At least 207 people have been killed in 182 ‘gunfights’ with police, RAB and other law enforcement agencies between January and July this year
The number of "gun battles" with law enforcement agencies has dropped significantly in Bangladesh in the past one month.
In a very rare case, August 2020 saw only one "gunfight" with law enforcers; thanks to public uproar following the much-discussed murder of Maj (retd) Sinha Mohammad Rashed Khan, in police custody in Teknaf, that apparently halted raids to recover "arms or drugs."
Prior to this, monthly 26 "shootouts" took place in the first seven months of the current year, according to an account of a local rights body.
The only "gunfire" incident in August took place in Sylhet where one person was killed on August 2 late at night.
Human rights bodies say after the killing of the retired army officer, people heavily criticised the so-called police statements over "crossfires" or "gunfights", which led to the drop in such incidents in the last month.
Nasima Akter, the mother of Maj (retd) Sinha, had wished a few days ago that her son's killing would be the last incident of extrajudicial killings in Bangladesh.
"Representing every mother, I hope this [Sinha's murder] will be the last of such incidents," she told a press conference at her Dhaka home on August 10.
Nur Khan Liton, former executive director of Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK)–a Dhaka-based rights body–said, "Following Sinha's murder, masses of people got the message, again, that law enforcement agencies allegedly kill people using the façade of a 'gunfight.' So, law enforcement agencies may have stopped their so-called operations."
Now, it is the government's turn whether they will stop extrajudicial killings right now or will continue them, he added.
A Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) official, seeking anonymity, said they have become cautious after Sinha's murder and also that they have no interest in launching any operation that may ignite a public uproar again.
Adding to this, an additional deputy commissioner of Detective Branch of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police, wishing not to be named, told The Business Standard that they have already tracked down a gang of perpetrators in Chattogram but cannot go out for an operation.
"We cannot launch operations outside Dhaka right now as the higher authorities have barred us to go on raids that may have risks. Actually, what happened in Teknaf caused such a situation," he said.
This correspondent contacted Mir Sohel Rana, assistant inspector general of police at the Police Headquarters, to know the reasons behind the sudden drop in "gunfights," but he declined to comment.
Lt Col Ashique Billah, the RAB's Legal and Media wing director, also declined to respond to the query.
'Crossfire' data in recent years
According to ASK, at least 207 people were killed in 182 "gunfights" with police, RAB and other law enforcement agencies between January and July this year.
Seeing its peak of 47 deaths in a single month, July was the cruellest among those seven, followed by June and May (27 each), March (25), then February and January (21 each).
During this time, April saw the lowest number of killings, 15.
The first wave of extrajudicial killings Bangladesh faced was in 2004 after the elite police unit, RAB, was formed.
Human rights organisations documented 466 such deaths reported in 2018 alone, more than three times higher than that in 2017 and the highest in a single year in several decades.
"It [deaths in crossfires] was less than 15-16 per month in 2004. In 2018, it reached around 40 per month," said human rights activist Nur Khan Liton.
Extrajudicial killings spiked sharply once again after May 2018 when the government announced a "war on drugs," according to Human Rights Forum Bangladesh–a coalition of 20 human rights and development organisations.
Within the first 10 days of launching the operation, 52 people were killed by security forces, according to Amnesty International.
The Sylhet 'gunfight' and repetitive police report
A 35-year-old man named Abdul Mannan Munna was killed in a "gunfight" with police in Sylhet's Zakiganj at around 3:30am on August 2. The incident took place in Ajar village under Sultanpur union.
Sylhet police claimed to The Business Standard that they, along with accused Munna, were on their way to recover drugs and weapons from his house in Ajar village.
"Based on his information, we raided the place and suddenly his accomplices opened fire on the police. Police fired back, in self-defence, and a bullet hit Munna. Later, he was rescued and taken to Zakiganj Upazila Health Complex where the doctors on duty declared him dead," Officer-in-Charge (OC) of Zakiganj Police Mir Abdun Naser said.
He claimed seven policemen were also injured in the firing by drug dealers. A pipe gun, five rounds of ammunition, six sharp shots, and 800 yaba tablets were recovered from the spot.
OC Naser said Munna was accused in at least 12 cases, including for: drug smuggling, arms dealing, robbery, and carrying explosives. He was arrested on August 2, in the afternoon, following a court warrant.