Fears rise as Bangladesh war on drugs kills many

Bangladeshi security forces have shot dead more than 70 suspected drug dealers in two weeks in an anti-narcotic crackdown that has created fears of opposition voices being silenced ahead of the upcoming national election.
Rights activists fear the campaign may turn into mass extra-judicial killings like those in the Philippines where more than 12,000 people have reportedly been gunned down since the war on drugs began in 2016.
“Such killings are against the spirit of the rule of law. The accused must get the protection of the law,” Adilur Rahman Khan, the head of human rights organisation Odhiker, said on Saturday.
Police statistics show at least 73 people have been gunned down since security forces launched the nationwide campaign on May 12.
Eleven of them were killed on Friday night in the districts of Comilla, Feni, Chandpur, Joypurhat, Mymensingh, Dinajpur, Barguna, Thakurgaon and Pabna.
Officer Abu Mohammad Shahjahan Kabir in Comilla said police fired 16 shots after his team was attacked by a gang during a raid at a drug den on Friday night.
“Two drug dealers were found dead after a gunfight,” Kabir said, adding that one of the suspects was accused in 16 cases related to smuggling narcotics. Police seized 40 kilogrammes of cannabis and a pistol from the scene, he added.
Similar statements have come from other officers after such operations, most of which are carried out in the dead of night. The police claim that they fire bullets only in self-defence after being
attacked.
However, rights activists insist otherwise.
Many of the victims are mistakenly identified as drug peddlers by police and some have been targeted for their political affiliation,
Khan said.
“We are not sure how many of them are innocent, but we have been investigating to determine the number of mistakenly identified persons,” he said.
Odhiker has been investigating extra-judicial killings, forced disappearances and other human rights violations in Bangladesh since 1994.
Security forces began the anti-drug campaign amid a surging trade in methamphetamines, also called yaba tablets, which are mostly smuggled into Bangladesh from neighbouring Myanmar.
A senior cabinet minister has blamed Myanmar for sending the tablets to Bangladesh after security forces recovered 40 million pieces of the cheap methamphetamines last year.
In addition, at least 4 million tablets were seized in the first four months of 2018.
Jamal Uddin Ahmed, chief of Bangladesh’s Department of Narcotics Control, said an estimated 7 million people are addicted to different types of synthetic drugs, including heroin, yaba, codeine-containing syrup Phensedyl, pethidine and morphine.
“We have recently intensified the anti-drug drives combining forces from different agencies so that the criminals cannot escape,” Ahmed said, while not giving a timeframe for the campaign.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina asked the country’s law enforcement agencies to eradicate drug abuse by mirroring her government’s campaign to eliminate rising militancy.
Hasina’s anti-militancy drive, which began in 2016, saw the killing of more than one hundred suspected radicals, who were blamed for carrying out attacks on foreigners, secularist bloggers, writers, priests and those of other faiths.
Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu has justified the deaths of the latest campaign, saying those killed during the exchange of bullets cannot be termed as extra-judicial killings.
“They [suspects] are killed in a drug war,” said the minister. — dpa

Nazrul Islam