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Bangladesh adopted the tactics of the Philippines to combat drugs. In three weeks 130 people were shot in the course of raids

Human rights activists believe that behind the campaign is the attempt of the authorities to purge the political field from the opposition before the beginning of the party elections.

The police detain the suspect in connection with the drug business in the capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka. AFP photo

At the end of May, government forces in Bangladesh launched an anti-drug campaign around the country: during the first week of the raids, the police shot 50 suspected drug dealers, and two weeks later, the death toll exceeded 130 people.

The brutal and ambiguous tactics of law enforcement almost exactly repeats the Philippine model of combating drug trafficking. The authorities of both countries assert that these are forced measures supported by the people, but the families of the killed and human rights activists saw in the government’s actions a political motive for the upcoming elections.

Three weeks – 130 killed

In the first week after the beginning of the anti-drug campaign, the police shot and killed activist and oppositionist Amjad Hossain in the northern part of the country. According to the police, the suspect in the drug trade refused to surrender and shot back with the gang members.

“14 cases have been brought against him in connection with murders, attacks and drug trafficking. After an anonymous message, we found a large portion of Yaby (Ya ba) at his home. Later, he died during a shootout, when other members of his gang opened fire, “- said the publication of The Guardian, responsible for the order in the district Netrokona.

The name “Yaba” (“crazy narcotic” in Thai translation) is unlikely to say something to the townsfolk, but this is the so-called cheap tablet based on methamphetamine and caffeine, which in recent years have flooded Bangladesh. According to the authorities, up to 300 million taboo tablets enter the country every year – this provision became a formal reason for the launch of an anti-drug campaign, one of the initiators of which was the country’s prime minister Sheikh Hasina.

Sheikh Hasina has been a prime minister for 14 years. Photo of Russell Watkin

During the first 10 days of raids, the police shot and killed more than 50 suspects in the trade or in dealings with dealers. Over the next two weeks, the death toll increased to 130 people. In conversation with journalists relatives of the deceased questioned the fairness of the actions of the authorities, describing the strange methods of the police. At first, the suspects are arrested, and a few hours later they die mysteriously during gunfights with gangs.

The same happened to Hossein, according to the brother of the deceased, the police force broke into his house, beat him and took him away, and later he was found dead. The activist was listed in the student opposition organization, which has been intensively preparing for the party elections in recent months . They must pass from October 31 to December 31, 2018 (the date is appointed by the parliament).

Most of the raids within the campaign are carried out by the Rapid Reaction Battalion (BBB), consisting of police and elite special forces. The scope of the organization is very broad and covers the struggle both with terrorists and drug trafficking, and with banditry. The law enforcement agency has repeatedly been accused of torturing and killing suspects, as well as kidnapping of opposition members.

The Coast Guard is studying a fishing boat for drug smuggling. AFP photo
45-year-old Shukur Ali was shot dead the day before Hossein under similar circumstances: first he was arrested by the police, and a couple of hours later his body was found in a side street with bullet wounds. Representatives of the elite unit claim that the man for a long time sold drugs and fired from the special forces during the detention. Relatives of the murdered recognize that he really used drugs, but never worked as a dealer.

According to local human rights activists, the anti-drug campaign created anatmosphere of “terror” in the country, as the police have the full right to judge and execute suspects on the spot. Exactly the same last two years is happening in the Philippines, where the fight against drugs has taken the form of an open war.

The Philippine Way

“Dispense with them all,” – urged the President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duteret from taking office in 2016. He is a tough fighter against crime, he launched a war in the country with all those who are connected with drugs. In the first few weeks at the hands of the police and “civilian squads”, inspired by the President’s speech, more than two thousand people were killed, allegedly involved in trafficking in prohibited substances.

In 2016, the fear of reprisal forced more than 600,000 people allegedly involved in the drug business to surrender to the police. By January 2018, the number of people killed during the campaign exceeded 20,000: the guilt of an overwhelming number of dead has not been proven. The main advantage of his cruel methods, Dutherte, who worked for more than 22 years as the mayor of Davao, calls the decline in crime. The statistics are really on the side of the president, but only partly.

Reuters photo

At the end of 2017, the Philippine police reported a 21% drop in crime rates relative to 2016, when Dutteret took office. However, the number of murders increased by 14% relative to the same time. Human rights activists attribute this to the fact that police sometimes turn a blind eye to the actions of “squads”, motivating their actions by the fight against drugs.

In a conversation with reporters of The New York Times, residents of the Philippines, whose relatives became victims of an anti-drug campaign, describesimilar stories of what happened. Once a policeman burst into the house and arrested a relative, and later he was found dead. At times, the attackers missed the first stage and simply shot the suspects in their apartments. Sometimes those who voluntarily surrendered to the police died mysteriously. Their cases are not being investigated, and the families of the deceased do not know who to turn to for help.

After the murder of the head, many suspects in connection with drugs are wrapped in tape and attach a note to the body like “drug lord”, so that passers-by or investigators immediately understand the motives of the killers. It is extremely difficult to oppose such crimes inside the country, as the head of state formally approves of them.

“People are grateful to us”

In Bangladesh, there are approximately seven million drug addicts, of whom five million use Yabu. The average age of 63% of users varies from 15 to 25 years. This situation has long worried the government, but the authorities have made only minor steps towards the creation of a rehabilitation system.

Western countries, including the US, called on the authorities of Bangladesh to resolve the situation with the anti-drug campaign. Human Rights Watch Human Rights Watch acknowledged that the country is in a drug crisis, but the current methods of siloviki will only lead to big problems. At the time of writing, the number of detainees in Bangladesh on suspicion of drug trafficking was 17,000.

Staff of the Rapid Reaction Battalion. Reuters photo
On June 6, 2018, the wife of the murdered politician Akramul Haque unveiled four phone records in which he first communicates with his daughter, and then he is attacked by unknown persons. On the first two politicians, a member of the Awami League (with a majority in the parliament), the daughter tells that he was invited to the local office of the governor. On the third record, a man speaks in a muffled voice and tells his daughter about plans to go to a certain place for “urgent business”.

On the last recording, there is a muffled mooing and the words “I’m not involved in this”, which probably was spoken by the dead man. Then a sound is heard on the audio, a groan and another shot. Next, a new voice orders to collect the cartridges, and somewhere in the distance a siren of a police car is heard. The whole recording lasts approximately 14 minutes: it was published and deciphered by one of the largest newspapers of the country The Daily Star.

The recording aroused great resonance, as according to the version of the siloviki on May 27, Khak was shot during a shootout, and two guns and a stock of prohibited substances were found in his apartment. The wife and wife of the police said that the politician from the ruling party had long been selling drugs. Additional doubts in the official version caused a strange coincidence: the site of The Daily Star stopped working in Bangladesh after the publication of the record and earned only 18 hours later. The Guardian believes that the fault lies with the local Internet regulator.

After the publication of the record, the authorities of the country stood up for the campaign against drugs, but initiated the investigation, admitting that “errors” could have been committed in the incident. Minister of Road Transport and Bridges Obaidul Quader added that during the operation, “one or two mistakes” could have been committed, but it is too early to say that the innocent were injured. He was supported by other officials.

People are grateful to us for the anti-drug campaign. And if such an initiative is supported by ordinary citizens, we do not plan to turn off the operation.

Asadazaman Khan
Minister of the Interior of Bangladesh
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