RAB: Eradicating Crime or Crimes of the State?
Shah Mohammad Mushfiqur Rahman
“…the sapling that the police have nibbled on even slightly neither blooms nor does it ever bear fruit. The saliva of the police is poisoned. I know a young man who was as intelligent and educated as he was good natured. He did emerge, albeit wounded, from the hands of the police. But now driven insane in his youth, he is spending his life at the Baharampur insane asylum.”
- “Chhoto Boro” Rabindranath Tagore
Tagore was well aware of the saga of the police, it was his good luck that never allowed him to come into contact with the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) – the hybrid of the police and the army. If he had, he would have realized that these days if one falls into the hands of this species, one need not go through the hassle of ending up in an insane asylum. Instead one may get a one-way ticket and go directly to the afterworld.
Nevertheless, the quotation from Rabindranath Tagore allows us to infer that there is not much difference in qualitative terms between the police of the British Raj and the modern police of the “democratically elected government”. The nature of both is similar as are their activities. In fact, it is often heard that our modern police force uses the same 303 rifles that the British police used. The railway system, the judiciary and others – including the police system - are the processes which we have accepted from the British in absolute good faith. Hence, reformations in this field have been scarce. Their uniform may have been changed, perhaps weapons other than the 303 rifles have been added to their repertoire, a canine force has been added; but their nature remains as it was in the past. Complemented by illimitable corruption, it has perhaps been possible to deal with the movement of the opposition party by using this force, but the law and order situation could not be kept in control. Thus, these special arrangements are necessary with the escalation in public discontent, and when the opposition makes law and order an issue in their campaign. The army arises as a liberating force, and the police, Ansar and BDR appear with them. The sum of these parts is the Rapid Action Battalion or RAB.
Perhaps the reader may recall that at the time a legal debate raged over the operation that was initiated in the late hours of the night of 17 October, 2002. Whether the campaign carried out under the package of “Operation Clean Heart” was even legal, whether it was constitutional, what were the boundaries under which it operated were among the questions that were raised by various segments of society. As usual, the government remains silent and indifferent on this issue, indicating that accountability is not something they practice; it is merely something to which they pay lip-service. But the issue was not done with. Legal and military experts hunted through legal tomes and found that the army could be called in to assist the civil administration. Of course the law books do not say anything about the army themselves acting to uphold law and order instead of merely assisting the police, or about beating up detained personnel, or the resulting deaths. Hence, the legality of this operation remains open to question. A direct result of these doubts is that the government certainly did not want any legal uncertainties to remain insofar as the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) was concerned. RAB was given birth to in an organized and well-planned manner, after having a law passed in parliament. The law that had to be amended to accomplish this was the 1979 The Armed Police Battalions Ordinance. Under this law, the armed police forces have five responsibilities:
In the July 9, 2003, amendment, RAB is regarded as armed police and they are required to undertake the same five responsibilities. In addition, two more duties have been appended as additional responsibilities of RAB.
It should be noted that investigations are the only aspects where RAB works under direct governmental instruction. This particular feature of the amendment has given rise to concern and anxiety in certain quarters. Awami League leader Dr. Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir is among the list of concerned citizens. According to him, “It is the government who will instruct RAB in what crimes or against whom it is to conduct investigations. This gives scopeto the government to conduct special investigations and actions against its political opponents. If they had been granted the responsibility of investigating specific types of nefarious crimes, then this would not give opportunity for these alarming possibilities.” His words are logical; however, even if the “governmental instruction” was not mentioned, it would not mean a loosening of governmental control over RAB activities. Especially since according to law the overall supervision of the armed forces rests with the government. The amended law also states that RAB will follow the Criminal Procedure Code in the investigation of any crime. This is a legal safeguard for the accused as well as for anyone related to the incident. The reason being that it should prove to be quite difficult to needlessly harass anyone following the rules and regulations enunciated in the Criminal Procedure Code.
Consequently it is evident that there is not much to worry about regarding RAB from the legal and academic perspective.
And the Reality
The reality is not as pure and simple as the law. Within a short time since its birth, RAB has succeeded in conveying the idea that they have more important responsibilities than remaining within the bounds of the law. As a result of this sense of responsibility, the word “crossfire” has gained an added dimension in police literature within a very short span of time – as the term “heart attack” had during Operation Clean Heart. During that time it appeared that either the prevalence of heart disease in the country was much more than was previously suspected or coincidentally almost all the people arrested by the Combined Forces were suffering from heart disease. The long line of people who died in “crossfire” during the current RAB era began with Picchi Hannan. According to RAB, based on information received from Picchi Hannan, they attacked a criminal den in Savar. They took Picchi Hannan with them. During the attack, the terrorists returned fire. When Hannan attempted to escape, he was killed by a bullet from one of the criminals – a past associate of his. To make these assertions legally acceptable, RAB obtained the signatures of Nasser Sheikh and Abu Syed – two local inhabitants – on a blank piece of paper. But according to the local citizens, as reported by the daily Bhorer Kagoj , five spent cartridges were found right next to the body – an indication that he was shot from close range. In addition, the four shots that penetrated Hannan had torn right through and exited his body. This is not supposed to happen if he was shot from a distance ( Bhorer Kagoj , August 10, 2004). Since then the number of people killed in crossfire incidents has kept on increasing. It is difficult to say why whenever an offender is taken along on an arms recovery mission his associates lie in wait with guns to shoot at RAB, or why the offender's desire for escape is aroused at the very moment of these altercations, or why each and every time during these shoot-outs instead of personnel from either this side or that, it is the escaping offender who loses his life. Although there exists an apparent similarity, there is a qualitative difference between the heart attack theory and the cross fire theory. It is at least certain that the victims of heart attack were not shot. Our explanation was that unlike the police, army personnel were not trained to beat up people in a half-done manner, they were taught to finish off the enemy. We were witnessing the result of this harsh training. It is significant that although these deaths resulted from torture, they were not planned or intended. But the same cannot be said about RAB. Let me give an example. RAB visited the Sattala Basti area of Mohakhali with Molla Shamim, allegedly to recover arms. Gunfire was exchanged and RAB claims that during the shooting, Shamim was shot by his own associates. Although RAB described a fierce gunfight, local citizens reported to the newspapers that only 10-12 rounds of bullets were shot and even that shooting was one-sided. It takes a cool brain and planning to accomplish such a one-sided crossfire. Apart from “crossfire” incidents, similar planning can be inferred in RAB's other activities. Among these, the incident involving Sumon Ahammed Mojumder is significant. Sumon was the primary witness of the murder of the MP Ahsanullah Master. RAB picked up Sumon from his house around a quarter to four on July 15. They did not show a warrant when they took him away. Sumon died at one thirty in the morning that same day. It is not difficult to guess where all the bruises that were on his body came from or how the healthy young man picked up by RAB died. But the actual event was deadlier than it appears on the face of it. According to the police records, the case for which Sumon was arrested was lodged at 11 pm on July 15, almost seven hours after Sumon was arrested. And that is not where the story ends. RAB claim that Sumon was assaulted by a mob because he attempted extortion. But denizens of the area where this is supposed to have happened have denied allegations of any extortion attempts or mob justice. They have alleged that the police showed up, displayed two Taka 500 notes and some pieces of paper similar to currency notes and obtained signatures from some people on blank sheets of paper. What can be inferred from all this? Can a certain plan be deduced? We don't know. But Sumon's family has openly blamed the brother of one of the accused in the Ahsnaullah Master murder case. This is not the only such allegation. Picchi Hannan;s daughter Irene told journalists that her father had been killed by order of an MP. Irene at least was able to air her grievances – a luxury that Litu's family could not indulge in. The wife and younger brother of Litu - who died in mysterious circumstances in Khulna while in the custody of RAB – had called a press conference. Not to prove that Litu was a good person, but to reveal the identities of the godfathers who had used Litu. But police surrounded their house the day the press conference was scheduled and did not allow anyone to leave the house the whole day. (Source: The Daily Star, September 2, 2004)
Popular Justice and Our Concerns
We have learnt that RAB will transform into the FBI of Bangladesh. We have heard that the concept for this force blossomed in the brain of our State Minister for Home Affairs. We were told this by the then Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner Ashraful Huda (Source: The Daily Star, June 30, 2004). We also know that the State Minister refers to them as the Elite Force, and if they capture a “top terror”, he awards them Taka 10 lakh instead of the declared one lakh. We feel “”relieved” that the incarcerated top terrors are so afraid of the “crossfire” phenomenon, they are considering jail a safe place to remain, and are unwilling to post bail. With joy we have read in the papers that instead of being left to rust, the smuggled cache of state-of-the-art weapons that were seized in Chittagong has been presented to RAB. But it saddened us to learn that the court did not allow them to use the 300 stolen cellular phones that were also recovered in Chittagong. Despite all this good news, it still worries us that that the number of people being killed in crossfire incidents is increasing, that the families of the crossfire victims are scared of threats from the government and are unable to seek legal redress, the opposition speaks of political gains for the government as the driving power for RAB and owing to RAB activities the law and order situation has worsened. In fact, forgetting the great responsibility they have been entrusted with, RAB has become involved with petty crimes such as thievery and armed robbery. No matter who the accused is, s/he has a right to justice. If RAB takes on the responsibility of dispensing justice, then there will be no need for laws or the courts. I cannot say what benefit the government will receive from this, but the concept of black justice will find its place in society. Albeit it shall receive the temporary support of a few, the long term consequence will be disastrous. Let me explain further. The daily Prothom Aalo conducted an over-the-phone survey of citizens' views to the question The deaths of terrorists in crossfire: what is your reaction? , which was published on September 13, 2004. This survey uncovered views that were appalling. Of the 63 responses that were printed, 30 strongly supported the “crossfire” killings. Those who bemoaned these deaths were concerned not because offenders were dying at the hands of the police, but because these killings were allowing the identities of the godfathers to remain concealed. Thus ethically they were not against the “crossfire” killings. The root cause of this tendency to welcome these extra-judicial killings by the police is a steadily increasing mistrust in the legal and judicial system. In the past we have received news of the killing of over fifty forest-bandits by the char-inhabitants in the char areas of Noakhali. The deaths of burglars and muggers in mob beatings have become an everyday occurrence. This vengeful concept of popular justice may have some social and even some moral justification. Generally, we accept that it is the duty of the state to apprehend and punish criminals. A certain amount of error is not beyond the bounds of normalcy. But when the exceptions become the norm, when perpetrators remain beyond the reach of the law, then it has to be said that the government has failed in this duty. And as the government is unable to carry out its promised duties, why should the people relinquish or oppose an alternative opportunity for restitution? It is through this justification that RAB's activities have gained significant popular support, no matter how far removed it is from the concept of justice. But the conditions of justice have had to be established through many theoretical and practical tests. Thus it possesses a certain value. If we deny the judicial process and consent to the killings done by the forces for law and order, then will we be able to change our tune when this consent is misused? Let us assume that due to a simple case of mistaken identity or political opportunism, a harmless relative of yours, or even perhaps innocent you, fall victim to the RAB crossfire. Who will protest it then? Do we remember that it is not only top criminals who have been killed by RAB, but also people like Sumon Ahammed and Mohammad Ali? Mohammad Ali was a 60 year old man who made his living by writing deeds. Criminals entered his house and began shooting at the police. It was this crime that resulted in his being dragged from his house, have a gun held against his body and shot with 12 rounds of bullets in public. After this dreadful incident, his family is being threatened not to file a case. Is not accepting RAB's other killings merely further encouragement for this kind of murder? Who can say that tomorrow you will not embrace the fate of Mohammad Ali? Can RAB's killing of criminals and our acceptance bring any solution to our problems? Or shall acceptance of RAB's extra-judicial killings escalate the situation to some terrible finale?
Campaigning against torture and deaths in police custody is a major agenda for those of us who work in the field of human rights. We are concerned when violence and murders are on the rise in society, but we are disturbed when there are torture and deaths in police custody. It is dangerous when a goat consumes too many of the saplings. But when the fence begins devouring the saplings, then it is no longer a danger – it is a disaster. We are now in a period of disaster. It should be noted that in 2003, 33 people have died from police torture. An additional 23 died in the first half of last year. Till May 16 2005, 112 people have died at the hands of RAB – which commenced operations in the end of June 2004 (although the number of crossfire incidents decreased during the last four months of this period). And when you learn that in contrast with the huge number of police personnel, RAB members number less than five thousand, you are bound to be alarmed. Previously, during Operation Clean Heart which took place in the three months of October 17, 2002- January 9, 2003, a total of 56 people died in the custody of the army. The members of the special force certainly proved the difference between the skills of the police personnel and themselves. But why should the average policemen sit idle and watch the expertise of the composite forces? Accordingly, they have also commenced activities and the result is that the term “crossfire” has entered the mainstream vocabulary of the police. If we study the statistics we find that 78 people have been killed by RAB within the last six months of 2004, while the deaths at the hands of the police number 99 throughout the time span of the whole year. During January-May 16, 2005, RAB killed 34 people, while the police killed 106 people – all of whom were victims of crossfire. The growth is quite evident. Despite all this, every few days we keep on hearing of Cobra, Cheetah, Elephant, Rhino – various special forces. Our future does not look too good.
How are the Families of the Crossfire Victims Doing?
When someone is a victim of crime or terrorism, they appeal to the state for justice. But when the state itself perpetrates crime, then who can the people appeal to? An investigation team of the Ain O Salish Kendra visited the families of the victims of RAB killings. They were too scared to talk, let alone lodge complaints or file cases. Upon hearing that our investigative team was coming to visit them, they even locked up and left their houses. We were frustrated and demoralized. People are mistrustful of the very law that we aim to use as a tool to ensure justice. Justice does not arrive as a matter of course unless one asks for redress of wrongs. But think about it. Does anyone actually go to file a case against influential local gangsters? Then who will have courage enough to speak against the hybrid governmental force that has legal weapons and are licensed to kill? And is there any reason to think that day after day, month after month RAB members are continuing with these killings depending on their own judgment? No, there is no reason to believe that. We are seeing RAB right in front of our eyes, but the behind-the-scene puppet masters are sitting high above. It is from there that they control laws, justice, our fortunes. That is why when the indemnity bill was passed to grant legitimacy to Operation Clean Heart, the directing authorities were also granted indemnity alongside the combined forces (although the bill does not mention who these authorities are). Not that it would have made much difference if this had been omitted. In a state where no one has job security – from the fourth class employee to a Supreme Court Justice, or even the President - who is going to investigate any allegations made against these “directing authorities” and who is going to take on the responsibility of sitting in judgment? The cat in the bag will remain hidden in the bag. Hence, for these ill-fated families, the near miraculous hope of justice is merely a recalling of misfortune. One supposes that they no longer have the strength to undergo such an ordeal.
Speedy Trial and the Judiciary
Compared to the amount of discussion that rages on the “success” or “failure” of RAB, not even a fraction of time is spent on the long term effects of RAB activities. For instance, do we perceive that due to RAB activities, the judicial system is gradually becoming redundant? The way things are going, we will have to give up uttering the clichéd statements regarding the independence and separation of the judiciary and concentrate on reforms that are more objective and timely. Let me explain. Perhaps you have observed that this government has a propensity towards haste where court, justice, and punishment is concerned. The Speedy Trial Act, the Speedy Trial Tribunal – the very titles bear witness to the fact that the government's goodwill in ensuring speed in the judicial process. There is an ancient proverb in law – Justice delayed is justice denied, meaning that justice that is not timely may as well not be justice at all. With due respect to this saying, our constitution also speaks of the right to speedy trial (the Constitution of Bangladesh, Article 35 (3)). Of course, this provision for timeliness is not intended as a benefit for the complainant, instead the intent is to ensure that the accused is not harassed. However, it cannot be said that the current government is attempting to conduct all trials speedily with the same intent. Instead, the underlying purpose of each of the laws mentioned are different. For instance, the Speedy Trial Act specifies certain crimes that are to be tried under that law. Included among these are obstructing traffic, demonstrations of force, obstructing a governmental employee in carrying out his duties, extortion, etc. The question naturally arises that why should other serious or less serious crimes not need speedy trials? The answer is quite simple. It is very easy to implicate and penalize opposition party workers under the crimes that are mentioned in the act. Indeed we have witnessed similar acts remaining in force since “the return of the democratic government” in 1991, during the reigns of both BNP as well as Awami League. On the other hand, which crimes will the Speedy Trial Tribunal deal with? The ones required by the government and the bureaucrats. For instance a category that may be taken under the jurisdiction of the Speedy Trial Tribunal is sensational murder cases. Very naturally, of the thousands of murders that happen in the country, not all are sensational. Hence, not everyone has the privilege of receiving speedy justice. One would call a murder sensational if the media was supportive, if police officials evinced some interest, if the government looked favorably upon the case. How else could you expect to receive quick justice just because you asked for it? Still, it should be acknowledged that the government has given emphasis to the proverb Justice delayed is justice denied. How? Let me quote another ancient proverb in this regard – Justice hurried, justice buried. Meaning that to rush justice is to entomb it. By creating these speedy trial acts, a grave was dug for justice. The swift action of the Rapid Action Battalion was the final nail on the coffin. Now the unnecessary annoyance of FIR, charge sheet, charge making, prosecution, witness, arguments, verdict, execution was done away with. All that was necessary was to get hold of the “criminal” and place him in `“crossfire”. A governmental press note is already prepared, all that needs to be done is substitute the name of the individual and put the words “known criminal” in front of the name – and no one will ask any questions. This quick justice process of RAB has somewhat lightened the burden on our judiciary. In the past it was the executive wing of the government that decided which cases would receive speedy trials, but the responsibility of passing judgment rested with the judiciary. Now RAB has taken over that annoying task as well. All this time we suggested increasing human resources and skills of the judiciary in order to minimize the logjam of lawsuits. Now we should recommend expansion of RAB and supplying them with more warfare equipment such as armed cars and helicopters so that they can stage their “crossfire scenes” from the safety of the stronghold.
September 11 and Our RAB
We know the day as 9/11. According to our approach, September 11 should be known as 11/9. But the American sense of priorities is different. They place the month before the day. We have adapted their method and memorized the day as 9/11. There is a symbolic significance to this acceptance, it reminds us of the extent to which the American media can take hold of our subconscious minds. Nevertheless, serious and lighthearted discussions and critiques regarding the changed world in the post-9/11 era and its effect at national level still rage on. After September 11, a vast change occurred in a number of things including the tenets, policies and values of the state. After World War II, we were engaged in a gradual struggle to establish the rights of the individual. These rights were sacrificed with an excuse of preserving national security. The rights of the people were identified as petty considerations, while the security of the state was honored by being defined as the greater good. America ratified the Patriot Act while we created RAB. They said, Anything is justified in the interests of preserving the security of the US. And we said, What civil rights does a criminal have? Following the same logic, many countries in the world are developing new anti-terrorism laws or sprucing up the old laws. Thus it is no longer necessary to remember the promise that the world made to itself to uphold certain international standards in ensuring the rights of the accused. It is now possible to detain terrorists without trial, to refuse them access to an attorney, they can be beaten and even vanished. For everything is justifiable in this war against “terrorism”. If it is possible to score off “separatists” (or perhaps freedom fighters), people who hold dissenting opinions or at the very least political opponents, then what is so wrong with that? But has it been possible to maintain the national security that has been touted as the cause for all these irregularities? It has not. Rather shootings and bombings seem to be going on everywhere. Despite the fact that Mr. Bush promised us a “Saddam-free” safe world. Saddam neither had bombs nor the instruments necessary to launch them. Still he was “the greatest risk to global security” in the eyes of Mr. Bush. Which is why he accepted the attempt to neutralize him as his mission. Bush had that capability, he succeeded in doing just that. Conversely, Bush also has bombs and he knows very well how to launch these weapons. But nothing will be as risky as thinking of Bush as the greatest risk to global security and think of neutralizing him in accordance with his very own theory. Less risky is creating something like RAB and enunciating the excuse that civil rights were being violated quite frequently even in the developed nations – as our honourable law minister seems to be saying frequently.
The Story of the Nigerian Bakassi Boys
A number of US friendly countries have joined the vast crusade against terrorism. The case of Bangladesh is different. Despite the fact that the “jihadi” activities of Bangla Bhai has been going on for quite a while, our RAB is busy with the “pure” criminals who do not think much beyond making some money or a name, or perhaps turn into a politician. But is it possible to quell private sector terrorism by state sponsored terrorism? Whether possible or not this has been attempted in many countries, as it was tried in Nigeria. Nigeria has a dearth of policemen in terms of numbers. On top of this the weapons and equipment of the organized criminals were far superior and modern to those provided to the state forces. After 1999, during non-martial law rule, law and order emerged as their biggest problem. When nothing else was working, a number of armed groups comprising non-military personnel sprang up in various areas of the country under different names. Among these the Bakassi Boys were the most famous. They were dangerous. Capturing the accused, beating them, killing them or just “disappearing” them was everyday work for them. The role of the central government with regard to these groups was mysterious. They said nothing either for or against them – although according to the Nigerian constitution, any armed forces aside from the army and the police were prohibited. The state governments ignored the constitution and supported these groups. Like our government not noticing Bangla Bhai. In fact, in a few states laws were passed to make these groups legal. The reaction of the Nigerian populace to the increasing influence and numbers of these groups was interesting. Frustrated with criminals and terrorists, in the beginning people were strongly supportive of these groups. But this popular support did not survive for long. In a short time they began to pay for this attempt to recall due process in this unorthodox manner. For quite soon these groups began to be used to further political, economic and tribal agenda instead of apprehending criminals. Political opponents, protestors of wrongdoing, dissenters, religious leaders – nobody was spared. Thousands of people died without justice, countless people were subjected to torture. When the elected representatives of the people of the state of Abeah were sitting in discussion in parliament, the Bakassi Boys attacked them there. Their crime was that they had dared to speak of arraigning the state governor because of financial mismanagement.
The Politics of Terrorism, the Terrorism of Politics
The worsening law and order conditions that are cited as the reason for deploying these special forces have remained a problem for quite a few years. Whether or not the politicians admit the fact, this problem has become systemic and the major contributor in this context is politics, not terrorism. Although we have managed to establish a routine in national politics whereby we stamp a seal on a ballot every five years, it has not been possible to bring any qualitative changes. Hence, politics is still a matter of power. The politics of power does not require good politicians, not even popular ones. Instead it requires someone who is capable of seizing electoral victories at any cost. And such a strong, and powerful leader demands a strong and powerful following. Thus it is difficult these days to find a “godfather” who is not simultaneously an active and renowned politician. We also witnessed Awami Leaguer “godfathers” who occupied important political posts during the rule of the last government. Now we are seeing “nationalist” godfathers. Instead of dealing with this enduring bond between politics and terrorism and corruption, creating a special force today, deploying a combing operation tomorrow and a bombing operation the day after will not do any good. This will merely result in the capture of one or two “Picchi Hannans” to appease the dissatisfaction of the masses and as soon as they open their mouths to divulge the names of a handful of prominent politicians, their lives will be cut short by a crossfire.
The law and order problem was not created in a single day, and the solution will not appear in a single day either. It is possible to keep a few “top terrors” busy in the interim by deploying some mixed-up force, and even to garner a few accolades albeit temporarily, but the root of the problem will remain. And it will leave behind countless memories of human rights violations perpetrated by the state. We have recommended decreasing allocations for the defense forces while increasing expenditure in law and order, the government paid no heed. Many significant proposals for the reformation of the police lie dormant, the government has not implemented them. We have recommended separating the Magistrate Court from the Executive – the government disregarded that recommendation. Recommendations to employ an ombudsman and to create an independent commission remain shelved year after year. Despite this vast lacunae between our demands in improving the law and order situation and what we have actually received, to imagine that the situation will suddenly become tolerable because of some “elite” force is merely a chimera. Hence, we implore the government, at the very least, give the people who are crushed by terrorism respite from the terrorism of the elite police.
Translated by Shabnam Nadiya
Former Jamaat Leader's Death in RAB Custody
Sheikh Nasir Ahmed
Former jamaat leader Ahmadul Huq's relatives are convinced that his death was premeditated assassination of a political nature. They firmly believe that his political opponents in the Jamaat e Islami (JI) engineered the entire incident through RAB. They point to the invisible but close relationship between the JI and RAB in Chittagong as the factor behind Ahmadul's death.
32-year-old Ahmadul Huq rose to political prominence as a BBA student at Chittagong University, where he was an active member of Islami Chhatra Shibir. He subsequently joined the Jamaat-i-Islami. Ahmadul entered and succeeded in politics under the direct patronage of JI MP Shahjahan Choudhury. In 1998, he was elected as the first UP Chair from Satkania Thana's Eochia union. In a story on Ahmadul, the Weekly Sugandha (February 4, 2005) reported that at the time, one other candidate had also filed nomination papers. Ahmadul allegedly had him kidnapped.
Once he became UP Chair, Ahmadul found himself in constant conflict with the ruling Awami League. At one point, he was compelled to leave the country/chairmanship? After spending almost two years in Saudi Arabia, he returned to Bangladesh after the four-party alliance came to power. In 2003, he was elected, this time uncontested, to the post of UP chair once more. Ahmadul became joint general secretary of Bangladesh Central Chairmen (?) Committee. He was also president of the Satkania Chairman Committee's chair. Over time, Ahmadul and his erstwhile guru, Shahjahan Choudhury came increasingly into conflict with each other. Finally Ahmadul left the JI to join the BNP on July 15 2004.
The Weekly Sugandha report mentioned above described Ahmadul this way: “‘Ahmadyya' gained notoriety as a top terror of Jamaat-Shibir at a very young age. A defendant in 17 cases, and sentenced to 17 years in jail for the murder of AL leader Golam Hossain, ‘Ahmaddya' moved about with impunity, never feeling the need to hide his identity.
On the afternoon of September 10, 2004, Ahmadul was conducting a shalish at the UP office, with about 20 people in attendance. Three white microbuses stopped about 30 yards from the office premises. Over 25 persons in plain clothes came out, and as they got closer, put on RAB jackets. Two armed men rapidly entered the office. Two more screamed through a window and ordered everyone inside to raise their hands. The rest surrounded the office premises. Once he realized who the intruders were, Ahmadul did not put up any resistance. The RAB team slapped him around, tied his hands behind his back and dragged him out. They searched the other people in the room and rifled looked through the cabinets, searched repeatedly and in vain for arms.
The RAB team arrested six people -- the owners of the six motorbikes parked outside. Finally they demanded to know where Ahmadul's close associate Minhaz was. Once Minhaz revealed his identity, he was tied up, dragged outside and brutally tortured. The 7 other arrestees were also subjected to beatings but nowhere to the same degree of severity as unleashed on Minhaz. Minhaz's screams filled the air. By this time, hundreds of observers had gathered around the office. Soon afterward, the RAB team left with the 8 men, bundled up on the floor of a van. No one knew where they were taken. Ahmadul Huq's family and supporters contacted Satkania police station as well as the RAB office at Patenga but found no trace of him.
Around 10 that night, in the midst of a severe downpour, villagers near the local land office heard several rounds of gunfire. The following morning, on July 11, Ahmadul's body was discovered adjacent to a wall of the Union office. Minhaz's corpse was discovered in a nearby field. The wall of the Union Land office was pockmarked with 14 deep bullet holes. However, there were no bullet holes in the trees right opposite the wall. Similarly, there were 14 bullet holes in the wall against which Ahmadul's body was found, but the two wooden windows in that small space were untouched.
Police from Satkania thana were in charge of guarding the corpses. They told the many people who had assembled by then that the previous evening, RAB members came to the spot in search of illegal weapons and ran into Ahmadul and his associates. The subsequent crossfire resulted in the death of Ahmadul and Minhaz. It should be noted that even though the RAB team had failed to find arms the previous day after a very public search, they charged the six other men arrested under Section 19 (cha) of the Arms law and speedily dispatched them to prison.
Ahmadul Huq's relatives are convinced that his death was premeditated assassination of a political nature. They attribute motive for his killing to his great popularity in the area and his recent switch in party affiliation. They firmly believe that his political opponents in the JI engineered the entire incident through RAB. They point to the invisible but close relationship between the JI and RAB in Chittagong as the factor behind Ahmadul's death. The fact that Ahmadul Huq's formidable power base and his affiliation with the ruling party were not enough to protect him from death has struck deep terror in the heart of his relatives. Although this tremendously powerful family points to JI MP Shahjahan Choudhury as responsible for the murder, they have lost the courage to demand justice.
Translated By: Dina Siddiqi
Main Witness in Ahsanullah Master Murder Case Killed by RAB
Sheikh Nasir Ahmed
25 year old Sumon Ahmed Majumdar worked at his father's jute godown business. Suman was also the co-chairman of Ward 10 in Tongi Thana. One of two direct witnesses to the murder of MP Ahsanullah Master, Sumon was the most important. In fact, he had provided evidence in the matter to a Magistrate on May 11 2004.
The Formalities of Arrest
On the afternoon of July 15, 2004, around 20 men in white uniforms showed up at Sumon's residence. Several entered the house and identified themselves as members of the CID, even though at least one was wearing a bulletproof vest inscribed with RAB initials. They asked Sumon's mother to summon him. When the young man appeared, he was told he had been charge in a crime. After Sumon protested, the RAB team changed their story. They told Sumon that as a witness in the Ahsanullah murder case, he would be taken for questioning. However, they were not able to produce a warrant of arrest or any other relevant documentation. When they inquired, his family was told their son would be in Uttara. However, the team refused to provide a name or address or even the phone number of their destination. Sumon was blindfolded, and beaten as he was shoved into a waiting vehicle. People in the neighborhood were warned not to come near. Sumon's father was not present at the time.
That night, in a desperate bid to locate his son, Monir Ahmed Mojumdar contacted the police, local Awami League leaders, Gazipur Municipality Chair Azmatullah and others. He called Sumon's mobile phone numerous times but whoever answered, after consulting his superiors, refused him access. Around midnight, the family received a call from the police station informing them that Sumon was in their custody. When the family rushed to the station to meet Sumon, they were turned away and told he was fine. The next morning, Monir Ahmed Mojumdar received an anonymous phone call, informing him of his son's death. He discovered Sumon's corpse lying behind a staircase at the local hospital.
The Injury Register at Tongi Government Hospital shows that Sumon received outpatient treatment at the hospital around 10.30 on the night of July 15 th . The hospital register (no: 3116), recorded Sumon's condition as showing a history of
Sumon was brought back to the hospital after midnight, this time for admission. There is nothing in records about his death.
What the Police Had to Say
According to the First Information Report, around 11 at night, three people including Sumon were charged in case number 22 of July 15, 2004, under section 4(1) of the Speedy Trial Tribunal of 2000. The plaintiff, Tajul Islam, claimed that on June 15 Sumon and two accomplices had tried to extort money from him at his electrical goods factory. They beat up his employees and demanded a payment of Tk. 50,000 within a week. The three continued their harassment and intimidation, so that finally Tajul Islam informed a senior RAB official. The latter advised him to set up a meeting with Sumon and his accomplices, ostensibly to finalize the transaction. Subsequently, the three were caught red-handed during the transaction by waiting RAB members. The deposition further states that Sumon was injured when he resisted arrested during the tussle that ensued. The document also notes that Sumon was taken to the RAB office in Uttara for interrogation.
An unnatural death case (case # 17/04, July 16, 2004) was lodged by Sub Inspector Rafiqul Islam following Sumon's death. According to documents, SI Shahjahan and several other members of RAB 1, arrived at 9.25 pm of July 15, to hand over Sumon and two others to the police. The three were critically injured and police personnel officials refused to take custody. RAB officials immediately took them for primary treatment at a hospital, after which they were handed over to the police around 11 pm. When Sumon's condition deteriorated further, he was returned to the hospital, where he died soon afterward. The next morning, First Class Magistrate A K M Sohel provided a deposition/on the spot investigation , following which an autopsy was carried out at Gazipur hospital. Sumon was buried later that evening.
It should be noted that Magistrate Sohel had previously heard testimony from Sumon's testimonial in the Ahsanullah Master murder case. However, even three days after the incident, the police station had no copies of either the Magistrate's deposition or the autopsy.
The Tale of Extortion
Sumon's father claims that RAB and the police fabricated the case of extortion after they killed Sumon. The family has never heard of anyone named Tajul Islam, the plaintiff in the case. Nor is there an electrical goods factory in the locality. Sumon's family, relatives and neighbors decided to question people at the two other sites mentioned in the deposition – Jal Kabar and Khwaja Medical. They were told that no incidents of extortion and mass beating had taken place there. However, the police did turn up at one point, showed two Tk. 500 notes and several pieces of blank paper on which they took several signatures. But they did not refer to any charges of extortion. No one was arrested during the incident, although three people in the police vehicle at that time. Sumon was not among them.
Family members and neighbors also insisted they had witnessed first hand Sumon being picked up from his house and beaten as he was bundled into a car.
Torture Marks on Sumon's Body
Sumon's right thigh was deeply lacerated and swollen, with welts. Both his calves bore signs of injury, with the bone exposed at one place. Dark gaping wounds were found on the sole of his right foot. Signs of injury were visible on his arms and chest.
The Perils of Seeking Justice
“Suman Ahmed Majumdar, the primary witness in the MP Ahsanullah Master murder case, was picked up from his home by a RAB team and taken to the RAB office in Uttara, where he was tortured and killed. The incident was pre-planned and carried out with the cooperation of Abdul, the brother of the main accused Mohammad Ali (who has been sentenced to death) and Abdul's accomplice, Daroga Munir.”
Suman's family had hoped to bring the above charges to court, as they indicated to ASK representatives. Unfortunately, Suman's father was facing considerable intimidation and pressure to dissuade him from lodging a case. Despite such threats, Sumon's mother was prepared to petition the First Class Magistrate's court in Gazipur to begin court proceedings. But the complete disregard for the law that RAB exhibits has instilled a profound fear in both of them. The power to arrest someone without a warrant, keep their whereabouts hidden from the family and be unaccountable even after death in custody – these considerations have inhibited the desire to seek justice for their son.
Translated By: Dina Siddiqi
Shah Alam Faruk
In a case of mistaken identity, RAB went in search of Sohel, Anisur Rahman Anis' brother. Not finding him they arrested Anis. Forty eight hours later he was taken to Dhaka Medical College Hospital in an unconscious state by RAB. He died two days later in the Intensive Care Unit. The family was too afraid to pursue justice through the courts.
At twenty five years, Anisur Rahman was a lively young man who had passed his degree exams and was managing his older brother, Sohel Rahman's contracting business. His father, Muhammad Mokhlesur Rahman, was a retired employee of the government's Food Division. He lived at 117/A Sultanganj Rayerbazar. Anis was the sixth of five brothers and two sisters, and the fourth of the brothers. His older brother, Sohel Rahman, was the Chairman of the Muhammadpur Thana Chhatra Dal and Treasurer of the Central Committee. Sohel is also one of the leaders of the Thana BNP.
On 30 September 2004, the night of Shab-e-Barat, at around 3 am, RAB-4 detained Anis and two others, as they left the Chhati Mosque in Rayerbazar. They took Anis into custody to question him as to why his older brother, Sohel Rahman, had not presented himself before the court to reply to charges of possessing weapons which had been filed against him. After being kept in custody for forty hours, on 2 October, Anis was admitted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital in an unconscious condition. Two days later, on 4 October (Monday night), Anis died in the hospital's Intensive Care Unit, without ever regaining consciousness.
One day after his arrest, Anis' home was searched, allegedly to recover weapons.
According to local persons, Anis had been involved with Chhatra Dal politics as a student, but there was no information to link him with criminal activities.
We went to his family home, to find out more about Anisur Rahman Anis' arrest, his family's experiences while he was in RAB custody, the circumstances of his admission to hospital and other relevant information. I met and spoke to his family members and some neighbours. At the time, everyone was awaiting the arrival of Anis' body from the Dhaka Medical College morgue.
We were told that shortly after Anis was taken away, some neighbours contacted the family to inform them about what had happened. But they did not know who had taken him nor where he had been taken. The family first contacted Muhammadpur Thana, and were informed that Anis had been taken into custody by RAB. The next morning at 11.30 am, Anis' father and one of his older brothers went to the RAB camp in Muhammadpur for news of Anis, but the RAB members threatened them, saying, “If you try to come here again, he will be killed within the hour.”
On Friday 1 October, in the afternoon, Anis was moved from Muhammadpur camp to RAB's Paikpara camp. At 10 am on the 2 October, Anis' father with one of his older brothers went to the Paikpara camp, but they were unable to find out anything or to see him. That same afternoon, RAB raided Anis' home, claiming that there were three weapons in the steel cupboard. Anis' father, Mokhlesur Rahman, said “They claimed that there were weapons in the steel cupboard, but there is no steel cupboard in my house.” After searching the house for two hours they finally left, threatening, “In one hour, we shall finish him (Anis)”. The RAB members made this threat before leaving the house at around 2.30 in the afternoon. When Mokhlesur asked the RAB members why they were creating such an uproar over his son, they questioned him in turn, saying, “Why is your son, Sohel, not presenting himself at the court?” He replied, “The Sohel that you are referring to is not my son Sohel.”
On 9 September, 2004, RAB had recovered some weapons during an operation at 176/1 Sher-e-Bangla road, Rayerbazar. At the time, a man called Billa had died at the hands of RAB. The real owner of those weapons was a certain Sohel. He was a relative of the house owner and was named as caretaker of the house in a case brought by RAB in Hazaribagh Thana (Case no.6, dated 9/9/04). Anis' father informed us that RAB had confused his son Sohel Rahman with the other Sohel. He said that someone had fed RAB the wrong information, and although RAB had been repeatedly informed of this, they had paid no attention.
The family informed us that four RAB members (in civilian clothing) came to the house the day after Anis' arrest, on 3 October, at around 9 am, to tell them that, “Anisur Rahman has been taken to the Bangladesh Medical College Emergency section.”
Anis' family members went to Bangladesh Medical and searched all over for him, but were unable to find him. They then went to look for him at Dhaka Medical College Hospital. There, they saw from the register in the Emergency Department, that he had been brought there on Saturday evening (2nd October).
At the insistence of Anis' family, a Medical Board met to discuss his case. After two hours of tests, the Board informed them that both kidneys had been damaged as a result of torture. A tremendous blow to the head had caused a brain haemorrhage.
There were several bruises clearly visible on the lower half of his body.
On the night of Monday. 4 October at 10:52 pm, doctors declared him dead. Anis' family informed us that after he was pronounced dead, the RAB members forced the doctor on duty to hand over his treatment papers right in front of the family. Anis' father informed us that, at the time a Channel I journalist who had arrived there, asked the doctor about the confiscation of the documents, but the doctor was unwilling to talk about it. At one point he said, “What if they had done something to me? What would have happened then?”
Anis' father informed us that while Anis was being treated at the hospital, RAB phoned him more than once to inform him that they had made a mistake, and apologised.
According to the patient registration system in the Dhaka Medical College Hospital, Anisur Rahman Anis was admitted to Dhaka Medical on a free ticket at 5:45 pm on 2 October, 2004. In the register, the person responsible for admitting Anis was listed as: SI Ali Husain, RAB-4, Paikpara, Mirpur, Dhaka. In the section of the form describing his condition, it was written, "unconscious".
Anis' hospital registration number was 15065/35. According to the information in the register, Anis was sent to Ward number three after admission. Two nurses working in that ward informed me, after checking the patient register in the ward, that Anis had indeed been brought to the ward and was kept in bed number five. Later, he was transferred to the ICU.
When I went to meet Anis' family members at their home on 13 April 2005, I was informed that no one was willing to talk to me. They were also reluctant to discuss the possibility of taking any legal steps over his death. In essence, the death of Anis, has not only left the family grief stricken, it has also left them too frightened to take any legal steps to investigate his unnatural death in the custody of state agencies.
Translated by: Farah Ghuznavi
STUDENT LEADER MOHIMUDDIN KILLED IN RAB CUSTODY
Sheikh Nasir Ahmed
RAB 7 team arrested Mohammad Mohimuddin, a member of the Chattro League upon his arrival at Chittagong Airport from Dubai. The next day Chandnaish police thana informed the family that he had been killed in “crossfire” as he was being taken by RAB to discover some arms. His family has raised questions as to why RAB has failed to adequately protect those in their custody in case after case? Why did RAB insist on taking the arrested person along with them? Why was the family not allowed to perform the last burial rites with dignity? But there questions have also made them fearful of further RAB assaults.
Thirty two year old Muhammad Mohimuddin, the son of the late Haji Dudu Mian, lived at 1059 O.R. Nizam Road, Mehedibagh, Panchlaish thana, Chittagong. Mohim was the youngest of four brothers and a sister. After his Masters degree, he went into business and was also active in politics. He was co-secretary of the central committee of the Chhatra League (a student front of the major opposition party the Awami League).
Ismail Shaheb, Mohim's elder brother owned a store in Dubai and Mohim had gone there on the 9 October, 2004 to help his brother. This was a few days after RAB began its operations. The next month Mohim returned to Bangladesh and after a week in Dhaka he went to Chittagong on 28 November. At his arrival at 8.30 pm, RAB (team no-7) arrested him from the airport lounge. Mohim's family was informed by a friend who phoned from the airport. Thereafter the news quickly reached other family members and his political colleagues. Although Mohim's brother, the Mehedibagh Commissioner Giasuddin and others rang the RAB office in Patenga to try and find out why Mohim had been arrested, RAB office denied any knowledge of his arrest. His family and political colleagues were very worried and confused.
Channel I confirmed in their midnight broadcast that Mohim had been arrested by RAB. Half an hour later, around 12.30 am on 29 November, the family received a phone call from Chandanaish Thana informing them that Mohim had been killed in a “crossfire” and that his body was lying at Fatehnagar, which was 3 km from the thana. This was the first time that Mohim's family were contacted by RAB. The family members immediately rushed there but the RAB and thana police did not allow them to come close to the body.
Hundreds of RAB, BDR and police personnel created an impenetrable barrier around them all the way from Chittagong General Hospital, to Mohim's home, to the graveyard near Garibullah Shah's Mazar. The inquest and post-mortem at the General Hospital was done under RAB's scrutiny, after which the corpse was handed over to his family. They were told to wash the corpse at a nearby safety tank. One of them stated that there were four large bullet holes in Mohim's back, and seven small holes in his chest, where bullets would have entered. Above and below his left elbow, there was some flesh - and even bone - missing. After washing, Mohim's corpse was not returned to his family for the janaza to be completed.
After much pleading, Mohim's mother was allowed a final glimpse of her son, on the floor of the police van . The body was then taken to the ground floor of his home. Given the circumstances, Mohim's family and their well-wishers became angry with the police and created an uproar. Because of this, within minutes, the police took Mohim's corpse away from his home to the graveyard where his janaza and final rites were done amidst a cordon of policemen and RAB members where his family was absent.
The behaviour of the police led to arguments and heated exchange of words between the police and Mohim's family and party workers. The police arrested the local Awami League leader Dr Afsarul Amin, as well as a number of Mohim's close relatives. They filed a case against them for offences against public tranquillity, deter public servant from discharge of his duty, theft of video camera, under sections 143/332/353/379/411 and 34. Case No. 28, dated 29/11/04 was filed on behalf of the plaintiff Muhammad Ashraful Islam, Constable no. 2872, Detective Division, CMP.
Two additional cases were filed in Chandanaish Thana against unknown criminals by RAB-7 Deputy Additional Director Muhammad Tofazzel Hussain. Case No. 16, dated 29/11/04 was filed for obstructing government employees in pursuance of official duties (332/353/307). Case No. 17, dated 29/11/04, was brought under the sections 19 (ka) and 19 (cha) of Arms act, relating to possession of weapons and explosives. Prior to this no cases of any kind had ever been brought against Mohim.
Because of this incident, Mohim's family and relatives have been living in fear of further action by RAB. They were shocked beyond words at the behaviour of the law enforcement personnel at Mohim's death and its aftermath. On the one hand, they have had to contend with the torture and premature death of Mohim while in the custody of RAB-7; on the other, they have been shocked and distressed at the ill-treatment by security forces, and the insistence of the BDR, police and RAB on excessive security measures at the handling of Mohim's corpse. They have expressed anger over the lack of transparency and accountability in operations carried out by RAB. They have questioned as to who has given permission to RAB to murder someone in this way.
They have also questioned why, if the spot from which the weapons were to be retrieved was so well identified, the arrested person had to be taken to the spot ? And when, in case after case, RAB has failed to adequately protect those in their custody, why did they insist on taking the arrested person along with them? For all these reasons, they are terrified of RAB. They are even afraid of seeking justice for the murder of Mohim, in case another member of their family members is killed by RAB, in the course of pursuing such a case.
Even after speaking to a number of the local persons, ASK's investigators were unable to identify a clear motive on the part of RAB for arresting and murdering Mohim. We repeatedly tried to call the commanding officer of the Chittagong RAB-7 on behalf of ASK, but we were not successful. Each time, we were informed either that he was busy, or that he was not in the office.
Translated by: Farah Ghuznavi
ELDERLY MAN BRUTALLY MURDERED
John Ashit Das
Mere suspicion of sheltering criminals was the basis of the brutal killing of elderly Muhammad Ali. Though the Neighbours considered him to be a pleasant, polite person and none of his family members were known to be involved in any criminal activities, a group of RAB and police force brutally tortured Muhammad Ali for almost an hour and shot him dead.
Muhammad Ali was a 65 year old clerk who lived in his own house at 25 Hossain Shaheber Goli, Rayer Bazar, Dhaka. He had lived there with his family, for almost 30 years. Neighbours considered him to be a pleasant, polite person. None of his family members were known to be involved in any criminal activities, and both his teenage children were attending school. There were no allegations of criminality against Muhammad Ali himself, but he became a victim of circumstances.
On Monday, 12 July, 2004, a police team entered his home and shot him fatally. Even though he had a clean record, the police accused him of sheltering criminals. When the news was published in national newspapers the next day the investigative unit of Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) went on a fact-finding visit to the site.
Reaching the spot on Tuesday, 13 July, at noon we found a minibus and a police van, carrying 25 to 30 policemen at Hossain Shaheber Goli in Jafarabad. They fanned out into a number of nearby streets. Inquiries at a nearby tea-stall, yielded the information that a local man, Mujibor, and his companions had murdered someone named Sohrab. On the day of the dead man's janaza, two men identified as ‘Gola-kata Mujibor' and ‘Nak-kata Mustafa' along with some others, were seen in the neighbourhood. They went to a rickshaw garage, and attempted to extort money by force. When the police, who were present at the janaza, were informed of this, they surrounded Mujibor and his companions. The criminals began firing at the police and managed to escape. Three or four policemen were injured as a result of this incident, and one of them died.
Following this incident, the thana police, RAB and additional police personnel began a major operation in the area, inquiring at various houses about the criminals. A local source informed the police that some of the criminals were hiding in Muhammad Ali's house. They then went to that house and captured a criminal named Liton. The police then accused the elderly Muhammad Ali of sheltering criminals, and subjected him to terrible physical abuse. They shot him in both his feet and in his chest, and killed him.
Muhammad Ali's family's version
The day after the incident, on 13 July, Muhammad Ali's home bore the signs of a major disturbance. The television set, telephone, showcase, glass panels on the steel cupboard, the sofa set, etc were scattered around the rooms. The drawing room ceiling had been damaged. Even the picture of the late Muhammad Ali, which had been hanging on the wall, had not been spared.
The investigation team talked with Muhammad Ali's wife, Aklima (45 years), and his daughter, Sonia (17 years). They said that on the day of the incident at around four o'clock in the afternoon, the sounds of gunfire could be heard nearby. A seven or eight year old boy, who had been shot, lay writhing by the fence in front of their house. Everybody crowded out of the house to see him.
Muhammad Ali's house was still under construction, and some outsiders came inside but left a little later. The family did not know if someone was hiding in the house, or in one of the rooms.
Some time later, a gang of three or four policemen tried to enter their house claiming that there were criminals inside, but the family informed them that there were no outsiders in the house (because at that time they did not know that there was one person hiding in the house). The gang of police entered the house, searched all the rooms and left within five or six minutes. But shortly after that, another gang of policemen entered the house. Aklima and her husband Muhammad Ali were in the middle bedroom. The policemen kept searching the rooms. Their daughter Sonia said that at this point gunshots were heard from one of the rooms on the western side (Muhammad Ali's mother's room, where his son also sleeps).
Shortly afterwards, the police emerged from the room dragging a wounded young man, (they later found out that his name was Liton). He had been shot in the leg. The policemen, who were in the room, then attacked Muhammad Ali, first with a wireless set, and then with rifle butts. Several of them started punching and kicking him at will. They dragged him out of the room by his hair and shot him in both feet. When Aklima protested, saying that Muhammad Ali was innocent, the policemen grabbed her by the hair and threw her onto the bed.
Aklima also said that the police kicked her in the chest with their boots and beat her on her hands and face with their rifles. Two journalists witnessed this abuse, according to Aklima. She showed heavy bruises on her chest and on her hands and other wounds. Aklima said that the police then used their rifles to smash everything around them. The television, telephone, showcase, sofa set, steel cupboard, etc were damaged. They even managed to damage the ceiling. The police then took the steel cupboard key, and removed 20,000 takas in cash, along with 20-22 bhoris of gold jewellery and other valuables. They took it all away with them.
Aklima also said that another group of policemen were outside with Muhammad Ali. The wounded Muhammad Ali, declaring himself to be innocent, begged the police not to kill him, beseeching them to find out the real story from the neighbours. He begged Hobi (a local cadre member of the ruling party), who was accompanying the police, for his help.
But not only did they reject Muhammad Ali's pleas, at one point the police shot him in the chest. They kept him lying on the ground for some time. After torturing him for nearly an hour, the police flung the half-dead Muhammad Ali into their car and drove away.
In response to questions, Aklima stated that she went with some relatives to Dhaka Medical College Hospital after hearing that they had taken him there. But by then Muhammad Ali was dead. The next afternoon after the post-mortem, the body was handed over to the family and it buried in Azimpur Graveyard that very evening.
Aklima said that at the time of the janaza, the corpse bore twelve bullet wounds, in the feet, stomach, throat and head. Aklima stated that her husband was an innocent peaceful person, and that in the thirty years that their family had lived in the area, there had never been any allegations of criminality made against any family member. Her view was supported by the others present.
In response to questioning she stated that she would definitely be seeking justice for Muhammad Ali's murder. But because it was the law enforcement personnel who had committed the murder, she was worried where she could seek justice, and whether justice would indeed be done. That was why she had left it in God's hands.
She further stated that, after the incident, some powerful local parties had indirectly threatened them and some unidentified persons had telephoned some of their relatives and directly threatened them. Aklima and her relatives were outraged that after unfairly targeting Muhammad Ali, shooting and killing him, and smashing and stealing their belongings, the police had further brought two cases against Muhammad Ali!
The Thana's version of events
The Officer-in-charge of Muhammadpur Thana reluctantly gave us some responses, although arrogantly. He claimed that Muhammad Ali was killed during a fight between the Authority and some criminals. Asked whether he himself had been present at the time of the operation in Muhammad Ali's house, although he admitted that he had been present, he refused to name any RAB or Cobra force members who led the operation.
According to the newspaper (Sangbad, 13/7/04) the Officer-in-charge of Muhammadpur Thana, Saifur Rahman Babul, Deputy Police Commissioner (West) Mazharul Huq and Flight Lieutenant Mustafa Kamal of RAB-4, had led this operation.
The officer refused to give detailed information or any documents or memos related to the case, saying that he could not circulate any information at this time. In response to further questions, he stated that two cases had been lodged regarding this incident, one relating to the murder of a policeman and another relating to the law on possession of weapons. Muhammad Ali, along with some others, had been named as the accused.
Translated by: Farah Ghuznavi
Madrassa Teacher Shahnewaz Dies Following RAB Torture
Sheikh Nasir Ahmed
The killing of Madrassa teacher Shahnewaz left over many questions. As a result of this killing, his school friend Muna's marriage is on the verge of collapse. She wanted to know, “Who is going to take responsibility for this event? Who will replace this irreplaceable loss? Is RAB above all questions?”
30 year old Shahnewaz was an assistant teacher at Ketua Islami Dakhil Madrassa in Chandpur. He was known for his social work. During an unexpected break in his teaching schedule, Shahnewaz decided to visit an old school friend Morjina Akter Muna in Doublemooring, Chittagong. Muna's husband, Ziaul Alam Dipu owned several shops in the area, which he rented. One of these was Maulana Hotel and Restaurant.
Shahnewaz and a companion, Monir Hossain Talukdar, arrived in Chittagong on the night of July 2, 2004. They spent the night at the house of Muna's brother, Nuruzzaman . The next morning, after they had their hair cut at a barber's shop, Shahnewaz and Monir, set off for Dipu's house. In the meantime the latter went to look for them, and on the way, he found his two friends being interrogated in the middle of the road by several men. When Dipu questioned the men, they identified themselves as members of RAB, and tied up all three and drove to Dipu's residence. RAB officials declined to give any reason for their arrest. Several RAB members were already posted at Dipu's house and carried out an exhaustive search for hidden weapons. They failed to find any weapons, but they tore the house apart and left it in shambles. They divided themselves into three groups, and in the presence of family members, they began to torture the three men. They administered electric shocks to the men's sexual organs and elsewhere on the body. They finally left and took all three in their custody.
In the early hours of 5 August, RAB members admitted an unconscious Shahnewaz to Chittagong Medical College. Later in the morning, Mohammad Ishaq (Navy) of RAB 7 lodged a case at Double Mooring police station against the three men, charging them under Section 19(cha) of the Arms Control Act (illegal possession of bullets). Dipu and Monir were sent to jail.
In the meantime, a critically injured Shahnewaz was fighting for his life in Chittagong Medical College. He passed away without regaining consciousness in the afternoon of 6 August. Panchlaish police station lodged an unnatural death case following his death. The body was handed over to his family after completion of the inquest and post-mortem.
The inquest and post-mortem prepared under RAB's direct surveillance revealed that:
The soles of both feet were dark reddish as a result of severe blows.
There were marks of severe injuries on the chest although the inquest stated that the chest and back were normal.
Burn marks (as a result of electric shocks) were present on the right hip and right calf.
Both reports proved that Shahnewaz was tortured. However, several significant discrepancies between the two documents raised some suspicions.
According to Dipu's wife, her husband and Shahnewaz's friend Monir were confined in jail, in critical physical condition. Muna claimed the two were being deprived of proper medical treatment. She feared that given the severity of the torture and electric shocks administered by RAB members, even if her husband survived, he would be permanently disabled. She said helplessly, “Is there no law in the country to prevent RAB from acting in this way?” The late Shahnewaz and Monir were her childhood friends. The fact that it was their visit that led to her husband's torture and imprisonment is something her husband's family still cannot accept. As a result, her marriage is on the verge of collapse. She wanted to know, “Who is going to take responsibility for this event? Who will replace this irreplaceable loss? Is RAB above all questions?”
Translated by: Dina Siddiqi
BUSINESSMAN WASIM KILLED
John Ashit Das
Wasim was respected by the local community for his social work. Yet he was allegedly tortured and shot by the police near his factory in Gendaria. His family did not take legal steps to protest his killing because they were afraid of further police revenge against the other members of the family.
Thirty year old Hafizur Rahman Wasim, the son of late Shamsuddin, lived in Mir Hazaribagh, Pargandaria, Dhaka. He was born into a relatively wealthy family, but after passing his B.Com. exam, Wasim left to work in Saudi Arabia. On his return to Bangladesh after five years in 2001. he invested his savings in a lock manufacturing factory on his own land at Gendaria. As additional business he supplied electricity to his neighbours from his generator. He was also active in local welfare efforts. The poor in the area viewed him as one who stood up for their rights and contributed to the welfare of others. There were no allegations against him in the locality or at the police station, nor were there any cases against him. Yet, the police took him away from his factory on the night of 11 October, 2004, and shot him three hours later. The police report described his death as of "a criminal killed in crossfire".
Two days after Wasim's death, Muhammad Mofizuddin (55 years), the owner of a rickshaw garage across the road from the factory, told this investigator that every morning Wasim would come to his factory and after having lunch at home would return and stay in the factory till about nine or ten at night. He was not involved in any type of anti-social or criminal activity. On the contrary, he was known for being outspoken against such activities. On the day of the incident, at around 9 pm he first came to the garage, to check the state of the fish in the nearby pond. After chatting with Mofiz for a while he took a call on his mobile, then he walk across and sat outside his factory. He was seen to be talking to Kala Selim, Jashim a close friend and classmate, and a couple of other persons. Mofiz also stated that about 9:30 at night two or three plainclothes men came and started to talk to Wasim. As they tried to arrest him, Wasim started arguing with them, and at one point struggled to get away, but he was caught.
At this point some people from the nearby slums came to help him, but the police blocked their way. Mofiz said that in the meantime, about thirty or forty policeman had appeared on the scene. In order to disperse the crowd, the police began shooting over their heads or firing blank shots. The night guard in the area said that after they had been shooting for 10 or 15 minutes, the people started cowering back in fear. The police then took Wasim to a house nearby (number 404) which belonged to Mr Ershadullah and Mr Hedayetullah.
Mr Hedayetullah's wife a 40-year-old woman, stated that after the sounds of gunfire had subsided, she came down at around 10:30 or 11 pm to lock the main gate of the house and saw a gang of policeman in the downstairs flat, which was rented out. She also saw Wasim there. He said, "They have landed me in trouble." Before he could say anything else, the police ordered her to go away without locking the gate, so she went back upstairs.
The night guard of the house, Abul Kalam (aged 40, son of Motaleb) said that, “At around midnight, he arrived for duty to see that Wasim had been twisted and tied between the two beds in the room, and the police were beating him mercilessly with sticks, slaps and blows. Abul Kalam also said that the police ordered him to sign a statement, claiming that he had witnessed weapons being recovered. He did not want to sign the statement because he had not seen any weapons, and knew Wasim to be a good person. Nevertheless, he was intimidated by the police and forced to sign the statement. Another night guard from the locality, Azahar Howladar (52 years) was also present in the house at the time.
The two night guards from the locality, Abul Kalam and Azahar Howladar both said that at around midnight, they saw the police take the handcuffed Wasim away from house number 404 towards the main road, which was under construction. Abul Kalam stated that a couple of the policeman told Wasim to run away, but he did not listen to them. In order to stop the persons who were trying to follow them, the police fired a few rounds of blank bullets and the members of the public fell back. In all an estimated total of over 100 policemen were present in the area at the time, including members of Cobra, Cheetah, RAB and others.
While the police took Wasim off towards the Gandaria Road, local persons were detained at the entrance to the alley. The informant, night guard Azahar, stated that because he was on guard in the area, he was able to advance some way towards the main road. When the gang of policeman accompanying Wasim were in the middle of the road, he was able to watch them from about four or five yards away, standing on top of a manhole cover. Suddenly, he saw a policeman shoot Wasim in the head. Wasim fell to the ground, twitching; he was then shot again, this time in the chest. After this, the police lifted Wasim into their car - presumably by then he was dead. Azahar stated that after shooting Wasim, one of the policeman threatened to shoot him too; but because he was a night guard on duty in the area, another policemen instructed him to leave, after which he moved away. Azhar said that although he had witnessed this incident first-hand, he was too scared to tell anyone else about it immediately.
Why did the police murder Wasim like this? Although the investigators were not able to find a definite answer, Azhar and others said that a month before the incident, when drug smugglers Salahuddin and Shaiju were smuggling Phensidyl through Gandaria, Wasim captured the consignment, and warned them not to engage in these kind of activities in this area again. Our informants said that Wasim was known to protest against such anti-social actions. He would often protest against narcotics smugglers and the witnesses said they may be responsible for Wasim's death. They said that up till now there had never been any allegations against Wasim for unjust or criminal activities as far as they knew. Nobody had ever said that he carried any kind of weapon nor were the police able to recover any weapons from him.
Uptil 13 October, Wasim's family had not filed any case over Wasim's death; nor had Demra Thana initiated any homicide case in this matter; in fact, no case of unnatural death had been registered. But two cases had been filed on the basis of F.I.Rs by Sergeant Anisuzzaman under the Weapons and Explosives Act (number 24, 12/10/04) and the charge of obstructing public servant to discharge his/her duty (number 35, on 12/10/04). From the relevant report, it was found that, Cobra-5 (Special DB Team) Mujibur Rahman Majumdar was responsible for leading the operation resulting in Wasim's arrest and death. The report mentions the recovery of two weapons and bullets from Wasim. Regarding his death, it was stated thatafter Wasim had been taken to Pargandaria, some unknown criminals exploded some bombs and fired 30 rounds of ammunition at the police, provoking the police to return fire. Wasim was reported to have been killed in the crossfire.
His body was sent to the hospital (at 1:20 am), and he was declared dead at the hospital. It is worth mentioning that although the Thana authorities declined to provide any further information beyond this report, they were eager to furnish claims against Wasim and in favour of the police action. The local residents claimed that the late Wasim was a good man, who looked after the welfare of local persons. He was not involved in any kind of criminal activity, but despite this and the fact that there were no allegations or cases outstanding against him, the Thana authorities chose to describe him as a criminal. Wasim's elderly mother, sister-in-law and sister informed us that Wasim was the youngest of seven sons, and the family favourite. He was always busy with his business. In the end, it was from his factory that the police took him away, when they tortured and finally shot and killed him. The police had not informed the family of anything, from the time he was taken into custody until his death.
Wasim's older brother, Haji Shahbuddin (60 years), said that when he heard what had happened and as he went towards the house where Wasim had been held captive, the police prevented him. He said that Wasim had been a very brave and popular man in their neighbourhood. Perhaps that was why, as a result of some kind of conspiracy, he had been killed. But he could not say who was responsible for what had happened. Wasim's sister-in-law said that Wasim had informed her, a few days before the incident, that the local Ward Commissioner (before going to India) had told him to be careful. At the time of the incident, he was in India. But they didn't know why he had said this. When ASK's investigator visited the Ward Commissioner's house to make inquiries, the latter was not available.
Wasim's older brother, Haji Shahbuddin, said that if there was proper law and order system in the country, it would soon become clear whether or not Wasim had been a criminal. He added that under the current situation, it would not be possible to obtain justice. This is why the family had not registered a case. They were also afraid that if they took legal steps, they too would be victimised or murdered as Wasim had been.
Translated by: Farah Ghuznavi
Shoe Store Employee Shahjahan Killed in RAB Custody
Sheikh Nasir Ahmed
Shahjahan died in Dhaka Medical College Hospital on 10 July 2004. His body was handed to the family the next day. Shahjahan, an employee of Shoes and Shoes, a store located in Rifles Square Market was taken into police and RAB joint custody at 2.05 am from the basement godown of shoes and shoes.
Twenty year old Shahjahan was an employee of Shoes and Shoes , a store located in Rifles Square Market, which falls under the jurisdiction of Dhanmondi police station. Family poverty had compelled him to begin working at the age of twelve. He worked for five years at a shoe store at Mohammadpur's Krishi Market before he moved to the store at Rifles Square, where he had been employed for three years. Shahjahan worked twelve hour shifts every day, from 10 am to 10 pm. An only son, he lived with his parents and five sisters in a single room at House # 40/7, Zohuri Moholla, Mohammadpur. His elderly father Daliluddin Bepari had once worked as a hawker but lack of capital had left him with no option but to sit at home unemployed. One of Shahjahan's sisters was a garment factory worker. The entire family relied on the wages of the two employed siblings.
On Tuesday, July 6, 2004, Shahjahan arrived at the store sometime between 9 and 10 am. At the end of the day, around 10 at night, the store manager sent him to the basement to lock up the godown/warehouse. His fellow employees found out later that some members of Armal Services Limited, which was in charge of security in the market, had picked up Shahjahan from the basement. Along with a pistol found in his possession, they handed him over to Dhanmondi Police Station and RAB authorities. At this time, the owner of the store was also called to Rifles Square.
Jamal, manager of Armal Services, stated that around 9.44 pm that evening, gunshots were heard in a basement godown. To locate the source of the shots, the guard on duty and the cleaning in charge went down to the Shoes and Shoes godown. There they found Shahajahan, with a stunned look on his face and a pistol in his hand. The two immediately locked the entrance to the godown; they gathered several other guards and then proceeded to disarm and detain Shahjahan. In the meantime, the owner of Shoes and Shoes and Dhanmondi Police Stationed had been contacted. Members of RAB and police personnel, as well as the owner soon arrived at the spot. At 2.05 am on July 7, Aslam, the Sub Inspector (SI) of Dhanmondi Thana and RAB member Goni took Shahjahan into joint custody. The young man was still in good health. The manager of Armal Services noted that they had informed the police because the case involved firearms. They had expected the police to investigate the case and then take appropriate legal action. They expressed astonishment at the death of Shahjahan in RAB custody, without access to justice.
When contacted, Dhanmondi police station officials said that although Shahjahan had been taken on joint custody by a RAB official and a police SI, RAB members took the young man into their exclusive custody directly from the spot. It was only when Shahjahan was deposited the following day at the hospital in a severely beaten state that the police came to know of his whereabouts.
Shahjahan's father noted that his son regularly left around 9 in the morning and returned after 10 at night. On that fateful Tuesday, when Shahjahan failed to return home on time, the family became very worried. As the night wore on, their worries turned into serious anxiety. At one point, they called the store owner's residence, but he was not in. The entire night was spent in turmoil. When they called the store the following morning, they were told that Shahjahan had left for home around 10 pm the night before. After several more phone calls, one of the employees advised Daliluddin to inquire at a police station. Shahjahan's family went to Mohammadpur first, then to Dhanmondi station.
They were told that no one by the name of Shahjahan was in custody at either station. In the meantime, they were unable to obtain any clear information about Shahjahan's whereabouts from his fellow employees. The family spent the entire day on Wednesday and Thursday going from hospitals to police stations in search of Shahjahan. On Thursday evening, they finally spotted him lying on a veranda of the Emergency Ward at Dhaka Medical College. He appeared to be near-death. At this point, police personnel posted at the scene refused to allow the family near the young man. On the contrary, they threatened family members with arrest if they did not leave the hospital premises immediately. Unable even to talk to Shahjahan, the family eventually left for the night. When they returned the following morning, they discovered Shahjahan was no longer at the Emergency Ward. Hospital staff informed them that Shahjahan had passed away early that Friday morning. They rushed to the morgue to identify his body.
Following a postmortem on July 9, Shahjahan's body was handed over to his family. Two to three thousand people attended the young man's janaza , which was held in the main field adjoining Zohuri Moholla. He was buried at the nearby Mirpur Intellectual's graveyard.
In addition to his family, other residents of Zohuri Moholla underlined that Shahjahan had always been a good, innocent natured young man. He was a steady and devoted employee who had never shirked his duties in the eight years of his working life. Rather, he had been an ideal and diligent employee. In this regard, his former employer confirmed that Shahjahan had never done anything improper at work. He was always punctual and regular. Indeed, it was because of such qualities that he took the initiative to get Shahjahan a better job at Rifles Square. There was general agreement that no one had ever seen Shahjahan even stop to gossip or chat on his way back and forth from work, such was his quiet nature.
These observations were echoed in statements made by the employees of Shoes and Shoes . According to the manager and other employees, they had never even heard Shahjahan raise his voice he was so innocuous, so that the question of grievances against him did not arise. They also stated he had been a trusted and favoured by the owner. However, when asked why they had failed to inform Shahjahan's parents about his arrest, they were silent. Notably, despite repeated efforts, it was not possible to get in touch with the storeowner for his comments.
Certain questions remain: If Shahjahan were really a terrorist, why did he not try to run when he was discovered? Why did he simply stand there looking stunned? Moreover, the silence of the store employees in the face of certain queries, their unwillingness to tell Shahjahan's parents about his arrest, and the refusal of the store owner to be interviewed, have further mystified their roles in the discovery of a weapon in the basement godown of Shoes and Shoes .
In the meantime, Shahjahan's family is so intimidated and fearful of RAB that they are unwilling to file a case in this lamentable incident.
Translated By: Dina Siddiqi