a ‘gang of criminals’ in the city’s Naya Paltan area early on 6th January, 2010 left an extortionist wounded. The wounded Alamgir Hossain, 23, of Hizla upazila under Barisal district, was rushed to Dhaka Medical College Hospital with bullet wounds in his leg. He was later shifted to Pongu Hospital. RAB-3 officials said acting on a tip-off; they went to Culvert Road at Naya Paltan around 12:30 am to nab the criminals. Sensing the presence of the RAB team, the criminals opened fire on the elite force that also retaliated with gunshots triggering the gun battle. At one stage, Alamgir received bullet wounds during the shootout while his accomplices managed to flee. And the latest crossfire was happened in the capital Dhaka on 9th January, 2010. The killed, Appel Mahmud Suman, 26.
The country men have well known that this story is totally false and fabricated which were made by law enforcers. The peoples have been seeing this type of story since 2004. Around 1,600 peoples have killed by so-called heart attacked, crossfire, gunfight or encounter since 2002. In the last 12 months a total of 143 people were killed by law enforcing agencies in the country since 7th January to December of 2009.

The High Court on 14th December, 2009 expressed grave concern over persistence of extrajudicial killings as 11 people were killed in custody since issuance of a suo-moto rule upon the government on November 17 for an explanation on the matter.

During hearing on the rule the court asked the attorney general to convey its concern to the director general of RAB. The HC also asked him to take initiatives so that no such killings take place till the next hearing on the matter scheduled for January 9. In addition, the HC also asked the state’s top law officer to place the names of RAB officials of Madaripur involved in detaining two brothers Lutfor Rahman Khalasi and Khairul Haque Khalasi who were killed on November 16.

When the present ruling party Awami League was opposition then they often raised their voice against extra judicial killings or crossfire. Not only that, before the last general election even after came in power they told very often that extra judicial killing they must be stopped. Being a Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also told to the international community that their government isn’t support to crossfire or extra judicial killings. Indeed, the government attitude, work and words about crossfire are very unfortunate.
The assertions of very responsible personalities of this government are shocking. Home minister Sahara Khatun recently told that, there is no crossfire. We are afraid for that, directly and indirectly the home minister and other some minister’s even Prime Minister were defence to ‘crossfire’ killings.
The term “extrajudicial killing” means execution without justice. This is a grave human rights violation. It’s both a violation of Bangladesh’s constitution and of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But these types of killings still occur frequently in Bangladesh.
The State Minister for Home Affairs and the Prime Minister of Bangladesh openly support the extrajudicial killings, despite the fact that Bangladesh signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention Against Torture. Not only that, the constitution of Bangladesh also safeguards the right to life.
The government of Bangladesh has been violating the constitution and Universal Declaration of Human Rights since 2004. According to Art. 35(5) of the constitution of Bangladesh and Art. 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” And according to Art. 3 of the constitution of Bangladesh, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” But, in practice, Bangladesh does not ensure the right to life and has not complied with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the constitution of Bangladesh.
We can see that state institutions such as the judiciary, the rule of law, regulations, the constitution and the national assembly have been disabled. The media’s role regarding extrajudicial killings covered up under reports of “crossfire”, “gunfights” or “encounters” is negative and constrained. The media has only been publishing the normal reports about these encounters filed by the RAB or the police themselves.
A few human rights organizations have long been asking the government to stop the killings, terming them “extrajudicial”. Moreover, the High Court of Bangladesh, on June 29, 2009, asked the government to explain why killing people without a trial, in the form of extrajudicial killings, is not being declared as illegal, and why measures are not being taken against the perpetrators. After this ruling, we still haven’t seen anything happen.
Extrajudicial killings continue even in violation of the High Court’s ruling. How can they continue? It’s very alarming for human rights, democracy and the right to life. And why is the High Court silent regarding this gross human rights violation?
Both governmental and nongovernmental sources have said that the death toll has reached 143 from such extrajudicial killings – labeled as “crossfire” killings, “encounter” killings or “gunfight” killings by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and the police – since January 6, 2009 (January 6 of 2009 to January 9 of 2010) when the Awami League-led government assumed office. In Bangladesh, we have a so-called democracy, but there is no rule of law. Every day sees more killings of citizens by the state machinery, killings which are both well-planned and covered up.
The government of Bangladesh has been violating the constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights day after day since 2004. In 2004, the BNP-Jamaat government made a decision about extrajudicial killings and formed the RAB. From March 26, 2004 until Oct. 21, 2009, around 1,600 people have been killed without justice.
The government of Bangladesh has sided with the extrajudicial killings. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has also said, in an indirect way, that extrajudicial killings will continue. She spoke clearly, upholding “crossfire” killings. What was said by our popular Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in New York is very unfortunate for the rule of law, democracy, the constitution, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the people of Bangladesh.
According to the, Sheikh Hasina talked with journalists in New York on Sept. 27, 2009. Referring to “crossfire” killings at the time, she said, “I do not believe in extrajudicial killings. But if anyone launches an armed attack (against a law enforcer), then they shouldn’t be allowed to kill them like sitting ducks.”
In conclusion, I want to say that the reports of so-called “crossfire” killings, “encounter” killings or “gunfight” killings that are made by the RAB and the police are totally false. I believe that terrorism should never be combated or controlled through state killings. It is the establishment of the rule of law that is essential to control terrorism.

A close experience on RAB atrocities:

Personally, I have also been victimized by the recent past authority for my activities as a journalist, writer and human rights activist. I was tortured for 15 hours. My crime was that I was made several investigative reports about the RAB’s offenses of extrajudicial killings, Islamic militancy and Indigenous and minority torture as well as corruption and political terrorism.

I want to paint a picture of the violation of the rule of law and human rights in Bangladesh. The RAB arrested a terrorist named Benazir on May 2, 2007, on the charges of possession of illegal arms. While arresting him, they shot both of his legs in front of his minor daughter and his wife. Benazir is now crippled with two bullet marks on his feet. He is also detained in the hospital area of the Rajshahi central jail. The RAB did not find any arms in his possession.
Another killing was happened in the name of ‘Encounter’ by RAB-5. RAB murdered a local Workers party leader Maznu Sheikh alias Kamrul Islam at Chotobongram in Rajshahi city on May 18, 2007. I reported about these on CSB News and broadcasted interviews of their relatives (wife, mother, brother and localities). In the same time I was published these report on the daily Sangbad and broadcasted in DW Radio.
When Benazir was shot, it was reported by me on CSB News. None of the RAB personnel who were involved in the alleged operation agreed to give statements in front of a television camera regarding the incident. In the evening, I send the report to our head office in Dhaka from our bureau office in Rajshahi. In a news bulletin broadcasted at 1:00 a.m. the following morning, the report was broadcast.
Then, at 9:33 p.m. that evening, I received a call from RAB officer Major Rashidul Hasan Rashid. Soon as I As soon as I picked up the phone, the caller asked me why the broadcasting of the news piece about the RAB’s operation was stopped after being aired only twice. In reply, I told him that “it is up to the head office.” Major Rashid became annoyed with me and said, “You broadcasted this report intentionally.” I replied, “It is my professional duty, nothing more than that.”

He asked, “Why did you broadcast someone crying and the statements of Benazir’s wife and daughter?” In response, I asked him, “Do you want to know it officially?”
At this stage, Major Rashid became very rude. I cannot mention the words he shouted at me in our language, since the language was very bad. He was outraged and said, “If you fail to give the right answer about why you broadcast the report, then I shall take actions against you.” I said, “I have not committed any crime.”

Major Rashid asked again, “Why did the other TV channels not broadcast the same report? You did it intentionally and your actions belong to ‘anti-state activity’.” He also said, “Make sure that you, any of your colleagues, and the CSB News camera are never seen within the jurisdiction and activities of the RAB. If they are, then the RAB will take action against you.”

After that, he hung up. I complained to the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and Amnesty International and other human rights and media organizations as well as DW authority regarding this threat. Then AHRC was given a letter to the government. After then, an investigation was commissioned. After giving a detailed report, I signed my written statement, which was received with signature and official chop by the reader to assistant police commissioner in Boalia, Rajshahi on July 3, 2007.

Mr. Golam Mostofa, the field officer of the National Security Intelligence questioned me regarding the said intimidation and threats, on July 15, 2007. Then, at around 6:00 p.m. on July 22, 2007, Mr. Moyeen, an inspector of the Special Branch of the city of Rajshahi visited my office and took my statement. Inspector Moyeen also asked about the threat I felt, and I replied that the RAB is involved in extrajudicial killings and I feared that I could become the victim of such a killing. I reported that I have been continuing my work, but I still worried that the RAB or his men might target me for further harassment or intimidation.

So I became a target. I have been charged multiple times with false and political motivated charges and have been arrested, tortured and detained. I was arrested from my house at midnight and tortured in front of my wife, child and rental house owners. I was taken to the RAB-5 office. I was hung from the ceiling with my hands tied with ropes and was beaten mercilessly on my feet and my back. I was kept hanging from the ceiling with ropes around my hands, with the mask on my face. And also they gave me electric shocks.
When I was being tortured I was being shouted at with words like: “Will you do the Benazir report again…?” “Litchi garden report again…” ‘Khairuzzaman Liton’s family report again…” Now face the consequences; son of a pig… son of a bitch…” etc. The RAB would like to be able to kill me, and officially call the killing a “crossfire” or “encounter.”

RAB sent me to the local police with the charge under the section 16(2) of Emergency Power Rules 2007. I was under medical attention in the Rajshahi central jail for 10 days. As a new detainee, I was sent to the case table in front of the jail house’s trial court on my first day. When I went to case table, two fellow inmates had to hold me on both sides. I had no power to walk. I could not even sit properly, but could only put pressure on one side of my rear, when sitting. I broke into tears. Many cases were lodged against me. I felt I was being prepared to be killed in a “crossfire” or “encounter.”
There is more shocking news I have learned about a key perpetrator, Major Rashidul Hassan Rashid, an RAB military officer who played the leading role in the extrajudicial killings of Ahsan Habib Babu, a student’s league leader; Kamrul Islam, alias Maznu Sheikh, a Workers Party leader; Ali Jafor Babu, a prominent businessman; and about twenty others. Some people like Benazir and a jail guard, Shahebul Islam, were highly affected and disabled by their torture. Major Rashid has been recruited to serving in the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Ivory Coast; he joined the UN mission on July 10, 2008. This makes it clear how well the Bangladeshi authorities look into human rights abuses and treat the victims and the perpetrators.

I want to say I have been giving high price for press freedom and human rights with my whole family. Only for my professional activity my father in law was lost his political carrier. Though, he has been belonging with Bangladesh Awmai League from last 42 years. After my persecution I have been paralyzed socially, economically, mentally and physically. Not only that, I have lost my job, dignity, reputation. How I will recover my dignity, reputation and all other loses? How could I get justice and when the perpetrator Major Rashid and others those who have involved to torturing me would take punish?
We would like to urge to the government please should stop extra judicial killing immediately. And we also urge to all political parties, media and civil society please to raise voice against extra judicial killings and all kind of inhumanity for the peace and happiness and for the rule of law and human rights. We strongly saying that, Extra-judicial killings and the process of police remand are very disturbing for the judiciary and rule of law and a great suicidal for the society, nation and democracy. Extra-judicial killing must be stopped. No further killing in crossfire. Bring anyone to justice if accused of criminal charges.

Might be a committee comprised of a retired justice, an AIG level of police officer, media and human rights personalities, law maker, and civil society representative should investigate each of the extra-judicial killings, and make the findings public. We are struggling for make a civilized and democratic society. The rule of law must uphold. Otherwise in front of us have no alternative to say that, we are a civilized?

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Jahangir Alam Akash-Editor of Euro Bangla


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Jahangir Alam Akash Editor Euro Bangla