Extra-judicial killings have no place in a democracy

Sinha Md Rashed Khan, a young retired major of the Bangladesh army, lost his life to bullets he never saw coming. He was travelling along the Marine Drive along with his companions. They went there to shoot a travel vlog. 

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At one point they were stopped at the Baharchhara police checkpoint. He was eventually killed by the police. 

Something is wrong with the way we are governing the country. It is so wrong that a section of people bestowed with the authority to maintain law and order and protect our lives has turned out to be assailants. But the worst part is, however, when the state honours them for such extrajudicial killings which have been a criterion of performance and efficiency. This was so true for the immediate former officer-in-charge of the Teknaf police station, Pradip Kumar Das. 

He earned the Bangladesh Police Medal in 2019 for his exceptional level of performance in six cases. Mentionable that in all cases, the defendants lost their lives. An impartial investigation can only reveal how they died in the so-called shoot-out. 

Immediately after the incident, the Teknaf police came up with the briefing that they recovered yaba pills, marijuana, and liquors. A senior police officer later confirmed that Teknaf police were acting on a tip-off, stopped Sinha’s vehicle, and tried to search it. 

As Sinha pulled a gun on the police, they fired in self-defense. Now that we know a different version of the incident and the bleak pasts of the police officials involved, the police briefing and FIR may turn out to be a coordinated attempt to conceal the truth. Perhaps it was yet another attempt to get away with another extra-judicial killing — something going on in Teknaf for quite some time. 

Sinha’s killing turned things upside down in a way it never did in other cases of extra-judicial killings. The prime minister gave directives to investigate the matter, a high-powered investigation committee was formed to investigate the incident, the association of former army officers spoke very strongly demanding justice, and last but not the least, the chief of army staff and inspector general of police both professionally handled the situation. 

In the rarest incident, all seven police officials were sent to jail after they surrendered to the court. All these indicate that Sinha’s family is most likely to get justice. While this is a rare example of how things move in such cases, many, perhaps thousands, are not as lucky. Sinha’s fate reminds us of the many who disappeared and never returned home. 

Readers may recall the heart-breaking appeal of the bereaved mother Hazera Khatun, whose son Sajedul Islam, a political activist, never returned home after allegedly being picked up by law enforcement agency. 

She was among 19 families who, at a press briefing on December 4, 2015, appealed to the state to return their loved ones who were allegedly picked up in the same way. They never returned. 

The extra-judicial killings reached momentum when the four-party alliance government made it almost legal through “Operation Clean Heart” in October 2002. This was a blatant violation of legal and constitutional provisions of maintaining law and order. 

The government later in January 2003 passed the Joint Drive Indemnity Ordinance, 2003, giving indemnity to the forces for their involvement in any casualty, damage to life and property, violation of rights, physical, or mental damage. In November 2015, the high court scrapped the controversial ordinance. 

Although the ordinance was scrapped, extra-judicial killings never stopped. In recent years, it has taken the form of so-called “shoot-outs” which mostly take place in the dead of night. 

In some cases, victims were picked up from homes or streets allegedly by the members of the law enforcement agencies who subsequently denied any information about their whereabouts to the family members. This may amount to enforced disappearance. 

In some other cases, the victim was witnessed to be taken away by the law enforcement agencies, later to be found dead in the morgue that followed the same official narratives of a gunfight between drug peddlers and the security forces. This apparent cooked up narrative by the police indicates that the Teknaf police perhaps have tried to plot the incident in the old-fashioned way — that Major Sinha and three of his companions were involved with drugs. 

Due to the lengthy trial process and loopholes of the existing system that allow perpetrators to get away with their crimes, extra-judicial killing has earned popularity among a section of people. They feel that it is perhaps the right way to try any miscreant. Do they know how many innocent lives have been victims of this atrocity? 

We will never feel the pain of the bereaved family until and unless we lose our beloved ones in the same way. Major Sinha did not only serve the army but also served one of the most sophisticated security forces of the country. 

But on top of everything, he was a citizen of the country and had the right to protection of law and right to life and personal liberty. His rights were violated by a section of law enforcement personnel of police. There is no way to see this extrajudicial killing as an isolated act. It has been going on and on, despite strong criticism by human rights activists and organizations, both nationally and internationally. 

It is a blatant violation of the rule of law which is a looming threat for Bangladesh and democracy. No agency can decide who gets to live and who is to die. We can take a cue from the Black Lives Matters movement fuelled by the brutal killing of George Floyd by four Minnesota police officers.

When a society is fundamentally unjust, its injustice builds and fortifies itself over time. We want to believe from the bottom of our hearts that we are far from this.

This was first published in the Dhaka Tribune on 10 August 2020. Click here to read on the site.

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